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Social Anxiety Disorder

If socializing fills you with dread, you may have this anxiety disorder.
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Last updated February 27, 2021

Social anxiety disorder questionnaire

Use our free symptom checker to find out if you have social anxiety disorder.

Social anxiety disorder questionnaire

Use our free symptom checker to find out if you have social anxiety disorder.

Social anxiety disorder symptom checker

What is social anxiety disorder?

Social anxiety disorder (also known as social phobia) is an intense fear or anxiety about social situations. People with it avoid socializing as much as possible. And when they do try to socialize, they feel anxious during the event.

The biggest worries are being judged negatively, being watched, or having to talk with people. The fear of being scrutinized by others is intense. Sometimes the anxiety is so bad that it turns into a panic attack. This is not only scary, but it can be embarrassing. It reinforces a person’s belief that they should have stayed home. Social anxiety leads to people wanting to stay home alone and isolate themselves.

It can be treated with talk therapy and sometimes medications.

Most common symptoms

Pro Tip

SAD is very common. And treatable. Get started. This is true for kids and adults. The sooner kids receive treatment the less likely they are to develop other mental health issues as they get older. —Dr. Bobbi Wegner

There are two types of social anxiety disorder: Generalized (when any social event creates intense anxiety) and specific (anxiety from particular types of events, like public speaking). Both types create intense anxiety that makes daily life functioning very difficult.

Symptoms of social anxiety fall into one of these three categories: physical, emotional, and behavioral. You may experience some or all of the symptoms. They may show when you get invited to an event or while you are in social situations.

To be diagnosed with the disorder, you would have to have symptoms for six months.

Emotional

  • Worry
  • Fear
  • Sadness
  • Feeling irritable
  • Feeling embarrassed

Physical

  • Increased heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Stomach ache
  • Headache
  • Muscle tension
  • Dry mouth
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Cold hands

Behavioral

  • Avoiding people and social situations
  • Isolate yourself
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Using negative habits to cope, such as substance use or overeating

Social anxiety disorder questionnaire

Use our free symptom checker to find out if you have social anxiety disorder.

Social anxiety disorder symptom checker

Common triggers

All triggers center on socializing, whether you’re just thinking about them or actually taking part.

  • Parties or family events.
  • Having to talk to people.
  • Dating.
  • Going to work with other people.
  • Public speaking (whether to small or large groups).
  • Making phone calls.
  • Going to the bathroom at work or other social situations, where you might bump into someone on the way.

Dr. Rx

When people are avoiding events, I am always curious why. As a mental health provider, I always listen for what they are experiencing (intense symptoms of anxiety in social events) and what they are avoiding (social events, people, public speaking). Within that, I then wonder if it is just one thing they avoid (SAD-specific) or all social events (SAD-generalized). —Dr. Wegner

Next steps

Social anxiety can lead to other types of anxiety and depression. It can also lead to substance abuse. It’s critical to seek help from a mental health provider. Over a third of people with social anxiety wait more than 10 years before seeking help.

Ask your doctor to recommend someone, such as a psychiatrist, a psychologist, or a licensed social worker. Ask your insurance company for a list of providers in your network. Or, go to psychologytoday.com, where you can search for local therapists.

If left untreated, social anxiety can make you feel isolated, hopeless, and depressed. If you have thoughts of self-harm or suicide, call 911 or go to the ER. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255) is available to help 24/7.

Social anxiety disorder questionnaire

Use our free symptom checker to find out if you have social anxiety disorder.

Social anxiety disorder symptom checker

Can social anxiety be cured?

Pro Tip

Research shows that many people with SAD wait 10 years before receiving treatment! —Dr. Wegner

Social anxiety can be treated with talk therapy and a range of medications.

Talk therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a well researched therapy that can be helpful for people with social anxiety. It helps you change your thoughts and behaviors in order to reduce your fear and anxiety. Through what’s called cognitive restructuring, a therapist helps you notice and change negative thought patterns and helps you slowly face social situations with coping tools. About a half to two-thirds of people with social anxiety see big improvements in symptoms after about 12 weeks of CBT.

