Written by Dr. Savannah Muncy, Pharm.D on
April 25, 2022
Reading Time: 8 minutes

Medically Reviewed by our Medical Affairs Team

Written by Dr. Savannah Muncy, Pharm.D on:

Social anxiety disorder, also called social phobia, is an intense fear of social situations that can cause overwhelming anxiety and feelings of embarrassment, self-consciousness and shame. People with social anxiety disorder may avoid work or school, make excuses to avoid social activities and withdraw from relationships.

Mental health is a subject that is becoming more openly discussed these days. The stigma of those who suffer with mental health issues such as depression, anxiety disorders, or bipolar disorder is slowly but surely fading away as people become more educated and tolerant. This has made it easier for people who are suffering alone to reach out and seek the help that they need.

This article is going to cover what social anxiety is, the causes, symptoms, and preventative measures involved, and various types of anxiety disorders.

What is social anxiety disorder?

Social anxiety disorder is a type of anxiety disorder. Anxiety is a normal emotion that we all feel at times. It can be caused by a particular event or situation, such as public speaking, or it can be ongoing and generalized, such as the anxiety some people feel in social situations.

For most people, anxiety is short-lived and normal. But for some people, anxiety can be severe, ongoing, and overwhelming. When anxiety is this severe, it is called an anxiety disorder.

Social anxiety disorder can affect anyone, although it is more common in young adults. People with social anxiety disorder may feel anxious and uncomfortable in any social situation, even if it’s a situation they have been in before. They may fear being judged or criticized by others, and they may worry about making a mistake or looking foolish.

Most people with social anxiety disorder will try to avoid social situations, or if they cannot avoid them, they will endure them with great distress. They may have a hard time making eye contact, and they may speak very softly or quickly. Or they may not speak at all. Sweating, trembling, nausea and rapid heartbeat are common physical symptoms.

Separation Anxiety Disorder Symptoms

Separation anxiety disorder (SAD) is a type of anxiety disorder that occurs in children. It’s characterized by excessive anxiety and fear when separated from a loved one, such as a parent or caregiver. Children with separation anxiety disorder may refuse to go to school or daycare, cling to parents or caregivers, or have nightmares about being separated.

Symptoms of SAD include:

  • Excessive anxiety about separating from a loved one
  • Refusal to go to school or daycare
  • Clinginess
  • Crying and tantrums when a parent or caregiver leaves
  • Anxiety about being away from home
  • Fear of sleeping alone
  • Nightmares about separation

SAD can cause significant distress and disruption in a child’s life. It’s important to seek professional help if you think your child may have SAD.

Social Anxiety Causes 

There is no single cause of social anxiety disorder, but it is thought to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Features of social anxiety disorder may be present in early childhood, but they usually become more pronounced during the teenage years and early adulthood.

Here are a few factors that have been speculated to be associated with social anxiety disorders: 

Family History

People with social anxiety may be more likely to develop the disorder if there is a family history of anxiety or other mental health conditions. This may be due to genetic factors, or it may be due to learned behaviors within the family.

If you have a family history of anxiety or another mental health condition, it’s important to be aware of the symptoms of social anxiety disorder and to seek help if you develop them.

Brain Chemistry

The brains of people with social anxiety disorder may function differently than the brains of people without the disorder. This may be due to abnormal levels of neurotransmitters, or it may be due to differences in brain structure.

Abnormal levels of neurotransmitters may cause the symptoms of social anxiety disorder. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that carry messages between nerve cells and sometimes, those transmitters just get a little confused or set off balance.

There is some evidence that people with social anxiety disorder have abnormal levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine. Low levels of serotonin have been linked to anxiety and depression, while low levels of dopamine have been linked to increased anxiety.

Life Experiences 

There are certain life experiences that may increase the risk of developing social anxiety disorder. These include:

  • Being bullied or ridiculed
  • Having a parent or caregiver who is overly critical
  • Having a traumatic experience, such as being the victim of abuse or witnessing a traumatic event
  • Growing up in a family with high expectations

It’s important to note that not everyone who experiences these things will develop social anxiety disorder. However, if you have experienced any of these things and are experiencing symptoms of social anxiety disorder, it’s important to seek professional help.

Social Anxiety Risk Factors 

Every person is different and social anxiety affects everyone a little differently. That goes the same for the risk factors; there are several risk factors for developing social anxiety disorder. Some of these include:

Genetics: In some cases, it’s just a matter of genetics–anxiety disorders that pass down from family to family. If you have a parent or grandparent with an anxiety disorder, your risk of developing an anxiety disorder is increased.

Individual: There are certain personality traits that may make someone more susceptible to developing a social anxiety disorder. These include being shy, introverted, or sensitive to criticism.

Societal: There are some societal factors that may play a role in social anxiety disorder. For example, if you live in a culture that puts a lot of emphasis on personal appearance, you may be more likely to develop social anxiety disorder.

Environmental: As mentioned before, certain life experiences can increase the risk of developing social anxiety disorder. These include being bullied, ridiculed, or having a parent who is overly critical.

Social Anxiety Risk Complications 

If left untreated, social anxiety disorder can lead to several complications. These include:

Depression: People with social anxiety disorder are at an increased risk of developing depression. This is because social anxiety can make it hard to maintain relationships, which can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Anxiety disorders: Social anxiety disorder can also lead to other anxiety disorders, such as panic disorder, agoraphobia, and generalized anxiety disorder.

