What is social anxiety disorder?

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Most of us know what it's like to sometimes feel a little shy or nervous around other people. But for a few individuals, social situations can be physically distressing. At SIU Medicine, our mental health staff have assisted thousands of Illinois residents whose lives have been interrupted by social anxiety disorder. 

What is social anxiety disorder?

Social anxiety disorder is associated with intense and overwhelming fear or anxiety in social settings, including one-on-one conversations, parties or even the use of public restrooms. 

People with social anxiety disorder often avoid social situations and end up feeling isolated. This mental health condition can dramatically impact a person's own well-being and disrupt their daily lives. Because it often causes a person to withdraw socially, this condition can also negatively affect the individual's personal relationships and performance at work or school. 

According to Mental Health America, about 7 percent of American adults have social anxiety disorder. Its cause is often unknown, but there are risk factors that can make a person more likely to be diagnosed, including: 

  • Having an immediate family member with social anxiety disorder
  • Having a naturally reserved or introverted temperament
  • A prior history of childhood abuse and neglect

Signs and symptoms

Is it nerves—or something more? People with social anxiety disorder tend to have frequent or persistent signs and symptoms, including: 

  • Fear of being judged
  • Worry about humiliating one's self or doing something embarrassing
  • Intense fear of talking or interacting with strangers
  • Avoidance of common social situations
  • Avoidance of anything that draws attention to one's self while in public
  • Avoidance of doing or saying things out of fear of embarrassment
  • Intense anxiety while anticipating or enduring a social event
  • The belief that the worst-case scenarios in social situations will happen
  • The tendency to analyze and self-criticize one's performance in social situations

People with social anxiety disorder may also experience physical symptoms during or while anticipating social situations, including blushing, rapid heart rate, trembling, sweating, nausea, dizziness or lightheadedness, shortness of breath, tense muscles and racing thoughts or the feeling that their mind has gone blank. 

Hope on the horizon: Treatment options 

Social anxiety disorder can be incredibly disruptive and difficult. Research also suggests that people with this condition have an elevated risk of major depressive disorder and substance use disorder. So treatment is important to nurture improvements in their mental and overall well-being. 

A variety of treatment options exist for people with social anxiety disorder, including psychotherapy, medications, and in-person or online support groups. The first step to getting any treatment is getting an accurate diagnosis, which can be provided by a psychiatrist or other mental health professional. 

Do you need help managing social anxiety?

If you or a loved one are showing signs and symptoms of social anxiety disorder and would like to speak with a provider, contact SIU Medicine at 217-545-8000 to schedule an appointment. Through ongoing research and compassionate clinical care, our organization supports mental well-being for individuals of all ages and backgrounds throughout southern and central Illinois.

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