5 Facts About Social Anxiety Disorder

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Social anxiety disorder (SAD) is a common psychological problem, but it is not well understood by the general public and even by some professionals.

People living with SAD have an intense and persistent fear of being judged and evaluated by others in social and performance situations. Even though they know their fear is unwarranted, controlling or preventing the anxiety seems impossible.

If you believe that you may have SAD, this article will help you understand some of the facts about this type of fear and decide about getting help.

It's Common

It's common for people who experience social anxiety to feel as though they are alone in their experience. In reality, SAD is one of the most common anxiety disorders. According to the U.S. National Comorbidity Survey, it affects 15 million adults in the U.S. every year. That's almost 7% of the U.S. population.

It's About More Than Public Speaking

Many different social situations can trigger symptoms of social anxiety. Speaking or performing in public is one of the most common triggers. Additional social anxiety triggers include:

  • Eating or drinking in front of others
  • Expressing disagreement
  • Going to a party
  • Meeting new people
  • Speaking up in a meeting

The common thread among each of these triggers is that there is the potential of being evaluated.

It Includes a Variety of Symptoms

Just because you occasionally get nervous in social situations doesn't mean you have SAD. If you have SAD, you'll also experience cognitive, physical, and behavioral symptoms.

  • Cognitive: You'll likely have negative thoughts during the social situation. For example, you may think to yourself, "I'm going to say something stupid" or "Everyone probably thinks I'm weird."
  • Physical: When faced with a feared social situation, you may start trembling or sweating. Your physical reaction may be so severe that it resembles a panic attack.
  • Behavioral: To avoid feeling anxious, you may start to make choices based on fear and avoidance.

SAD and Shyness Are Different Things

Although SAD and shyness share some qualities, they are not the same thing. Shyness is a personality trait that doesn't require treatment. SAD, on the other hand, is a diagnosis that worsens without treatment.

SAD and shyness also differ in the following areas:

  • Symptom severity: People with shyness tend to experience a lower severity of symptoms than those with SAD.
  • Functional impairment: Most shy people don't experience disruptions to their everyday lives. People with SAD do.
  • Level of avoidance: Avoidance of social activities is much less common among those who are shy.

Lastly, not everyone with a shy temperament has SAD. Research shows that less than 25% of shy people meet the criteria for SAD.

It Can Be Treated

Whether your social anxiety prevents you from working or leaving the house or you have a specific fear that gets in the way of achieving goals, such as a fear of public speaking, there is hope, and you don't have to "learn to live with it."

With effective treatment, such as medication or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and proper management strategies, everyone has the potential to live life without social fears.

A Word From Verywell

Don't let misconceptions about social anxiety stop you from getting a proper diagnosis and treatment. You don't have to manage your social anxiety alone. Help is available, including therapy, medication, and self-help strategies, to ensure the condition does not interfere with daily life.

If you or a loved one are struggling with anxiety, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area. 

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

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2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Kessler RC, Chiu WT, Demler O, Merikangas KR, Walters EE. Prevalence, severity, and comorbidity of 12-month DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2005;62(6):617-627. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.62.6.617

  2. Heiser NA, Turner SM, Beidel DC. Shyness: Relationship to social phobia and other psychiatric disorders. Behav Res Ther. 2003;41(2):209-221. doi:10.1016/s0005-7967(02)00003-7

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