August 31, 2020

Social Anxiety Disorder Causes: 5 Reasons Why You Feel Fearful Around People

Written by Rachel Eddins

Posted in Anxiety and with tags: Social Anxiety

Social Anxiety Disorder Causes: 5 Reasons Why You Feel Fearful Around People white woman holding head in her hands

Does spending time with people you love to feel crippling and debilitating?

Having a social anxiety disorder can make something as simple as spending time with people you love to feel crippling and debilitating.

It can take over your life and keep you from doing the things you want.

There are multiple social anxiety causes and symptoms can vary among people as well.

Read on to find out about common social anxiety causes, symptoms and solutions.

What are Common Causes of Social Anxiety Disorder?

The development of social anxiety often emerges from a variety of different factors.

For some, it could go as far back as childhood. Other people experience social anxiety when something “triggers” them.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at five reasons why you feel fearful around people. The more you understand about what’s causing your social anxiety, the sooner you can take steps toward treating it.

1. Genetics

In some cases, anxiety disorders can be hereditary and run in families. If your parent(s) had to deal with a social anxiety disorder, you’re 30-40% more likely to have one, yourself. 

Some with social anxiety disorder tend to have a hard time regularly producing serotonin. Research has shown that a specific gene that transports serotonin in the brain may have a lot to do with the reason with that.

This gene can either produce excess or not enough of the hormone, creating instability within the brain which may lead to feelings of anxiety.

2. Parenting Styles

Sometimes, it’s not genetics that causes social anxiety, but the way you were raised by your parents. Research has been done on the connection between negative parenting styles and social anxiety disorder.

The findings show that certain parenting styles and attributes of a parent can absolutely trigger anxiety in children. 

For example, parents who tend to criticize or be controlling can cause their children to become fearful of the world itself or of connecting with others and developing relationships.

Parenting styles demonstrating a lack of warmth or affection, rejection, and shame-based child rearing practices have also been shown to contribute to the development of social anxiety.

They may have low self-esteem and a lack of confidence, too, making it hard for them to move into social circles even as an adult.

Environmental causes of social anxiety can include hearing a parent’s own repeatedly verbalized fear of rejection by others. You learn what you hear in your environment – to be afraid of others judgment.

3. Trauma

Experiencing trauma at any age often creates some kind of lasting mental impact. This can be especially true when you go through a traumatic experience as a child. In some cases, this can lead to social anxiety as an adult. 

If you were mentally or physically abused, bullied, a witness of domestic violence, or a parent or caregiver deserted you and your family, you have experienced a form of trauma that can contribute to social anxiety disorder.

These things teach you at a young age that the world can be a scary place and it’s often unpredictable.

In effect, you’ve learned that you can feel safer away from people so you can’t get hurt. Unfortunately, those ideas can keep you away from people who love you, too.

4. Dealing With Grief

Experiencing a loss in your life can also make you feel uncertain about so many things. Whether you go through a divorce, lose a job, or lose a loved one, it can trigger social anxiety.

People deal with grief in different ways, and accepting the reality of your loss is the first step in getting past it. Your social anxiety could stem from not wanting to face that reality.

If you don’t go out into groups of people, you won’t have to talk about your loss or accept that it’s truly something that happened. That’s why some people tend to isolate themselves more often after the death of a loved one.

5. Certain Triggers

There isn’t always a sweeping underlying cause of social anxiety disorder. Some people only experience symptoms when they come across certain triggers.

While these triggers are different for everyone, some of the most common ones include: 

  • Going on a first date
  • Talking with authority figures
  • Meeting new people or groups of people
  • Public speaking
  • Speaking on the phone
  • Being watched while doing something new or unfamiliar
  • Parties or gatherings you’re attending alone

Is it shyness or social anxiety?

Growing up, Sandy often felt isolated from kids at school, reading alone at lunch rather than sitting with others.

Sometimes it felt like she was living behind a glass wall—she wanted to engage with people and had things to say, but she felt afraid and nauseous at the thought of being so visible to others.

Because Sandy believes she is just shy, her anxiety in social situations has accompanied her into adulthood.

She feels depressed and helpless against the tide of her fears. Sandy hasn’t been in many relationships.

Her daily life activities seem to revolve around her anxiety; she works at a job where she doesn’t have to interact much with people, she grocery shops later at night when she knows the store won’t be busy, and she drives even when it would be more time efficient to take the bus.

It’s likely that Sandy’s social trouble is much more than shyness and stems, instead, from a social anxiety disorder. If something in Sandy’s story resonates with you, understanding what a social anxiety disorder is and accepting treatment for it can help you lead a fuller, happier life.

You can learn to become stronger than your fears; you can do all the things your worry has been holding you back from.

What is social anxiety disorder?

Many people experience shyness or hesitation before a big social gathering or performance, but having a social anxiety disorder means that you feel excessively fearful days, weeks, or months before a social event.