Substance abuse: Some people with social anxiety disorder may turn to drugs or alcohol in an attempt to self-medicate. This can lead to problems with addiction and substance abuse.

Relationship problems: Social anxiety disorder can make it difficult to maintain relationships. This is because people with social anxiety may avoid social situations, which can make it hard to form and maintain relationships.

Work or school problems: Social anxiety disorder can also cause problems at work or school. This is because people with social anxiety may have difficulty speaking up in meetings or participating in class.

Social anxiety disorder can be difficult to diagnose because it shares symptoms with other conditions, such as depression and anxiety. If you think you may have social anxiety disorder, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional.

Social Anxiety Prevention 

These days, mental health issues are much more commonly spoken up about and acknowledged, and as a result, more preventative action is being taken to help those who may be struggling. 

In terms of social anxiety disorder specifically, there’s no “fix” to the disorder, but there are methods of prevention that can help lessen the symptoms or prevent them from developing altogether. 

Preventative treatments for social anxiety disorder may include:

Self-care: Taking care of yourself is an important part of managing any type of anxiety. This may include exercise, relaxation techniques, and a healthy diet.

Relaxation techniques: Relaxation techniques can help you manage your anxiety. Some popular techniques include deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and mindfulness.

Support groups: There are often support groups available for people with social anxiety disorder. This can provide a space to share your experiences and connect with others who understand what you’re going through.

If these techniques don’t seem to help, seeking out medical help is the next step. 

Social Anxiety Diagnosis

If you think you may have social anxiety disorder, it’s important to see a doctor or mental health professional for a diagnosis. They will likely ask you about your symptoms and how long you’ve been experiencing them. They may also ask about your family history, as social anxiety disorder can run in families.

A physical exam may be done to rule out other conditions that may be causing your symptoms. You may also be asked to complete a psychological evaluation. This may include a questionnaire about your symptoms and how they affect your life.

Social Anxiety in Children

Social anxiety disorder can also occur in children, though it can be difficult to catch early on. It’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms in children, as they may not be able to articulate what they’re feeling. Signs and symptoms of social anxiety disorder in children may include:

  • Avoidance of social situations
  • Intense fear of being embarrassed or humiliated
  • Excessive self-consciousness
  • Intense fear of being judged by others
  • Physical symptoms, such as sweating, trembling, or a racing heart
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Nausea or stomach aches

Children with social anxiety disorder may also have other mental health conditions, such as depression or ADHD. If you think your child may be struggling with social anxiety disorder, talk to their doctor.

Social Anxiety in Teenage Years

Social anxiety disorder can also develop during the teenage years. This can be a difficult time for many teens, as they’re already dealing with the changes that come with adolescence. Signs and symptoms of social anxiety disorder in teenagers may include:

  • Avoidance of social situations
  • Intense fear of being embarrassed or humiliated
  • Excessive self-consciousness
  • Intense fear of being judged by others
  • Physical symptoms, such as sweating, trembling, or a racing heart
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Nausea or stomach aches

Teens with social anxiety disorder may also have other mental health conditions, such as depression or OCD. If you think your teen may be struggling with social anxiety disorder, talk to their doctor.

Social Anxiety in Adults

Social anxiety disorder can affect adults of any age. For some, it may start in childhood, while for others it may not develop until later in life. 

People with social anxiety disorder feel intense fear and anxiety in social situations. This can cause them to avoid social interactions altogether, or to experience extreme self-consciousness and fear of being judged by others.

Social anxiety disorder can have a significant impact on your life. It can make it difficult to work, go to school, or even leave the house. But there are treatments that can help. With treatment, you can learn how to manage your anxiety and live a fuller life.

Treatment Options for Social Anxiety

There are a number of treatment options available for social anxiety disorder. The best treatment for you will depend on the severity of your symptoms and your preferences. If you live with social anxiety disorder, you may feel like you’re always on edge. You may worry about being around people, and this can make it difficult to work, go to school, or even leave the house. But there are treatments that can help.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy that can help you manage your anxiety. CBT can help you identify and change the thoughts and behaviors that contribute to your anxiety.

Exposure therapy is another type of treatment that can be effective for social anxiety disorder. This type of therapy involves gradually exposing yourself to the situations you’re afraid of. This can help you learn to manage your anxiety and feel more comfortable in social situations.

Medication may also be an option for treating social anxiety disorder. A variety of medications can be used to treat anxiety, including antidepressants, beta-blockers, and anti-anxiety medications.

When to Seek Professional Help

If you’re struggling with social anxiety, it’s important to seek professional help. Social anxiety disorder is a treatable condition, but left untreated, it can have a significant impact on your life.

If you’re avoiding social situations altogether, or if your anxiety is impacting your work, school, or personal relationships, it’s time to seek help. A mental health professional can diagnose social anxiety disorder and develop a treatment plan. With treatment, you can learn how to manage your anxiety and live a fuller life.

Concluding Thoughts

Social anxiety disorder is a common condition that can cause significant fear and anxiety in social situations. But there are treatments that can help and you certainly don’t have to suffer alone! With treatment, you can learn how to manage your anxiety and live a fuller life. If you or someone you love is struggling with social anxiety, please reach out for help immediately. 

For more information, check out this incredible community and join in to receive and give support! 

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