Originally found on https://www.everydayhealth.com/social-anxiety-disorder/guide/

Social anxiety disorder — formerly known as social phobia — is an anxiety disorder characterized by a strong, persistent fear of being judged by others, and by frequent feelings of embarrassment.

This disorder consists of much more than the shyness or nervousness many people feel regarding normal social engagements, such as going on a first date or giving a presentation (“stage fright”).

The condition can interfere with daily activities and even cause people to completely avoid social interactions — despite often knowing that their anxiety is irrational.

Prevalence

Compared with other anxiety disorders, social anxiety disorder is fairly common, affecting 15 million U.S. adults, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

It affects 6.8 percent of the U.S. adult population in a given year, according to a 2005 report in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

An estimated 12.1 percent of U.S. adults will experience the disorder at some point in their lives, according to separate 2005 report in the journal.

Social anxiety disorder usually develops early in life, beginning on average at age 13.

In fact, 5.5 percent of children between ages 13 and 18 will develop social anxiety disorder during these years, according to a 2010 report in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

Causes and Risk Factors

As with other anxiety disorders, it's not clear what causes social anxiety disorder.

The condition is twice as common in women as it is in men. It also sometimes runs in families, suggesting that genetics may be involved.

Other risk factors may include:

  • Trauma, such as sexual or physical abuse
  • Weak social skills and limited social engagement
  • Differences in the areas of the brain that regulate fear and anxiety
  • Having a visible health condition that may draw unwanted attention
  • Being raised by parents who engage in negative parental practices, such as being overprotective, overly anxious, or rejecting

Symptoms

People with social anxiety disorder tend to:

  • Feel anxious about being around and talking with other people
  • Feel very self-conscious or embarrassed in front of other people
  • Have a difficult time making and keeping friends

In some cases, people with social anxiety disorder may fear a single situation, such as talking to a salesman.

But people with the disorder may also fear and avoid a number of situations in which they feel others might judge them, including:

  • Parties and other social engagements
  • Eating, drinking, or writing in public
  • Meeting new people
  • Speaking in public
  • Using public restrooms
  • Making phone calls

This anxiety can also cause various physical symptoms, such as:

  • Blushing
  • Profuse sweating
  • Nausea and other gastrointestinal issues, including diarrhea
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Headaches
  • Lightheadedness and feeling like you’re going to pass out
  • Trembling
  • Muscle tension and twitching

In people with social anxiety disorder, these symptoms of fear, anxiety, and avoidance are persistent and usually last for at least six months.

The disorder may also lead people to avoid face-to-face interactions and only interact via technology (phones and computers), or to use alcohol or drugs to function in social situations.

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