Social anxiety disorder sometimes known as social phobia is a type of anxiety disorder that causes anxiety or fear in social settings.
Someone with this disorder has trouble talking with people, meeting new people, and attending social gatherings. They may feel anxious about others judging or scrutinizing them. They may understand their fears are irrational but feel powerless to overcome them.
Social anxiety is different from shyness. Shyness can make socializing, school, and work difficult, but it doesn’t disrupt life to the same extent as social anxiety. Social anxiety is persistent and overwhelming and may affect everyday activities, such as shopping for groceries.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), around 15 million American adults have social anxiety disorder. It often starts during the teenage years.
There’s no one thing that causes social anxiety disorder. Genetics likely has something to do with it: If you have a family member with social phobia, you’re more at risk of having it, too. It could also be linked to having an overactive amygdala; the part of the brain that controls your fear response.
Social anxiety disorder usually comes on around 13 years of age. It can be linked to a history of abuse, bullying, or teasing. Shy kids are also more likely to become socially anxious adults, as are children with overbearing or controlling parents. If you develop a health condition that draws attention to your appearance or voice, that could trigger social anxiety, too.
Feelings of shyness or discomfort in certain situations aren't necessarily signs of social anxiety disorder, particularly in children. Comfort levels in social situations vary, depending on personality traits and life experiences. Some people are naturally reserved and others are more outgoing.
In contrast to everyday nervousness, social anxiety disorder includes fear, anxiety and avoidance that interfere with relationships, daily routines, work, school or other activities. Social anxiety disorder typically begins in the early to mid-teens, though it can sometimes start in younger children or in adults.
Emotional and behavioral symptoms
Signs and symptoms of social anxiety disorder can include constant:
For children, anxiety about interacting with adults or peers may be shown by crying, having temper tantrums, clinging to parents or refusing to speak in social situations.
Performance type of social anxiety disorder is when you experience intense fear and anxiety during speaking or performing in public but not in other types of more general social situations.
Physical signs and symptoms can sometimes accompany social anxiety disorder and may include:
Common, everyday experiences may be hard to endure when you have social anxiety disorder, including:
Social anxiety disorder symptoms can change over time. They may flare up if you're facing a lot of changes, stress or demands in your life. Although avoiding situations that produce anxiety may make you feel better in the short term, your anxiety is likely to continue over the long term if you don't get treatment.
A doctor may ask questions about the person’s medical history and carry out a physical exam to rule out any physical causes of their symptoms. They may then refer the person to a mental health professional. A mental health professional will ask the person about their symptoms, including when they occur, how often they occur, and when they started. Clinicians use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition to diagnose mental health conditions, including social anxiety disorder.
The diagnostic criteria for this condition include:
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