What Is Social Anxiety?

Updated March 28, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Have you ever been consumed with intense fear at the thought of meeting strangers, or do you constantly feel that people have negative opinions of you? If you need to speak publicly, do you tremble and get excessively nervous without knowing why? 

Sometimes, these experiences are choked up to shyness, but they could indicate something much more serious. What is social phobiaSocial anxiety disorder is a persistent fear of social situations where you are exposed to unfamiliar people or scrutiny and a fear of being humiliated or embarrassed. 

Do You Need Help Dealing With Social Anxiety?

What Causes Social Anxiety Disorder?

Research indicates that social anxiety disorder affects between 5 and 10% of people worldwide. It’s the most common anxiety disorder and the third most common mental health disorder. The causes of social anxiety are not entirely understood. Research indicates that social anxiety disorder involves multiple parts of the brain, and genetics affects how those parts of the brain function.

Despite that, research also suggests that environmental factors might be to blame. Overly controlling or intrusive parenting can affect temperament to the extent that the child may develop a social anxiety disorder. Stressful and adverse life events can also play a part.

Types of Social Anxiety Disorder

Specific Social Anxiety

Specific social anxiety is when a person feels anxious or irrationally distressed in specific, consistent situations. For example, if a person feels severe social anxiety when answering questions in front of classmates at school yet is perfectly happy meeting strangers at social gatherings, that individual is showing symptoms of specific social anxiety.

Generalized Social Anxiety

Generalized social anxiety is when a person experiences symptoms in most, if not all, social environments. It can affect a person in almost any social situation.

Generalized social anxiety tends to be more severe as it can affect someone in almost any social situation involving social interaction with people other than their immediate family and friends. It tends to affect the day-to-day functions of a person.

Symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder

People who have social anxiety may experience the following symptoms

  • Anxiety about being with other people

  • Feeling self-conscious and embarrassed in front of other people

  • Difficulty talking to other people

  • Difficulty making and keeping friends

  • Fear of judgment

  • Avoiding public places

  • Worrying for days or weeks about a public event

People with this condition may also experience physical symptoms when around groups of people, such as:

  • Blushing

  • Trembling

  • Sweating

  • Nausea

  • Diarrhea

  • Confusion

  • Arrhythmia

  • Muscle tension

These symptoms can negatively affect people in high-pressure moments or everyday social situations. Whether you're on a first date with someone you like or participating in your annual performance review at work, the fear response and symptoms of social anxiety disorder are incredibly distracting and can drastically affect your social skills.

Treating Social Anxiety Disorder

If left untreated, social anxiety disorder can worsen and have debilitating effects. It may result in lower education, poor work performance, lower-quality relationships, and decreased quality of life. This condition is also associated with low self-esteem, suicidal ideation, financial issues, and lower socioeconomic status. 

Up to 90% of people with social anxiety disorder also have other mental health conditions, including depression or substance use disorder. Social anxiety disorder is treatable, but many people experience symptoms for decades before they seek help.

Talk to your doctor if you’re experiencing social anxiety disorder symptoms. Research indicates that a combination of meditation and social anxiety therapy like CBT can effectively treat this condition.

Trails comparing treatment with only medication or only therapy show that medication may have faster results than CBT, but CBT is longer lasting.

What Is CBT?

Cognitive behavioral therapy is based on the idea that our thoughts cause our feelings and behaviors, not external things, such as people, situations, and events. By participating in CBT with a therapist specializing in social anxiety disorder, you can start to overcome your symptoms. 

Do You Need Help Dealing With Social Anxiety?

Social Anxiety Disorder Doesn't Have To Be Forever

Though the idea of social anxiety group therapy may sound intimiditating to the person dealing with social anxiety, this can also be a good way to face the fear in a safe and friendly environment.

Seeking professional help is the best way to begin overcoming social anxiety disorder. Talk to your doctor to come up with a treatment plan, and if you’re considering cognitive behavioral therapy, consider reaching out to a therapist at BetterHelp.

Online therapy has a lot of benefits for people with social anxiety disorder. If you find making multiple phone calls to find an open appointment slot, commuting to a therapist’s office, and meeting with someone to talk face-to-face overwhelming, getting online treatment might be a good option for you. Getting online therapy from the comfort and safety of your home can help lower the stress you might feel about starting treatment. 

Research indicates that online therapy is also highly successful. One review found that CBT led to an impressive 50% improvement in symptoms of multiple disorders, including social anxiety disorder. If you are experiencing symptoms of social anxiety disorder, online CBT may be an ideal way to seek treatment and work through your fears.


Of those with social anxiety disorder, over 35% report having symptoms of the condition for over ten years before seeking treatment. If you have symptoms of social anxiety disorder, don’t wait any longer to get help. Reach out to a BetterHelp therapist to get started.

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