You’re so afraid you’ll be watched and judged by others that you might avoid the situation altogether, calling in sick or saying something came up at the last minute.

What are common signs and symptoms of social anxiety?

You might experience social anxiety in very specific situations, like public speaking, or your social anxiety might be broader and affect you across the board.

Situations that might trigger your social anxiety include eating in front of people, signing a receipt in front of the cashier, being the center of attention, and speaking up in class.

If you have social anxiety disorder, maybe you’re afraid to go anywhere without a friend or family member. Maybe you feel like you need a few drinks before a social event in order to survive it.

What does social anxiety feel like?

Social anxiety disorder doesn’t feel good—you might have sweaty palms, a racing heart, or feelings of lightheadedness.

Sometimes these physical symptoms are all you can think about. You’re terrified others will notice you’re having a hard time speaking or that your legs are shaking.

You might experience: 

  • blushing
  • chest tightening
  • tightness in your throat
  • feeling like you can’t breathe
  • dizziness
  • nausea
  • dry mouth
  • mind going blank
  • trembling or shaking of your limbs (hand, arms, legs)
  • sweaty palms
  • tingling or red ears
  • flushing or redness in your chest area
  • muscle tension
  • racing heart

Can therapy help with social anxiety?

Social anxiety is painful. 

It’s all too easy to feel helpless in the struggle to control the stress, loneliness, and frustration that come with it.

Simply recognizing your pain and fear as a social anxiety disorder is an important first step toward getting better. If you’ve tried over and over again to beat social anxiety but are feeling disheartened, there is one thing you can still do—ask for help.

While an untreated social anxiety disorder can feel like it’s taking over your life, you don’t have to go through it forever. There are effective treatment options for social anxiety.

How to overcome social anxiety through therapy

With social anxiety, negative thoughts overwhelm you as you engage with others. You might cycle through thoughts like, “they will think I look ridiculous,” “I’m going to embarrass myself,” or “I’m never going to have any friends.”

Even if you recognize some of these thoughts as unrealistic, it can be hard to carry on in spite of them when they’re constantly cycling through your mind.

Treatment for social anxiety helps you overcome the fear of being judged, which is often at the core of social anxiety disorder.

1. Therapy can help you recognize negative thought patterns through cognitive behavioral therapy.

You’ll learn to replace those thoughts over time with a more realistic and positive outlook.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help you reduce fear of social situations, reduce emotional and physical symptoms of fear and anxiety, and manage fearful and upsetting thoughts.

CBT can also help you with social interactions through role-playing and social skills exercises.

2. Mindfulness skills can help with social anxiety.

You might learn about mindfulness in therapy—being present in the situation and noticing that others aren’t reacting as negatively to you as you believe. You can also learn to practice a few breathing exercises to help bring you back to yourself during high-anxiety moments.

3. Compassion-focused therapy can help you shift negative core beliefs.

You may heal core negative beliefs you carry about yourself and develop a new way of relating to yourself. This may involve learning self-compassion and self-acceptance and practicing these skills on a regular basis.

Because social anxiety disorder can make you feel embarrassed and ashamed, it can live with you for a long time. The good news is that you really can overcome it and live a life you genuinely want and enjoy.

4. Support groups for people with social anxiety.

While you may think this is the last thing you want to do, a social skills group can be incredibly effective for overcoming social phobia. Keep in mind that other members of the group are feeling similar to the way you are.

A behavioral therapy group gives you the opportunity to “try out” social interactions in a safe and supportive setting.

Get the Support You Deserve to Build a Meaningful Life

Overcoming social anxiety can help you have a more fulfilling life. Whether that means having the confidence to pursue career goals, build and maintain friendships, improve self-esteem, or feeling more comfortable in social situations.

Social anxiety disorder is treatable!

Depending on your unique social anxiety causes and history, therapy for social anxiety will be customized to address both the root factors contributing to anxiety as well as learning coping skills to manage current symptoms.

Eddins Counseling Group has therapists with experience treating social anxiety disorder who can help you feel better in daily life, work and social situations.

Our therapists are available for face to face sessions as well as online therapy sessions in multiple states. 

To get started now give us a call to schedule an appointment at 832-559-2622 or schedule an appointment online.

Additional Resources:

Stages Of Social Anxiety Worksheet 

learn how to be yourself and overcome causes of social anxiety disorder
How to Be Yourself

Learn how social anxiety gets wired into our brains and how you can learn to live a life without fear.



Overcome social anxiety causes with the skills workbookThe Shyness and Social Anxiety Workbook: Proven, Step-by-Step Techniques for Overcoming Your Fear (A New Harbinger Self-Help Workbook)

The Shyness and Social Anxiety Workbook offers a comprehensive program to help you confront your fears and become actively involved in the world.

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