Social anxiety disorder is a mental health condition that causes intense and persistent fear of social situations. Social anxiety disorder affects about 5.3 million people in the United States alone.
It is normal to be anxious in high-stress situations, and these feelings usually diminish after or during the event. People with social anxiety often worry about being embarrassed, judged, or humiliated.
The causes of social anxiety disorder are thought to be a combination of:
- Genetic factors
- Environmental factors
- Psychological factors
Keep reading for information on what causes social anxiety and contributing risk factors to this disorder.
Research suggests that there may be a genetic component to social anxiety. People with a family history of anxiety can be more likely to develop social anxiety themselves.
Genetics impacts the way certain parts of our brain are involved in the occurrence of anxiety. But there is no clear sign of why some family members may develop this disorder while others do not.
Family and Upbringing
Family dynamics and parenting styles can influence the development of social anxiety. Negative parenting styles may contribute to social anxiety symptoms. Some examples of negative parenting styles include:
- Overprotective or controlling parenting
- Excessive criticism
- Lack of social support
Insecure parent-child attachment and the modeling of social anxiety can also contribute to this. Negative childhood experiences and trauma may also be factors in the development of anxiety disorders.
People with certain personality traits are also at risk of developing anxiety. Personality traits like:
- Extreme shyness
- Behavioral inhibition
- People who like to be in control
Neurotransmitters are indicated as playing a role in regulating anxiety. These include:
- Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)
An imbalance in these neurotransmitters may contribute to the development of mood and anxiety disorders.
Social and Cultural Factors
Negative or traumatic experiences in social situations can increase the likelihood of developing social anxiety. Being bullied, humiliated, or peer rejection can have a lasting impact on you.
Difficulties in developing and maintaining social skills can lead to social anxiety as you’re unsure how to act.
Expectations and pressures to conform, fear of judgment, and cultural norms can influence the development of social anxiety. Certain cultures may emphasize the importance of social hierarchy or have stricter social norms. These things can all contribute to developing social anxiety symptoms.
The symptoms of social anxiety disorder can vary in severity and may include the following:
- Intense fear or anxiety in social situations
- Excessive self-consciousness and worry about being judged
- Worrying that other people might notice your distress
- Avoidance of social situations or enduring them with intense distress
- Anticipatory anxiety
- Using substitutes such as alcohol to help you cope with the social situation
- Decreasing school or work attendance
Physical symptoms also vary in the way you experience anxiety. Some common symptoms include:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Rigid posture
- Being unable to speak
Treatment for Social Anxiety Disorder
Effective treatments for social anxiety disorder include a combination of:
- Self-help strategies
Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps individuals identify and challenge negative thought patterns. These thoughts and beliefs contribute to social anxiety. It also involves exposure therapy. This allows people to face their feared social situations to help reduce anxiety.
Different types of medication have proved to be effective in the treatment of this disorder. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and other antidepressants can help manage your symptoms. These medications can help regulate brain chemistry and reduce anxiety.
Joining a support group or participating in group therapy can also help. These groups provide a safe environment for individuals to share their experiences and gain support. It also offers a safe space to practice social skills.
Lifestyle changes can help reduce anxiety symptoms. Some effective changes include:
- Regular physical exercise
- Getting enough sleep
- Practicing stress-management techniques
- Avoiding excessive caffeine and alcohol
Self-help strategies can also be helpful in managing social anxiety. Some common strategies include:
- Relaxation techniques
- Challenging negative thoughts
- Practicing social skills
- Exposing oneself to stress in inducive social situations
- Diet changes
Anxious vs. a Social Anxiety Disorder
Although there are some similarities between feeling anxious and having an anxiety disorder, they’re not the same thing. Normal anxiety is usually resolved in the short term and related to a stressor. It doesn’t cause long-term distress or negatively impact your quality of life in general.
An anxiety disorder, however, isn’t something that goes away even if the stressor has been removed and it persists over time. Social anxiety disorder is primarily focused on social situations. Public speaking, meeting new people, and attending parties are common triggers.
This persistent and excessive anxiety is often intense and can interfere with a person’s daily life, relationships, and functioning.
It’s important that you learn more about anxiety if you think you or a loved one might have a social anxiety disorder. Social anxiety disorder is treatable. You simply have to put in the effort to find a treatment option that works for you.
Understand What Causes Social Anxiety
Knowing what causes social anxiety is the first step in finding a way to manage your anxiety. Social anxiety disorder is a treatable condition. With the right support and anxiety treatment, you can learn to manage your symptoms.
If you or someone you know is experiencing social anxiety, it’s recommended to consult a mental health professional. While you can self-diagnose to a point, you need a doctor to confirm it.
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