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Social Anxiety

Common questions about social anxiety disorders, social phobia, agoraphobia, and more. 

General Questions

What is Social Anxiety?

Social anxiety refers to feelings of nervousness or self-consciousness in specific social situations or social situations in general. Individuals can feel uncomfortable or like they are being noticed or judged in a way that is perhaps not warranted by the situation. This can lead to symptoms commonly associated with anxiety disorders, such as rapid pulse, nausea, dizziness, disassociation, and more.

What we clinically refer to as social anxiety disorder, or social phobia, refers to regularly experiencing symptoms of anxiety, often at extreme levels, in social situations. It can be difficult to overcome, but it is important that we work to do so, as humans are by nature social creatures.

How Do You Know if You Have Social Anxiety?

If you are experiencing social anxiety, you are likely very aware of it. You may experience common symptoms of nervousness, including irritability, racing heart rate, nausea, dizziness, disassociation, and more.

Experiencing a low level of social anxiety is normal and natural. For example, almost everyone gets nervous when they have to speak in front of others. When these sensations interfere with daily life, increase in intensity, or occur more frequently or at situations which previously did not make you anxious, it may be time to seek help to return to your normal quality of life.

Can You Self-Diagnose Social Anxiety?

While you are likely aware when you are experiencing social anxiety, it is not always helpful to diagnose yourself with the condition. This is because anxiety disorders always occur on a spectrum, and learning how to manage your symptoms and overcome these barriers is far more important than simply providing a diagnosis of the condition.

If you are struggling with social anxiety, it’s a great idea to seek out the help of a qualified therapist. They can provide you with the tools and strategies you need to overcome your anxiety and improve your quality of life.

What Are the Main Causes of Social Anxiety?

The causes of social anxiety are many and varied. Individuals can develop social anxiety for any of the following reason, and more: 

  • Lack of socialization
  • Negative social experience (bullying, intrapersonal conflict, etc.)
  • Various forms of trauma
  • Experience of death or desertion
  • Family dynamics or inherited traits
  • Brain structure
Is Social Anxiety Normal?

Social anxiety disorders are extremely common when compared to other mental disorders, affecting about 15 million American adults. 

In some of these cases, social anxiety disorders may develop or resolve over time. In many others, individuals may have to work through some degree of social phobia for a great deal of their lives.

Can You Be Outgoing and Have Social Anxiety?

Yes, you can absolutely be outgoing and have social anxiety disorder. It is a misconception that social phobias exclusively or disproportionately affect introverted individuals. Anyone can develop social anxiety at some point in their life.

In fact, in some cases, social anxiety disorders may cause individuals to feel the need to act more outgoing in an attempt to disguise nervousness or rationalize feelings of attention. Many times, individuals with social phobias may talk more or louder as a result.

Does Social Anxiety Get Worse With Age?

Social anxiety disorders most commonly develop during the teenage years, but they can occur at any point in an individual’s life. 

While social phobias do not by definition get worse with age, they can regress without constant socialization or when individuals avoid the situations that make them anxious. While children, we are often expected to do things that make us nervous, but as an adult, we can often avoid unpleasant scenarios. Because of this, social anxiety disorders may appear to get worse with age in some individuals. 

How Do I Know if My Child Has Social Anxiety?

You may suspect that your child is suffering from a social anxiety disorder if they show symptoms of anxiety when facing social situations. Often children lack the ability to describe their feelings as anxiety, but they may complain about being hot, having a stomach ache, or simply expressing a desire to avoid a situation. 

With children, it can be important to acknowledge their feelings while not allowing them to completely avoid the things that make them anxious or rationalizing their feelings of anxiety. This can sometimes be tricky for parents to do, and speaking with a family counselor may help.

Coping With Social Anxiety

How Can Therapy Help Social Anxiety?

Therapy can be extremely helpful in aiding individuals in overcoming social anxiety disorders, from identifying triggers to working through difficult situations.

First, therapists can work with individuals to identify the source of their anxiety, and therefore better understand what they are afraid of and why.

Perhaps more importantly, therapists can teach individuals extremely helpful tools to approach situations with increased perspective and calmness, as well as to manage symptoms of anxiety with cognitive behavioral therapy, breathing and relaxation techniques, and more.

Oftentimes, individuals with social anxiety disorders may want to avoid situations that make them feel nervous, but this will only make the condition worse! Another benefit to working with a counselor is adding a layer of accountability to your anxiety journey to ensure that you are focused on making decisions that aid in your recovery.

How Do I Become Less Socially Anxious?

Often, the most important thing that you can do to overcome social anxiety is to continue exposing yourself to situations that make you uncomfortable. Only by working through these difficult situations will you ultimately overcome the feelings you associate with them.

Before you enter a triggering situation, try to gain some perspective on it. What makes you nervous about it? Is the level of anxiety you’re experiencing warranted? What can you do to help you feel more relaxed and in control?

Once you have a plan in place, approach the situation as calmly as possible. Learn breathing techniques to help you remain calm and relaxed. Try to focus on something other than yourself. Take note of your surroundings.

When the situation is over, go back over it in your head. Celebrate the fact that you were able to accomplish what you set out to do. What would help you even more next time?

Does Social Anxiety Ever Go Away/Is Social Anxiety Curable?

Individuals can overcome social anxiety through therapy and stress management techniques, but it is important to note that individuals with social anxiety disorders cannot be cured. Conditions like this may get better or worse over time, even sometimes resolving entirely before recurring later in life. That’s completely normal and totally okay.

The most important thing is not to “get rid” of the diagnosis, but to learn how to overcome the symptoms that are keeping you from doing the things you want to do and living the type of life you want to live. That is a goal that can be accomplished by anyone willing to work toward it!

Similar Conditions

What is Social Phobia?

Social phobia is another name for a social anxiety disorder, a diagnosis for individuals who regularly experience elevated feelings of nervousness, self-consciousness, and/or anxiety in social situations that do not warrant this physical and mental response.

Individuals with social phobia may experience symptoms with specific types of social situations or social situations in general.

What are Examples of Social Phobias?

Social phobias can take many forms, including:

  • Feeling claustrophobic or trapped in public or crowded spaces
  • Feeling self-conscious in social situations that do not warrant it
  • Experiencing dissociation in the presence of others
  • Experiencing difficulty leaving your home due to symptoms of anxiety (agoraphobia)
Is Social Phobia Worse Than Social Anxiety?

Social phobia is not any better or worse than social anxiety, it is merely the clinical term for a social anxiety disorder. Social anxiety takes many forms, from nervousness about public speaking to a part of a generalized anxiety disorder. Social phobia is a means of referring to a specific category of individual who regularly experiences social anxiety.

What is Agoraphobia?

Agoraphobia refers to an extreme or irrational fear of leaving one’s home and/or entering public or crowded places. It is a type of social anxiety disorder.

How is Agoraphobia Different From Social Anxiety

Agoraphobia is a type of social anxiety disorder, and is a more specific diagnosis than generalized social anxiety disorder.

This does not necessarily mean that it is better or worse, but merely that it may be useful in helping a mental health professional create a more specific and tailored care plan for you.