Social Anxiety

Awake Therapy's Clinical Director discusses the causes, symptoms, and treatments for social anxiety disorder.

By Jourdan Travers, LCSW | December 16, 2021

Have you ever wondered to yourself, "Do I have social anxiety?"

Or have your friends and family members made comments about you feeling shy or nervous around others?

Well, that's what I'll discuss in this post: Social Anxiety Disorder, also known as Social Phobia. I'll talk about its signs, causes, and treatment — because simply feeling shy or uncomfortable in certain situations is not a diagnostic criterion.

Before I start, let me introduce myself to readers new to or Awake Therapy. I'm Jourdan Travers, a licensed clinical psychotherapist and Clinical Director of Awake Therapy, a non-subscription-based online therapy platform. If you're interested in learning more about me and the Awake Therapy team, you can click here.

I must note that these articles are meant for psycho-educational purposes and they should not take the place of individualized psychotherapy. If you're in need of mental health assistance — whether to talk through an existing issue or to create a more prosperous and fulfilling life — you can book a free initial consultation here.

Okay, let's jump into it.

What is social anxiety?

Social anxiety is an anxiety disorder that is characterized by anxiety, fear, and stress. It is often felt when we are in the presence of others and it disrupts our ability to be ourselves in social situations.

So, if you're feeling anxious about giving my class presentation or going on a date that must mean you have social anxiety disorder, right?

NO! Every human feels nervousness and stress. In fact, some anxiety is good for us and propels us to do things like study for a test or put extra work into meeting our personal goals.

Social Anxiety Disorder is different because it includes situations that would not typically elicit an anxious response in someone, and it's persistent, meaning that those with Social Anxiety Disorder experience things like:

  • Sweating and trembling
  • Feeling as though their mind is going blank
  • Feeling nauseous or sick to their stomach
  • Speaking in a soft, faint voice
  • Not making eye-contact
  • Feeling embarrassed or awkward
  • Fear that others are harshly judging them
  • Struggling to be around others they don't know
  • And actively staying away from places they know others will be

What causes social anxiety disorder?

To be honest, we don't know for sure, because it can run in families, with some family members experiencing it and other members not having it — which leads us to ask the question: is it a genetic thing, where anxiety is being passed down to future generations, or is it an environmental thing where those experiencing social anxiety saw mom, dad, or caregiver behave this way, so this is how they learned how to interact with the world?

Or is it because of one's brain chemistry or the way certain regions of the brain, such as the amygdala, functions?

Again, we don't know, but these are questions we would look into before giving someone a diagnosis.

Clinicians also pay attention to risk factors such as:

  • Childhood experiences - Were you bullied, picked on, abused, or mistreated at school or by your family?
  • Temperament - Have you always been shy, withdrawn, or timid to new situations?
  • Life changes - Have your professional demands changed and you're now expected to be a more forward-facing member of your team?
  • Health - Do you have a disability or physical impairment that may be producing the anxiety?

How to treat social anxiety disorder

The good news is that Social Anxiety Disorder responds well to treatment. New research has found that those who suffer with Social Anxiety Disorder actually derive a lot of pleasure from meeting new people and spending time with others, and that treatment for social anxiety disorder should focus on methods to encourage social engagement among people who try to avoid it. Doing things like participating in group therapy and support groups, along with individual therapy and medication, are all things that might be recommended by your therapist.

The consequences of not receiving treatment include things like:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Hypersensitivity to criticism
  • Trouble being assertive
  • Poor social skills
  • Difficult social relationships
  • Low academic and professional achievement
  • And trouble with substance use

So, it's important not to let your social anxiety go untreated.

It's also important to know that you're not alone and there is help. It's okay to ask for help or to talk to someone if you feel as though you are struggling socially.