Social Anxiety Attack Causes, Statistics, Signs, Symptoms & Side Effects

What is Social Anxiety?

Social anxiety is a type of anxiety disorder characterized by an unreasonable and excessive fear of social interactions or situations. Individuals who struggle with social anxiety typically experience nervousness due to fear of being judged by others, rejected, or criticized. In addition, a person with social anxiety disorder may be fearful of making mistakes or being humiliated by others. As a result of these fears, a man or woman with social anxiety disorder will typically avoid social situations, which can lead to a lack of social skills. The anxiety that is usually felt in individuals suffering with this condition is intense to the point that panic attacks can result, or “anticipatory anxiety” may develop, which is the fear of a situation before even occurring. Individuals will social anxiety disorder can fear a variety of situations, including the following common scenarios:

  • Speaking in person or over the telephone
  • Eating or drinking in front of others
  • Being the center of attention
  • Using public restrooms
  • Giving presentations or asking questions publically
  • Working in the presence of other people
  • Interacting with others, including social parties or dating

A person with social anxiety disorder will likely be afraid of more than one of these social situations. It is important to understand that social anxiety is not normal apprehension of a social situation but rather, intense feelings of fear in social situations that are unfamiliar. Social anxiety disorders are commonly associated with other mental illnesses, such as depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, or panic disorders. For these reasons, it is crucial that professional help is sought to deal with this mental health condition. You or your loved one may be ready to improve the quality of life by healing from social anxiety disorder; consider seeking the help and support of a social anxiety disorder treatment center.

Statistics About Social Anxiety

Social anxiety disorder is a delicate mental health condition that can cage the sufferer in fear, preventing them from living to their fullest potential. Learning more about this condition through statistics and various studies can increase awareness, understanding, and help improve treatment outcomes. The following statistics about social anxiety are crucial in that they give further insight into this illness:

  • It is approximated that roughly 40 million American adults ages 18 and older (18.1%) have an anxiety disorder [1].
  • It can be difficult to diagnose or identify social anxiety disorder in children to the similarities between social anxiety and basic shyness [2].
  • Common adult forms of social anxiety include shyness, performance anxiety, timidness, public speaking anxiety, and stage fright. These forms of social anxiety may assume clinical forms, or become anxiety disorders [3].
  • Criteria that distinguish between clinical and nonclinical forms of social anxiety include the intensity and level of behavioral and psychosomatic disruption in addition to the anticipatory nature of the fear [3].
  • According to the US National Comorbidity Survey, social anxiety has a 12-month prevalence rate of 6.8%, placing it as the third most common mental disorder in the United States [4].
  • An estimated 19.2 million Americans suffer from social anxiety disorder, and while it can occur at any time, it most often presents in adolescence, early adulthood, or even early childhood [4].
  • Statistically, social anxiety disorder is more common in women than in men [4].

Causes of Social Anxiety

The causes of social anxiety are not yet clearly defined, though there is supposition that a combination of biological, psychological, and environmental factors contribute to the development of this mental health condition. A potential cause of social anxiety disorder is the genetic component, as individuals who have the tendency toward feelings of anxiety are more likely to develop this condition. Other possible causes include imbalances of hormones or neurotransmitters in the brain, which can be imbalanced in individuals with social phobia. Additionally, environmental and social experiences can shape the progression of social anxiety disorder. For example, people who have consistently been involved in situations that provoke anxiety or feelings of inferiority may cause a greater likeliness that social anxiety disorder can develop. Other possible contributing factors include low self-esteem, depression, rejection, and/or overprotection. Overall, it is likely that social anxiety is not the direct cause of one factor, but rather, the result of a combination of factors.

