causes of social anxiety

5 Causes of Social Anxiety that you Need to Be Aware of

It can be so difficult to talk to someone about your issues sometimes.

You are afraid they’re going to judge you for it. You’re afraid you’re going to embarrass yourself.

So much pressure and fear to handle and all you can think of is shutting down and sleeping through the day. Just pull through one more day, drag yourself across the 24 hours.

Whew! That seems like a lot of work. Let’s try something different.

Let’s try to understand our problems. For that, identifying the causes of social anxiety would be a good start.

Please remember the causes of social anxiety could vary from person to person. What causes social anxiety for you might not be the case for someone else.

More so, despite being one of the most common mental health problems, extensive research is being conducted on social anxiety disorder (SAD) even today.

Researchers are trying to explore all plausible causes of social anxiety to give every individual a concrete diagnosis of their root social anxiety causes. 

causes of social anxiety
5 Causes of Social Anxiety

5 Causes of social anxiety:

1. Hereditary factors:

An individual’s biological composition can affect their mental state and behavior in a number of ways. This depends on the genetic factors that we inherit from our parents. The X- Y chromosomes help determine what the baby’s gender will be.

causes of social anxiety, hereditary factors

We need to keep in mind, parents have no control over which genes they might pass on to their children. Vast research is being carried out continually to establish genes as one of the causes of social anxiety but there is no substantial evidence supporting this yet.

This makes genes one of the less established causes of social anxiety. Nevertheless, it must not be ruled out without a professional’s opinion.

If you are wondering, ‘Does anxiety ever go away?’, read up on 5 Effective Methods to Overcome Social Anxiety.

2.  Observation & Learning:

What you observe as an individual growing up is an important aspect of your personality development and mental well-being.

causes of social anxiety, observation & learning

Sometimes as kids we pick up habits from others. This could be our parents, siblings, friends, and even classmates. Marketers often leverage this learning (called consumer socialization in marketing terms) to sell their products based on what consumers have picked up.

The same can be said about mental health problems. One of the most recognized causes of social anxiety would be what people learn from their observations.

Example: When a parent says, “I don’t think I can attend this meeting, I’m too nervous and anxious. I’ll just skip it.”, the child picks up this sentence and builds his habits around it.

Now, this is one of those causes of social anxiety that can be controlled to a certain extent. Parents can avoid projecting their anxiety towards children since they are at a tender, impressionable age.

3. Radical Changes:

You thought karma was a …., wait till you meet puberty! It’s not something to worry about as long as you learn to ignore the way others expect you to look or behave.

causes of social anxiety, radical changes

During the stages of puberty and transformation into an adult, there are a lot of changes that occur simultaneously. Appearances change, voices crack, hormone levels alter, and let’s just say all of it can be very daunting.

The added pressure can cause a nervous breakdown, the first of many to come. Individuals might start fearing social situations and avoiding them altogether.

Even a change in residence or office can be one of your social anxiety reasons. Anything out of your comfort zone might turn you into a recluse.

Example: Many teenagers face social anxiety during their growth phase as they get exposed to public scrutiny and criticism. There’s pressure to look a certain way, talk a certain way and behave a certain way as predetermined by societal norms.

4. Previous Experiences:

One of the most observed causes of social anxiety is that of negative and traumatic experiences an individual comes across in the course of his life.

causes of social anxiety, previous experiences

As kids, we could be put through traumatic incidents such as being bullied, feeling left out and unaccepted, being criticized again and again to name a few.

When you flee to college, the pressure increases, you might be exposed to taunting, ragging, rejection, social unacceptance and this might give rise to self-esteem issues which only worsen as we go into adulthood.

Even excessive exposure to television programs can lead to what is known as ‘The Mean World Syndrome’ as you learn about more and more negative experiences from the media you consume.

Sometimes life-altering events like the loss of a loved one, traumatic experiences (like assault, being bullied, going into war) may also give rise to social anxiety among individuals.

Example: something as simple as a child being chided for asking guests at home simple questions or a teen expressing her opinion on a matter might also in the long term add to your social anxiety.

5. Other Comorbidities:

If you have ever wondered, ‘Why did I suddenly develop social anxiety?’, there might be an answer to this. One of the strikingly common social anxiety causes is a pre-existing mental health problem.

social anxiety causes, comorbidities, depression

An individual already suffering from disorders like depression, mania, and generalized anxiety disorder, to name a few. These individuals will have some habitual patterns that might slip into social settings too.

Example: A person suffering from panic disorder might have a panic attack in the middle of his best man’s speech. What with all those eyes locked in on you! This makes it very difficult to tell the 2 disorders apart.

