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Fact Sheet

Social anxiety

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What is social anxiety?

Social anxiety disorder, or social phobia, is a persistent and extreme fear of being watched or judged by other people. People who have social anxiety might also be nervous or worried that they might do something embarrassing. This anxiety can last for days before and after an encounter that triggers the anxiety. This might lead someone to avoid situations or places with lots of people. It can also make it difficult for people to take part in everyday activities, like work and school.

Is social anxiety the same as being shy?

No. Everyone feels shy once in a while, especially when meeting new people or in unfamiliar situations. However, shyness doesn’t typically prevent people from taking part in activities that they enjoy.

Social anxiety can make ordinary situations very uncomfortable, and friendships hard to keep. People with social anxiety often experience symptoms like sweating, blushing, shaking and nausea. Generally, these feelings occur during certain stressful situations-like public speaking or informal conversations, or when you’re eating or drinking in front of others.

What causes social anxiety?

There are a number of factors that might cause social anxiety:

  • Genetics: Some scientists believe that certain genes can affect how people react to stress and social interaction, causing some people to become more anxious in social situations than others.
  • Behavior learned by the people around you, especially your parents: In some cases, children raised by people who avoid social interaction might grow up to have social anxiety.
  • Life events: Harmful situations like being bullied or more serious traumatic events that cause people to be fearful of certain situations can also lead to social anxiety.

Getting help for social anxiety

People with social anxiety often know that their fears are irrational, but don’t know how to control them. There is help available for people with social anxiety. If you think you might have social anxiety, start by sharing your concerns with a friend or family member. It is also important that you talk to a doctor, counselor, psychiatrist or psychologist because these health professionals can help you begin to build the skills you need to manage your anxiety. In some cases, medications may also be used to help you control your anxiety.

Social anxiety isn’t the only type of anxiety disorder that can interfere with day-to-day activities. For more information, check out our other anxiety fact sheets.


Information in this fact sheet was provided by:

Last edited by Kristie - Feb 2014.

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