Social anxiety symptoms tend to come from fear involving social situations. With the right coping strategies, it’s possible to greatly reduce your symptoms.
When you’re around others, you may feel like you’re always onstage — and the audience is just waiting for you to mess up. Fear of embarrassment often stops you from participating in conversations, making it difficult to connect with people.
For people with social anxiety disorder — previously called social phobia — these thoughts can be frustratingly common.
You may often feel a sense of isolation if you have social anxiety, but you’re not alone. In fact, an estimated 12.1% of adults in the United States experience social anxiety disorder at some point in life.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), social anxiety disorder can also cause panic attacks. But learning about your own symptoms and what triggers them can make social anxiety much easier to manage.
Some people confuse shyness with social anxiety. While social anxiety disorder is a diagnosable condition, shyness is better described as a personality trait.
Social anxiety disorder often disrupts day-to-day life in a way that shyness doesn’t.
For example, you may find that social anxiety gets in the way of your job or relationships. And while shy people sometimes avoid social situations, a person with social anxiety disorder may do this more often and experience more life disruption as a result.
Having social anxiety disorder also doesn’t always mean that you’re shy. You might feel at ease with people most of the time and only feel anxious in certain situations, such as walking in a public place, making a speech, or interacting with strangers.
Even if you know a fear doesn’t make logical sense, that might not stop it from causing anxiety. The ability to identify symptoms can be one of the first steps toward learning to manage social anxiety disorder.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that social anxiety disorder affects 7.1% of U.S. adults a year. Women are slightly more likely than men to experience SAD.
Social anxiety disorder isn’t the same for everyone. Below are some physical and psychological signs and symptoms you may recognize if you experience social anxiety.
Physical social anxiety symptoms
The stress associated with anxiety can take a physical toll on the body. Some people describe this as experiencing anxiety in places like their shoulders, forehead, or stomach.
Some physical manifestations of social anxiety disorder include:
- dizziness or fainting
- muscle tension
- heart palpitations
- hyperventilating, or shortness of breath
- nausea or vomiting
- irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- excessive sweating
- shaking or trembling
While this list can give you an indication of whether you have social anxiety disorder, it’s not meant to be a substitute for diagnosis.
In some cases, these symptoms can actually feed your social anxiety disorder. For instance, blushing might make your embarrassment worse if you feel it’s drawing unwanted attention.
Psychological social anxiety symptoms
If you have social anxiety disorder, you might also experience psychological signs and symptoms that affect how you think and feel. These might manifest as:
- feelings of dread before work, school, or social events
- fear, stress, or panic in social settings
- “brain fog” during conversations
- intrusive thoughts about social situations
- feelings of loneliness or social isolation
- fatigue after socializing
- hesitance to speak up, for fear of offending others
- difficulty making eye contact
- low self-esteem
Having social anxiety disorder can feel isolating, but you’re not alone. Many people have found ways to manage their social anxiety symptoms, and you can, too. While no two mental health journeys are alike, it may help to view your symptoms with patience and self-compassion.
Social anxiety disorder can look different from person to person. If you have social anxiety disorder, your symptoms might present as mild, moderate, or severe. Your symptoms can also cause mild, moderate, or severe impairment in terms of day-to-day functioning.
NIMH reports that in a survey led by Harvard University from 2001 to 2003, it’s estimated that out of U.S. adults with social anxiety disorder:
- 31.3% had mild impairment
- 38.8% had moderate impairment
- 29.9% had serious impairment
Also, you may experience only fear or anxiety in one specific type of social situation or numerous social situations. And sometimes, social anxiety disorder involves specific fears. These can include the fear of:
- public speaking
- talking with strangers
- using a public restroom
- eating in front of others
- talking on the phone when others are present
- being watched while working
This list highlights some common fears people with social anxiety disorder may experience, but it’s not comprehensive. You may find that a completely different social situation triggers your social anxiety.
It can also be easy to confuse another condition for social anxiety disorder because they have symptoms in common. Some conditions that have symptoms in common with social anxiety include:
- panic disorder
- generalized anxiety disorder
- separation anxiety disorder
- specific phobia
- major depressive disorder
- body dysmorphia
- avoidant personality disorder
If you talk with a therapist, they may also want to rule out some of these conditions if you have social anxiety symptoms. This way, they can make sure they’re using the best care approaches for you.
If you’re wondering whether you have social anxiety disorder, it can help to know how professionals diagnose it.
Mental health professionals use criteria, or a checklist of symptoms, from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) to learn more about you and whether a diagnosis makes sense in your case.
The DSM-5 includes specific diagnostic criteria for social anxiety disorder. If you talk with a therapist, they might ask questions like these to determine whether you’re experiencing symptoms of social anxiety disorder:
- Do you often worry about humiliating or embarrassing yourself?
- Do you feel anxious whenever you’re in certain social situations?
- Do you avoid social situations because of anxiety?
- When you feel anxious, is it mainly around people or when you think about interacting with people?
- Do your fears include social situations involving strangers or the possibility of being judged?
- Do you have panic attacks related to social situations?
- Do you feel like you can’t stop worrying, even though you know your fear doesn’t make sense?
- Does your anxiety negatively impact your day-to-day life, including school, work, relationships, or hobbies?
- Has your anxiety lasted for 6 months or longer?
- Do you have any other medical or mental health conditions?
- Do you use any medications or substances?
If your social anxiety is related only to public speaking or performing in front of others, you may only have the performance type of social anxiety disorder.
According to the DSM-5,
The short answer is yes. When it comes to figuring out whether a child has social anxiety disorder, there are a few key distinctions. Keep in mind that according to the DSM-5, a child should be able to form age-appropriate relationships for a social anxiety disorder diagnosis to fit.
Here are two questions to ask if you’re wondering whether a child has social anxiety disorder:
- Are they anxious when spending time with friends their own age, or just with adults? A child with social anxiety will have anxiety around their peers.
- Do they cry, throw tantrums, freeze, or hide from social situations or around strangers? While these symptoms may not be a sign of social anxiety in adults, they may be key manifestations of social anxiety disorder among children.
Another important difference is that while adults tend to know that fear related to social anxiety is unnecessary, children may not. Children may have a harder time telling when a fear is appropriate for a situation and when it’s out of proportion.
You may need to seek help for social anxiety when you feel it’s stopping you from living day-to-day life. For example, you might feel social anxiety is holding you back from taking an important step for your career or making meaningful friendships.
A therapist or other mental health professional can be a key source of support in navigating social anxiety disorder. You can work together to create a plan that addresses specific problems and symptoms related to your social anxiety.
There are many paths to managing social anxiety symptoms. You can learn more about how to manage social anxiety here.