Information Centre

Social Anxiety


Social anxiety describes the fear of being judged in social situations and when talking to other people.

Social anxiety disorder is also known as a social phobia.

If you have social anxiety disorder you might experience physical symptoms of anxiety, like rapid breathing or shaking, as well as being scared of social interactions.

This can lead you to avoid social situations.

Is social anxiety being shy?

Yes and no. Everyone can feel shy from time-to-time. However, this shouldn’t stop you from doing the things you enjoy.

Social anxiety is “extreme” shyness which often comes with physical symptoms of anxiety.

Shyness becomes social anxiety when being around people becomes very difficult for you.

You may find any social situations scary and find yourself isolated from family, friends and people in general.

Overcoming social anxiety

Social anxiety disorder is actually quite a common disorder. If you do experience it, you’re certainly not alone and it’s possible to find help.

It might feel difficult now, but it’s important to keep strong through some of the harder times.

Know that overcoming this is achievable.

What happens if you have social anxiety?

If you experience social anxiety disorder, even thinking about social situations, might make you experience physical symptoms of anxiety or panic.

You might develop a pattern of saying negative things to yourself.

Physical symptoms can include:

  • palpitations
  • trembling
  • sweating
  • tense muscles
  • twitching muscles
  • dry throat
  • blushing
  • dizziness
  • sinking feeling in the stomach
  • an overwhelming feeling of wanting to escape.

What you could feel, think, and do:

  • You might feel self-conscious and feel like you have failed
  • You might avoid the feared social situation, which often leads to isolation from friends and family
  • You might be more likely to abuse alcohol or other drugs to make you feel less inhibited, especially in the feared situation

When are you likely to feel this fear?

People with social anxiety disorder might experience significant emotional distress in any of the following situations:

  • being introduced to other people
  • being teased or criticised
  • being the centre of attention
  • being watched while doing something
  • making small talk at parties
  • speaking in a group
  • eating and drinking in public
  • meeting or talking with people in positions of authority
  • meeting or talking to members of the opposite sex
  • using the telephone

What causes the social anxiety?

There are a number of theories as to the causes of social anxiety:

  • genetics and/or a history of social anxiety in the family or environment
  • a negative thinking style can mean focusing your attention on the wrong things
  • avoiding situations can reinforce and confirm the idea that you are unable to go into these situations, reinforcing feelings of isolation.

How to get help for social anxiety

People with social anxiety often know their fears are irrational, but might blame themselves rather than try to understand the underlying reasons and seeking help.

There are successful treatments out there for you.

Reading about and understanding this might be one of the first steps in overcoming social anxiety for you.

Effective treatments available for social anxiety

Systematic desensitisation – you are taught relaxation techniques then you combine a relaxed body state with a thought of a feared situation. Gradually a person may overcome their fears.

Exposure therapy – you are slowly and supportively exposed to feared situations. The aim is to desensitise the fear.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) – helps you change your thought patterns associated with the phobia. CBT for social anxiety can be very successful. Thousands of research studies now indicate that, after CBT, people with social anxiety report a changed life. One in which they are no longer controlled by fear and anxiety.

Medication – also available for social anxiety. Not the first step to take but ask your doctor for more information about which medications might be appropriate for you.

Medications are often prescribed but have not been found to be effective without some additional therapy. It can play a useful role to overcome some of the distressing symptoms in order for a person to get to work or simply get out of the house. However, to prevent recurrence it’s best used in conjunction with therapy.