What is social anxiety?

Social anxiety is more than just feeling nervous about a social function or event. People who have social anxiety feel an extreme sense of fear and anxiety in social settings and everyday interactions. They often know their fear may be unreasonable, but they are unable to overcome it. Learn how to spot the signs.

While it’s common for many people to experience shyness in life – like when giving a speech or presentation – the intensity is much higher and more frequent for people with social anxiety, often disproportionate to the situation.

Impacting around 7% of Australians over a 12-month period, social anxiety disorder is characterised by intense and persistent anxiety that is linked to social situations. People living with social anxiety disorder (also known as social phobia) experience high levels of distress in social settings that are often based on a fear of being judged by others or made to feel embarrassed.

People grappling with social anxiety worry about being in situations where they will be scrutinised. They may have fears and worries about being criticised or humiliated.

A person with a social anxiety disorder has a persistent and an intense anxiety that prevents them from living their normal life. If you have found yourself frequently avoiding social situations, fearful of being judged, or feeling self-conscious when around other people, you may be experiencing social anxiety.

 

What causes social anxiety?

There is no one cause of social anxiety. There are a range of factors that can contribute to the onset of social anxiety, including genetic and environmental factors.

Children who are particularly shy or timid may also be at an increased risk as they approach teenage years when the onset is most common for social anxiety. However, most children grow out of their shyness.

Our environment and relationships are also a key factor. Some people who experience bullying, mistreatment or public humiliation may also develop social anxiety.

 

Signs and symptoms of social anxiety

People with social anxiety may experience a broad range of physical, emotional, and behavioural symptoms, including:

  • Rapid heart rate
  • Increased sweating
  • Feeling dizzy or faint
  • Trembling
  • Blushing
  • Talking at a very soft volume
  • Stomach and bowel issues
  • Avoiding social situations
  • Feeling self-conscious when eating in front of others
  • Stiff body language
  • Difficulty making eye contact
  • Fearful of being judged negatively by others
  • Feeling uncertain
  • Negative thinking
  • Worrying that you will look anxious
  • Deep urges to flee social situations

 

Common triggers for social anxiety

Often people with social anxiety will feel fearful or actively avoid certain environments or situations if they are concerned it will trigger their distress. Common examples of these include (but are not limited to):

  • Starting up a conversation
  • Speaking out in a group
  • Meeting new people
  • Being in a crowd
  • Being watched while doing something (such as eating or talking)
  • Attending social events
  • Using public facilities (such as the toilets)
  • Public speaking
  • Talking to someone in a position of power or authority

 

Treatments and supports available

If social anxiety is left untreated, it can lead to more complications, including:

 

With appropriate support, many people with social anxiety can recover or significantly reduce their symptoms to a manageable level. If you are concerned or want to learn more, the best first step is to talk with a health professional such as your GP. You can also reach out to our counsellors for advice. Typical treatment options for people with social anxiety disorder include learning anxiety management techniques, cognitive behavioural therapy, and support groups.

 

Don’t let it build up. SuicideLine Victoria is a free 24/7 telephone and online crisis counselling service offering professional support to people who are concerned about their emotional and mental health. Call 1300 651 251 or click on the floating chat button on the right. If it is an emergency, call 000.

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