Social anxiety can be difficult to identify. If you’re concerned you or a loved one is struggling, this page outlines the warning signs, symptoms, and causes of this social anxiety.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder?
Social anxiety disorder is a chronic (ongoing) mental health condition that causes person to feel intense anxiety or fear of activities or situations in which she believes that others are watching her or judging her. More than simply having an introverted nature or a preference for solitude, suffers of social anxiety disorder may experience actual physical symptoms when forced to confront their fears.
Physical signs and symptoms of social anxiety disorder include:
- profuse sweating
- trembling or shaking
- stomach upset
- difficulty talking
- shaky voice
- muscle tension
- cold, clammy hands
- difficulty making eye contact
When a woman suffers from social anxiety disorder, she realizes that her anxiety or fear is out of proportion to the situation. In fact she is so worried about the way she might behave or react to social situations that the worry, itself, can cause many of the symptoms of social anxiety disorder.
Emotional and behavioral signs and symptoms of social anxiety disorder include:
- intense fear of being in situations with unknown people
- fear of being judged
- worrying about embarrassment or humiliation
- fear that others will notice anxious or awkward behavior
- anxiety that disrupts daily routine, work, school or other activities
- avoiding doing things or speaking to people out of fear of embarrassment
- fear of being the center of attention
Associated personality traits in those with social anxiety disorder may include:
- low self-esteem
- trouble being assertive
- negative self-talk
- hypersensitivity to criticism
- poor social skills
What are the Effects of Social Anxiety Disorder?
For a person with social anxiety disorder, common, everyday social situations cause so much anxiety, fear and self-consciousness that isolation seems like a relief. The person may go to great lengths and come up with many excuses to avoid public events or giving presentations. She may not even be able to eat with friends or make purchases at the grocery store, let alone go to a party and be surrounded by strangers. This can lead to feelings isolation and disconnectedness, and trigger a more serious eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia.
Social anxiety disorder can also cause a woman to fear that she’ll embarrass or humiliate herself. The intensity of these feelings for a person with social anxiety disorder differs markedly from the normal feelings of nervousness and awkwardness most feel in some social situations. This is especially true in adolescence.
An increasing withdrawal into social isolation will adversely affect relationships in every sphere of a woman’s life, including family, school, and work. Sufferers of social anxiety disorder may also attempt to reduce the impact of their symptoms though the use of alcohol, prescription drugs, or other addictive substances, or through anorexic or bulimic behaviors.
What are the Causes of Social Anxiety Disorder?
Like many other mental health conditions, social anxiety disorder likely arises from a complex interaction of environment and genes. Social anxiety disorder seems to run in families. It is unclear how much of the hereditary component is related to genetics or to anxious behavior learned from her environment, including other family members. There may be specific susceptibility genes that play a role in the development of anxiety disorders.
Natural chemicals in the body may also play a role in social anxiety disorder. For instance, an imbalance in the brain chemical serotonin could be a factor. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps to regulate mood and emotions, among other things. A person with social anxiety disorder may be extra-sensitive to the effects of serotonin. It is also possible that a structure in the brain called the amygdala, which is involved in emotions of fear and aggression, may play a role in controlling the fear response. People who have an overactive amygdala may have a heightened fear response, causing increased anxiety in social situations.
Social anxiety disorder is a serious condition that requires treatment by an experienced psychiatrist. Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center is a leader in treating women and adolescent girls for anxiety disorders, eating disorders, and other co-occurring disorders. Learn more about social anxiety disorder treatment.