Medication

Although CBT is generally the first and best treatment for the condition, medication can also help.

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a type of antidepressant, are often used to treat generalized anxiety.
  • Beta blockers are used to treat people with specific social phobias.
  • Benzodiazepines are sometimes used to treat social anxiety, although they are often prescribed with caution to minimize addiction.

Self-help tips

Along with therapy, some lifestyle and behavior changes can also help reduce the symptoms. These are often part of CBT.

  • Confront negative thoughts.
  • Try to face social situations.
  • Practice breathing exercises to lower your anxiety.
  • Learn how to meditate.
  • Exercise regularly.

Who is at risk of social anxiety disorder?

Social anxiety disorder affects 1 in 8 people over their lifetime. Women are twice as likely to have it as men. Young adults under the age of 35 are more often affected.

Both environmental factors and genetic factors cause social anxiety. People who have a family history of anxiety are more likely to develop one themselves.

People who tend to feel uncomfortable in social situations might avoid them. This leads to isolation, which can make the problem worse.

Children and social anxiety

Children may also have social anxiety. They tend to show symptoms between the ages of 8 and 15, and complain of more physical symptoms than adults.

Children behave differently depending on their age. Very young children might cry or throw tantrums at social events, while older kids and tweens might just seem awkward and uncomfortable. Teenagers might start avoiding school, friends, or other social events.

Across the board, children with untreated anxiety have a higher risk of other mental health problems later on. It’s important to seek help for children if you notice these symptoms.

Hear what 2 others are saying
Did not realizePosted February 4, 2021 by E.
I would break out in cold sweats and my heart would beat rapidly in a crazy tempo, and I didn’t come to the realization, until now, after all this time, that I assume that I am suffering from social anxiety. But it’s not the people I fear, it's more about what they think of me or how they see me, am I pretty, am I fat, do they think I'm crazy, or like some pretty stupid things.
Suffering from depression for five yearsPosted February 4, 2021 by E.
I have been suffering from depression for five years now and during that time I would always have panic attacks and short breaths without knowing that it’s called anxiety attacks. And I knew that because a year ago my uncle died and he was so precious to me and I loved him. Truly, he was a great man, and I had to get off school for a while to get over it and help with the funeral and stuff. When it got closer to going back to school, I would start crying at night and start overthinking and would feel suffocated and weak and I would stay awake crying until my body gets limp and I can’t feel it anymore. I went to school on a Monday and I thought it was the last in my life. I had the worst anxiety attack. I couldn’t breathe and my legs shook violently and I started crying and screaming because I was scared that my mom wouldn’t be able to live normally if anything happened after losing her brother not too long ago. I was never scared of death because I know it’s something you can’t run away from, so why fear it, but that day I had to fight what was happening cause I don’t want to hurt anyone. Let’s fast forward to May the next year. I find out that my dad was cheating on my mom and I just couldn’t say anything. I would just take screenshots and keep them to myself, holding that burden and fear on my shoulders, being scared of telling anyone cause it could end up that our family would’ve been happier if I kept my mouth shut. After three months of holding something so heavy, my mom found out and she told him to get out and to get a divorce. After that, whatever I was suffering turned into much more. I started getting scared of people. I wouldn’t be comfortable anywhere that has people that I don’t know or don’t like, which is normal, but what’s not normal is getting constant stomachaches and to feel like I will puke or pass out any minute. My body would shake and I start thinking the worst—that they hate me.
Dr. Bobbi Wegner is a Supervising Clinical Psychologist at Boston Behavioral Medicine, a Lecturer in Human Development and Psychology at Harvard Graduate School of Education, and CoFounder of nouVenu: a virtual platform that provides real support for real parents from real experts. She is on The Board of Advisors of Ignite Mental Health, developed out of Harvard Innovation Lab (like Buoy). Dr. Weg...
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