Social Anxiety: When It Happens, What It Feels Like and What to DoIt’s normal to feel anxious or a little afraid when meeting people for the first time, going to a party with people you don’t know well, or giving a speech in front of others. Yet, people with social anxiety feel these fears on an amplified level.

For those who have social anxiety, many activities are often difficult. People with social anxiety fear being rejected, being judged, or being thought of as boring or stupid. Regardless of how unfounded these thoughts are, they are still prevalent in those with social anxiety.

Here is more about social anxiety: when it happens, what it feels like, and what to do if you have it.

What is Social Anxiety?

Social anxiety is a fear of what other people think in social situations. A person with social anxiety might fear that others are judging them. They might feel embarrassed or out of place. They fear that they are evaluated by other people in a negative way.

This makes social gatherings, public speaking, and being around others in a lot of situations very difficult.

Who Gets Social Anxiety?

Social anxiety is a very common disorder. In fact, it is the third most common mental health issue, affecting millions of people. According to the Social Anxiety Institute:

In the United States, epidemiological studies have recently pegged social anxiety disorder as the third largest psychological disorder in the country, after depression and alcoholism. It is estimated that about 7% of the population suffers from some form of social anxiety at the present time. The lifetime prevalence rate for developing social anxiety disorder is 13-14%.

What Causes It?

The causes of social anxiety are environmental and biological factors, just like for other mental health disorders.


While no one knows how much our inherited traits lead to social anxiety, it is common for it to run in families. What isn’t known for sure is if it is all pure genetics or a combination of learned behaviors from the people who also have it.

Brain Structure

A part of our brain called the amygdala may play a role in social anxiety. The amygdala regulates the fear response. Those who have an elevated fear response may have more social anxiety.


While genetics and brain structure may certainly play a part in social anxiety, it may also be a learned behavior. This may be from a previous experience that was shameful. Or, in some cases, parents who are too controlling or overprotective may lend this behavior to their offspring.

There are also negative risk factors that contribute to social anxiety or affect it in some way. These include:

  • Family history
  • Negative experiences
  • Temperament
  • New work or social demands
  • Having a condition or appearance that draws attention

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What Does It Feel Like?

To those who have social anxiety, it can often feel like a panic attack. These symptoms vary depending on the person, but an attack often includes a variation of the following symptoms:

  • Racing heart
  • Stomach distress
  • Sweating
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling out of your body
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Tingling sensation

This is an attack that feels overwhelming and for some, may be a combination of both social anxiety and another underlying mental health issue. This is because social anxiety is not as simple as making a blanket statement to its symptoms.

What to Do When Social Anxiety Happens

The main thing is to try to curb social anxiety before it happens, which means changing the way you think. Those with social anxiety do a few key things that may lead to a panic attack. They have negative thoughts, think of worst-case scenarios, and feel that they know what others are thinking. While these thoughts seem to be out of your control, there are things you can do.

Here are a few tips on minimizing some of your social anxiety.

Remove Negative Thoughts

Try to remove any negative thoughts from your mind. Instead of thinking, “Is everyone going to laugh at me?” focus on what is going on instead. Know that what you are thinking is highly unlikely to happen. Realize that many people have the same fears that you do.

Change Your Way of Thinking

There are a few unhealthy ways of thinking. According to Help Guide:

Ask yourself if you’re engaging in any of the following unhelpful thinking styles:

  • Mind reading – Assuming you know what other people are thinking, and that they see you in the same negative way that you see yourself.
  • Fortune telling – Predicting the future, usually while assuming the worst will happen. You just “know” that things will go horribly, so you’re already anxious before you’re even in the situation.
  • Catastrophizing – Blowing things out of proportion. For example, if people notice that you’re nervous, it will be “awful”, “terrible”, or “disastrous.”
  • Personalizing – Assuming that people are focusing on you in a negative way or that what’s going on with other people has to do with you.

Treatment for Social Anxiety

According to multiple studies, one of the best forms of treatment for social anxiety is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This form of treatment allows you to learn new ways of thinking and achievable goals.

At Transformations, we offer a wealth of treatment options. As well as cognitive behavioral therapy, we also offer group therapy, experiential treatment, and holistic treatment.

There is help for social anxiety. If you or a loved one needs to know more about social anxiety and its treatment, contact us so we can help.