Social Anxiety Disorder | Mental Health America

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Social Anxiety Disorder

Social Anxiety Disorder, sometimes called social phobia, is an anxiety disorder characterized by extreme fear or anxiety in one or more social settings. Going to a party or even having a one-on-one conversation with a new person can result in increased heart rate, sweating, and racing thoughts for someone with social anxiety. When social anxiety gets significant, it’s common for individuals to isolate and feel very alone, making recovery harder.

Ultimately, it can make it difficult for a person to live the life they want: the excessive fear of humiliation and rejection can limit them in work, school, and relationships. While most people have concerns about acceptance and embarrassment, the extreme anxiety and dread that accompany social anxiety disorder are so overwhelming that a person may find it hard to function in daily life and may avoid the anxiety-inducing situations altogether.

How common is Social Anxiety Disorder?

Fifteen million, or seven percent, of American adults have Social Anxiety Disorder [1]. More than 75% of people experience their first symptoms during their childhood or early teenage years [2]. People with social anxiety disorder are also at an increased risk for substance use disorder and major depressive disorder [3].

What causes Social Anxiety Disorder?

While it does not have one specific cause, there are a number of risk factors that can increase a person’s likelihood of developing Social Anxiety Disorder. People who are naturally more reserved and those who have experienced trauma like childhood abuse or neglect are more likely to develop the disorder. Additionally, those with a first-degree blood relative who has the disorder are anywhere from two to six times more likely to experience Social Anxiety Disorder.

What are the treatments for Social Anxiety Disorder?

Therapy: Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is used in treating Social Anxiety Disorder and can be helpful in managing the thoughts and physical symptoms associated with the disorder.
Exposure therapy is an especially effective form of treatment in Social Anxiety Disorder, as it focuses on directly facing a fear or phobia. It involves learning coping skills and slowly building up the intensity of the things that cause discomfort and fear. In Social Anxiety Disorder, this can include things like calling a friend, talking to a stranger, applying for a job or public speaking. Exposure therapy is highly successful, as overtime an individual learns that he or she is able to handle the fear-inducing situations.

Medications: In conjunction with talk therapies, medications like antidepressants, benzodiazepines, and beta-blockers are sometimes used in the treatment of Social Anxiety Disorder.

Support: Because social phobia can lead to isolation, finding support groups with others who have similar experiences can be an important part of recovery. In-person support groups, as well as online communities, can be a great source of connection and learning.

From our Partners

Read stories from people living with Social Anxiety Disorder on The Mighty.

Get additional information about Social Anxiety Disorder at Psych Central.

Other Resources

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
1-(800)-273-TALK (8255) Available 24/7

Anxiety and Depression Association of America
8730 Georgia Ave # 600
Silver Spring, MD 20910
(240) 485-1001

Freedom From Fear

National Institute of Mental Health


1. "Social Anxiety Disorder." Social Anxiety Disorder. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Web.

2. American Psychiatric Association. (2014). Understanding Mental Disorders: Your Guide to DSM-5. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Publishing.


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