Signs and Symptoms of Social Anxiety

Men, women, adolescents, and children who have social anxiety will exhibit particular signs and symptoms that correspond with this disorder. If you or a loved one is struggling with social anxiety disorder, these symptoms may help you better comprehend what may be expected as you are dealing with this mental health condition or encourage you to reach out for professional help. Common signs and symptoms of social anxiety include but are not limited to:

  • Avoidance of social situations
  • Remaining quiet or hidden in group settings or social situations
  • Extreme fear of being judged or watched by others
  • Excessive self-consciousness and anxiety in everyday social situations
  • Intense worry for a period of time before an upcoming social situation
  • Upset stomach, nausea
  • Trembling or shaking (including shaky voice)
  • Sweating or hot flashes
  • Feeling faint or dizzy in social situations
  • Engaging in drinking or substance use before social situations to “soothe nerves”

If you are concerned that you or a loved one may be struggling with any of the above symptoms as a result of social anxiety, you can find the help and resources you need to work through these issues.

Social Anxiety Effects

Enduring social anxiety disorder can be severely limiting to your ability to live daily life. Social anxiety disorder will not only hinder you in your social interactions and relationships, but psychologically and physically as well. If social anxiety disorder is appropriately and professionally addressed and treated, the prognosis for this mental health condition can be drastically improved. As a loved one of someone who is suffering with social anxiety disorder, you many not completely understand the ways in which this disorder is affecting their lives. Similarly, if you are struggling with this condition, you many not fully comprehend the extent to which your life has been oppressed. Knowing how this mental illness affects the sufferer by understanding the various effects may be helpful. The following are some of the effects of social anxiety:

Physical Effects – Physical effects of social anxiety disorder can be common, even while social anxiety involves primarily psychological and social behaviors. These are some physical effects that may be experienced:

  • Racing heart or tightness in chest due to nervousness
  • Difficulties in occupational functioning
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea or gastrointestinal upset
  • Dizziness or faintness
  • Muscle tension
  • Profuse sweating/shaking

Psychological Effects – Social anxiety disorder involves extreme anxiety, to the point that severe psychological disturbances can result, particularly if it is left untreated. Some of the psychological effects that may be experienced include:

  • Emotional detachment
  • Severe low self-esteem
  • Extreme feelings of fear inferiority
  • Irrational thoughts and perception
  • Excessive self-consciousness
  • Severe depression
  • Dysregulation of emotions
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Panic attacks

Lastly, social anxiety will directly affect your ability to relate to others socially. Effects of social anxiety on one’s social life include:

  • Avoidance of social events or functions
  • Difficulty initiating or sustaining relationships
  • Isolation from others due to extreme shyness
  • Inability to establish intimacy in relationships
  • Decreased performance in work or school
  • Marital or familial conflicts due to low self-esteem

Social Anxiety Treatment

Social anxiety can be a burdening mental health condition to live with, particularly as it can affect you or your loved one physically, emotionally, and socially. Living with social anxiety condition can mean that you are isolated from loved ones, family, and friends as you deal with unrealistic worries and fears. Thankfully, there can be hope and healing from this disorder by seeking the appropriate help and care you or your loved one may need. There are several techniques and strategies that can be integrated into social anxiety disorder treatment plan, which can help an individual with social anxiety overcome their fears and apprehensions. A social anxiety treatment center can provide the tools and resources you need to recover and heal from any situation you may have endured.

Articles About Social Anxiety

  • With the holiday day season in full swing, it can be easy to fall into the mentality of spending and buying. Many retailers take advantage of the holidays to offer incentives for purchasing, and spending can become a mindless part of living.
  • What about individuals who struggle with social anxiety? How can people use alcohol as a means of coping with social anxiety, and how can this be remedied for the sake of recovery?

What if your spending habits begin to affect your quality of life? Is it possible that shopping or spending can become an addiction?


[1]: The Kim Foundation (2012). Mental Disorders in America National Institute of Mental Health, The Kim Foundation

[2]: Child Development, Vol. 66, No.6 (Dec 1995) “Role of Social Withdrawal, Social Anxiety, and Locus of Control”

[3]: Harold Leitenberg (1990) “Handbook of Social and Evaluation Anxiety”, ISBN 0-306-43438-5

[4]: Kessler RC, Chiu WT, Demler O, Walters EE. Prevalence, severity, and comorbidity of twelve-month DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R). Archives of General Psychiatry, 2005 Jun;62(6):617-27

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on April 15th, 2013
Published on, Directory of Addiction Information