Social Anxiety

What is social anxiety disorder/ social phobia?

Social anxiety disorder, also referred to as social phobia is an intense fear, nervousness, or apprehension about being in certain social situations. It is a persistent and disproportionate worry that we will be exposed to the scrutiny and negative evaluations of others.

There is a fear of saying something foolish or doing something that will bring embarrassment. Social anxiety disorder and social phobia are very common and affect about 7% of the North American population.

Most people with social anxiety realize that their beliefs are sometimes irrational, but feel that nothing can be done about it. This is not the case. The first step to finding a solution is to understand the problem.

What are some social anxiety symptoms?

Social anxiety symptoms can be broken down into 3 categories

Physical symptoms

  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Heavy perspiration
  • Stuttering
  • Blushing
  • Trembling/ shaking legs
  • Dizziness

Emotional Symptoms

  • Severe anxiety days or weeks before a social event
  • The constant fear that you are being judged by others
  • Constant fear that you will embarrass yourself
  • Feeling that we are worthless and that no one likes you

Behavioral symptoms

  • Never leaving your house
  • Avoiding invitations to events
  • Leaving a party early because you can’t handle the anxiety
  • Hiding in the background during social events to avoid being noticed
  • Using cell phones or other devices as an excuse not to engage in conversation
  • Constantly seeking validation from others

What causes social anxiety disorder/ social phobia?

Social anxiety disorder/ social phobia is caused by an interaction between biological, social, and psychological factors

Biological factors

Social anxiety disorder and social phobia have been found to be moderately hereditable. That means if your parents had social phobia or other anxiety problems you are more likely to inherit those conditions.

Social anxiety disorder is also a result of neurotransmitters in our brain. Lack of certain neurotransmitters such as serotonin has been shown to increase anxiety levels. Irregular activity in our agymdala (located near the center of your brain) has also been linked to increasing social anxiety and social phobia.

Here is an cool info-graph which explains the biological theories for why we develop social anxiety disorder:


Social Factors

The interactions between our family, peers, and environment play the biggest role in whether or not we develop social anxiety disorder/social phobia when we get older. Being singled out for being different, being bullied and other negative social experiences can lead us to develop anxieties when around other people.

Here is an info-graph which explains the social theories for why we develop social anxiety disorder:


Psychological Factors

Socially anxious people tend to have cognitive blinders on that only allow us to see negative reactions. We interpret events in ways that reinforce our negative beliefs about ourselves and other people. If someone doesn’t smile at us we assume they don’t like us, when in reality the other person could just be having a bad day.

We pay special attention to criticism but often neglect all of our positive experiences. We develop deeply held beliefs of inadequacy and low self esteem. Therefore, we tend to avoid social situations. Avoidance may temporarily relieve feelings of anxiety but in the long run they merely reinforce the belief that we are socially incompetent.

Here is an info-graph which explains the theories theories for why we develop social anxiety disorder:


 For information on treatment options for social anxiety disorder click here.