Social anxiety or social phobia has many varied causes, including biological, psychological and social. However, each one may be intertwined so it is hard to specify exacting ones. Though it is not yet known if social anxiety is caused by a genetic disposition or something learned through family social conditioning, it does appear that it can run in the family.
The first group of causes include environmental and social. It is believed by some social phobia experts that it is possible to learn this from the environment in which you are in. It has been suggested that simply interacting and watching others with similar tendencies can be influential. Also, it is possible that overprotective and controlling parents may develop this in their children and fail to recognise the disorder in them because they too suffer from it and consider it to be perfectly normal. Others think that people may develop social phobias based on a negative childhood event, including bullying, public embarrassment and teasing. Such indicators include disfigurement, abuse (sexual and physical), neglect, speech impediments or conflicts within a family.
The second group of causes of social anxiety is thought to be due to psychological or emotional trauma experienced in childhood. The subsequent symptoms may be the direct result of unresolved traumatic experiences such as car accidents, abuse, relationship breakdowns, humiliation or even a natural disaster. The key elements of that are common amongst all people suffering anxiety as a result of traumas include an event or experience that was not expected, the person was not prepared for, and there was little if anything that the person could have done to have pretended it from occurring. However, such traumas can also run deeper, including a poor bonding between the major caregiver and the person during childhood. The person may well have not learned the skills needed to regulate calmness, self-soothing and focus during stressful events.
The third social anxiety cause is biological in nature, including biochemical reactions, the structure of the brain and the possibility of the disorder having been inherited genetically. In genetical inheritance, most researchers believe that the main part of the disorder is born out of the inhibited behaviour. Young babies with such a disposition are quick to show stress and fear of unfamiliar situations and people, and as they grow into teenagers and adults, their risk of getting social phobia increases. Also, studies have shown that it may also have something to do with the section of your brain that controls fears (amygdale). Through CAT scans, doctors have found that people with this disorder have an excess amount of activity in the amygdale and too little in the prefrontal brain cortex. Biochemically speaking, more studies indicate that an imbalance in the serotonin levels in the brain, dopamine, GABA and neurotransmitters may be to blame.
The most common group that social anxiety disorder sufferers fall into is the second. Each and every day, many people, young and old, experience traumas, some of which they may well put behind them for many years, or at least they believe, but somewhere inside of them, they have not learned to cope with the resulting trauma, but in fact pushed the emotional side under the carpet or so to speak. When this happens it is essential to get medical support and treatment. Such traumas as abuse, rape and other experiences can develop from social anxiety to include even post-traumatic shock disorder, which can attack any person at any time in their lives. It may manifest itself many years later, even after the trauma has since been apparently forgotten.
Though there are many causes of social anxiety phobias, the bottom line is that the result is an unnatural fear of social interaction and a lowered self-esteem that can not only hinder a person’s ability to function in everyday situations but in some cases hinder the persons ability to simply live a normal existence outside of their home. Sometimes the disorder is so debilitating that the person cannot even carry on regular daytime activities. If you or anyone you suspect may have this disorder, there is no shame in asking for medical help. This does not have to be a lifelong affliction, nor is it normal because someone else you know is dealing with it by pushing it away. Your family doctor is your best source of relief in this regard.
Everyone has moments of fear over their performance on things like college exams and projects or they worry whether they’ll please their boss or colleagues. For those who suffer from social anxiety, however, concerns like these may not only impact their ability to learn, they may also lead them to make different education or career choices than they would actually prefer.
Everyone looks forward to going off to college, right? High school graduates eagerly plan to meet new friends, enjoy parties, learn about their future degree field, and have the chance to live their own life without having to follow rigid rules at home. For most teens, college represents a rite of passage – it’s a symbol of adulthood and independence. For someone with social anxiety, though, the new world of being a college student is not so friendly. Instead, all they can see is an endless list of potential situations in which they will have to fight their physical anxiety symptoms and battle to manage their anxious thoughts.
Students with social anxiety often avoid or don’t participate in group projects or lectures in college due to embarrassment and self-consciousness, their fear of being criticised, or worrisome physical symptoms, such as sweating or stuttering. Research also indicates that socially anxious students judge their own competence poorly when participating in a seminar or presentation (Austin, 2004) and this worry continues regardless of whether or not the student performs well academically. In fact, social anxiety can make college life so terrifying that some studies have reported that students with social anxiety fail to complete school and drop out before they can graduate (Van Ameringen, et al, 2003).
When it comes to careers, social anxiety can negatively impact career choices and occupational functioning. According to a study by Himle, et al (2014), people with social anxiety “have significantly different career aspirations than job-seekers without social anxiety.” Carnevale, et al (2010), reported that job sectors requiring strong workplace-based social capabilities (for example: healthcare or hospitality) “are among the most active in the current economy, yet people with social anxiety routinely avoid jobs requiring social interaction”.
As far as occupational functioning, a study done by Stein and Kean (2000) suggests that approximately 20% of people with social anxiety disorder reported declining a job offer or a promotion due to social fears.
People with social anxiety who want to get past their fears in order to have a wider choice of jobs or to find jobs with a more social aspect can benefit from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy.
Additionally, a study by Beidel, et al (2014), suggests that people with social anxiety can be helped even more effectively through a combination of CBT/exposure therapy and social skills training.
During the Beidel, et al, study, participants used modeling, behaviour rehearsal, and feedback to learn such things as basic conversational skills, assertiveness training, and effective public speaking. They also went through exposure sessions consisting of scenes designed to address each person’s unique fears. At the conclusion of the study, 67% of the people treated with the combination of social skills training and CBT no longer met the diagnostic criteria for social anxiety disorder.
Article written by:
Austin, B.D. (2004). Social anxiety disorder, shyness, and perceived social self-efficacy in college students. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering, 64 (7-B), 31–83.
Beidel, Deborah C. et al. “The Impact of Social Skills Training For Social Anxiety Disorder: A Randomised Controlled Trial.” Journal of anxiety disorders 28.8 (2014): 908–918. PMC. Web. 28 June 2018.
Carnevale AP, Smith N, Strohl J. Help Wanted: Projections of Jobs and Education Requirement through 2018. Washington, DC.: Georgetown University Centre on Education and the Workforce; 2010.
Himle, Joseph A et al. “A Comparison of Unemployed Job-Seekers with and without Social Anxiety.” Psychiatric services (Washington, D.C.) 65.7 (2014): 924–930. PMC. Web. 24 June 2018.
Stein MB, Kean YM. Disability and quality of life in social phobia: Epidemiologic findings. American Journal of Psychiatry. 2000;157:1606–3.
Van Ameringen, M., Mancini, C. Farvolden, P. (2003). The impact of anxiety disorders on educational achievement. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 17(5), 561–571.