It is also likely that a person with depression worries about projecting their sadness and turmoil in public and might avoid meeting friends altogether.

Remember: As of today, it might be difficult to ascertain which one of the causes of social anxiety described above has triggered the condition for you. Visiting a doctor to get to the root of your problem would be a good first step towards recovery.

Let us take a look at few questions you might have regarding social anxiety.

What is the difference between social anxiety and shyness?

Social anxiety is a condition in which you might be overwhelmed by a surge of fear in social situations. Example: At a conference when everyone is watching you along with the added pressure of ‘expectations’, you could crumble under all that weight.

This makes you want to avoid conferences altogether, to avoid going through that stress.

social anxiety and shyness

Social anxiety involves feeling higher levels of fear and nervousness than shyness.

Shyness on the other hand is feeling a bit nervous in the presence of others you are not so familiar with. It might not force you to avoid the situation, no matter how uncomfortable it makes you because you feel like you will grow out of it with time.

causes of social anxiety, shyness

A shy individual has a higher tolerance for social situations than a person with social anxiety and will not try to avoid situations.

Also read: Yes, Introversion and Social Anxiety Are Two Different Things.

How long can anxiety last?

Although social anxiety is a common problem, scores of people confuse it with shyness and nervousness. Yet others, might completely deny suffering from it and neglect it.

Social anxiety, if left untreated could extend for longer periods of time, whether individuals realize it or not. If you are unaware of the causes of social anxiety or how it is impacting you, it is best if you visit a medical practitioner.

How long can anxiety last

Now, it might never be too late to approach social anxiety support groups and seek treatment. Studies show people suffering from the same problems or facing similar issues, tend to help each other out better.

Even with the right treatment and regular practice, social anxiety could take up to weeks for some, months for others, and years for many too. The key to overcoming the problem in the long term would be to stay patient and make a conscious effort.

Just like exercising to stay healthy and fit, don’t push way beyond your limits in the learning stages, as this might lead to burnout.

If you are familiar with someone who is suffering from social anxiety, you might want to tread more carefully when dealing with them. Here’s a list of things you should avoid saying.

What should you not say to someone with anxiety?

Some of these common phrases should be avoided:

  • Calm down/ Relax/ Chill.
  • Why don’t you speak more?
  • Think positive.
  • Why don’t you open up more?
  • Let me place an order for you.
  • Are you blushing?
  • Why do you sweat this much?
  • Don’t show up if you are so scared!
  • Why don’t you loosen up a bit?
  • Stop being a cry baby.
  • You’re afraid of everything!
  • Stop blushing!
  • Get a grip on yourself.

    If they weren’t already nervous and scared, you might just push them there.

Here’s how you can help a person suffering from social anxiety. Teach them the 333 rule and help them practice.

What is the 333 rule for anxiety?

They’ve got their causes of social anxiety down, they know their symptoms, they are aware of the possible triggers and so are you. Help them practice the 333 techniques to overcome social anxiety at the moment.

Sometimes, certain situations just cannot be avoided, for instance, a sibling’s wedding or a company meeting. Other times, they might end up in a situation without being consciously aware of it or without prior notice.

In such times, previously practiced techniques can help leaps to control or conceal social anxiety. One such method is the 333 rule for anxiety, which calls for the individual to be in the present moment and tackle the situation without slipping into a breakdown.

Distract yourself in 3 steps:

  • Visual Distraction: Observe the room or place around you and name 3 objects that you can find in that space.
  • Aural Distraction: Listen to your surroundings and chart out 3 sounds you can hear.

Now that you have leveraged 2 of your senses, move on to moving some body parts to shake off the nervousness.

  • Wiggle your toes, clench and unclench your fists, count on your fingers, shake your leg or shake or gently roll the shoulders. Use any movements that can be easily incorporated in any life situation.


Social Anxiety like any other problem must be dealt with carefully. Understanding the causes of social anxiety and getting to the root of your causes is an essential step in overcoming the problem. Through this article, you have been made familiar with some of the plausible causes of social anxiety but they might not all apply to you.

The best way to go about tackling your problem and nipping it in the bud is to approach a medical practitioner and have them look into your case. Given that each case is different and individuals require different levels of support to recuperate, the medical facilities provided will be unique to you.

If you know someone who might be suffering from social anxiety, we urge you to encourage them to get to the root of their problems and help them understand these causes of social anxiety.

Leave a comment below to let me know how this article was of help to you or someone you recommended it to.

Together we stand, together we can!

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