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Social Anxiety: What Causes It?



Social anxiety is among the common mental health conditions affecting millions of Americans. People who have social anxiety often experience stressful and distressful social interactions tainted by extreme discomfort and intense fear when in social gatherings.

As a result, most individuals with this condition will avoid social situations. While it can be easier to identify signs of this condition, understanding social anxiety and its causes can go a long way in shedding light on its complexity.

This article examines some of the potential factors that lead to social anxiety.

Environmental Factors

Factors such as an individual’s early experiences and upbringing can massively contribute to the development of social anxiety.

In particular, neglect, physical or sexual abuse during childhood, and other traumatic events can affect how a person feels when in a social situation.

Therefore, the chronic exposure of an individual to traumatizing situations or stressful environments can contribute to social anxiety later in life. And as irrational as these may appear to be, the fears are often difficult for one to escape.

Family History and Genetics

According to scientific research, genetics contribute to social anxiety. An individual with family members that have a history of social anxiety is susceptible to experiencing anxiety disorders.

Genetic factors can affect how the brain of an individual responds to social stimuli and stress, thus triggering the advancement of social disorder.

While that is the case, it can be difficult to ascertain to what extent the parent-child social anxiety can be attributed to genetics as other factors such as parenting style also contribute to this condition.

Cognitive Factors

Cognitive factors also contribute to the development of social anxiety. Among these factors are an individual’s negative thought patterns as well as misleading beliefs about themselves.

More often than not, people who suffer from social anxiety or anxiety disorder negatively evaluate themselves and in the process, they anticipate rejection from others.

Such cognitive biases often go a long way in perpetuating avoidance behaviors, especially in places where many people are gathered.

Brain Chemistry

The brain’s role in regulating emotions and social situations is well elucidated. People with an anxiety disorder may show variation in brain structure as well as function as opposed to those without social anxiety.

According to research, brain sections responsible for processing anxiety and fear – the prefrontal cortex and amygdala – may have altered connectivity in those with social anxiety.

This means that the prefrontal cortex and amygdala which are responsible for diffusing fear or anxiety cannot effectively do so if there is altered connectivity between the two parts.

Learned Behavior

Learned behavior is also a crucial factor that can contribute to social anxiety. What this means is that observing and experiencing traumatic events or negative interactions can influence how a person perceives a social situation.

With time, such negative experiences reinforce one’s fear, resulting in social anxiety.

Final Word

Effective intervention options for social anxiety exist and among them are cognitive behavioral therapy, medications, support groups, and mindfulness and relaxation techniques.

Seeking professional assistance will help you determine which of the options available are most ideal for your case.