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Social Anxiety: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

A lot of people sometimes feel shy or nervous in social settings, yet this doesn't impact their activities or quality of life. But for some people, just the thought of being in certain social settings triggers a strong sense of fear. It can be very challenging for them to do things like go to school or work, meet new people, or even eat and drink in public. As a result, they'll try to avoid these types of activities as much as possible.

This is called social anxiety disorder. Many people with the disorder are afraid they will do something embarrassing or look foolish in public. It's also common for them to feel they're being judged in a negative way by others. In various social situations, people with this disorder tend to experience intense feelings of nervousness or panic that cause symptoms, like:

  • Faster breathing or heartbeat.
  • Chest or stomach pains.
  • Sweating.
  • Shaking.
  • Blushing.

Causes and treatments for social anxiety disorder

Health care experts are still working to find the exact cause of social anxiety disorder. They do know it can affect certain members within the same family. It also seems linked to an inability to read other people's behavior or body language correctly.

For example, individuals with social anxiety disorder often think people are staring, frowning, or showing disapproval toward them when that isn't what is happening.

Without help, social anxiety disorder can last for several years or even a lifetime. It can get in the way of enjoying a good quality of life and even harm physical health. The good news is, there are effective ways to treat social anxiety disorder, including:

  • Psychotherapy (talk therapy), called cognitive therapy. It teaches people different ways of thinking about and reacting to situations that trigger anxiety or fear, and also helps them improve their social skills. 
  • Medicines to treat anxiety and depression. 
  • A combination of cognitive therapy and medicine.

Telling a primary care provider about the feelings and symptoms is a good first step for someone struggling with social anxiety disorder. The provider can make sure there are no physical problems causing the condition and help the individual get the proper treatment.

If you are not already in treatment for social anxiety disorder and feel you could benefit from outpatient therapy, please contact PerformCare.

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health