What Is Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia)? Simple Explanation

Fear of failure

Are you afraid to go to a neighborhood party because you’re afraid all eyes will be on you?

Does it immediately shock you when someone approaches you in the supermarket?

Are you not sure how to behave at your own birthday party and are you afraid of the moment when everyone will sing ‘Long may she live’?

If you feel insecure in the above situations, please realize that you are not the only one with this problem.

Scientific research has shown that more than 1 million Dutch people suffer from some form of social anxiety ( 1 ). Social phobia occurs in both women and men.

Then there is a good chance that you suffer from a social anxiety disorder and this article can help you gain insight into this and overcome the fear.

Purpose of this blog:  In this article you will learn how to recognize social anxiety disorder and why it is so difficult to overcome it. It also discusses 5 causes of social anxiety disorders so that you can tackle your anxiety problems at the source.

What is Social Anxiety Disorder or Social Phobia?

Many people dread speaking in front of a large group. Even experienced speakers or actors still experience some stress just before going on stage.

That is not a bad thing at all because stress provides a high dose of adrenaline so that people can perform better. It only becomes a problem if this stress makes you anxious.

It becomes an even bigger problem if you become limited in your thinking and actions and start to avoid certain situations. If this fear also determines your social life, we speak of a social anxiety disorder.

What is anxiety and where does it go wrong with a social anxiety disorder?

First, let’s take a look at what fear actually is. In this way we can better understand social anxiety disorders.

Fear is a healthy response to impending danger. If your body experiences a form of fear, your heart will beat faster, your breathing will become faster and the strength in your muscles will increase. Your body is preparing to go on the defensive, so to speak.

In social anxiety disorder, however, there is no real danger at all, yet the body is in a high state of readiness to attack.

And that is precisely why people with social phobia develop all kinds of physical complaints in certain situations, such as:

  • Palpitations
  • Excessive sweating
  • To blush
  • A dry mouth or just excessive saliva production
  • Trembling hands and legs
  • Nausea
  • Stutter
  • Trembling hands and legs
  • Nausea

Someone with a social phobia is convinced that a social situation is a dangerous situation, when in fact this is not the case at all.

This fear mainly stems from the fact that this person is very sensitive to what others think of them and is afraid of failure.

People with social phobia feel very insecure about themselves.

The strange thing is that people with social anxiety disorder are very well aware that this fear is not necessary at all.

Yet they fail to overcome it.

The Vicious Circles of Social Anxiety Disorder

Overcoming social anxiety disorder is not easy. If you have a social anxiety disorder, you often end up in situations that just perpetuate or make it worse.

For example, if you notice that you start to sweat or blush in front of others, you immediately think that others see this too. This makes you even more insecure, which increases the fear.

Sometimes this fear is so great that it can even lead to panic attacks.

If you suffer from a social anxiety disorder, you often become socially isolated. Just because you feel insecure in the company of others, you avoid more and more social situations.

Only in your familiar world do you still feel good and you go outside less and less. This is precisely what aggravates your social anxiety disorder.

The less you are confronted with social situations, the less used you are to social contact and the more anxious you become if you really can’t get out of it.

Possible causes of a social phobia

As with many mental illnesses, the origin of a social anxiety disorder is not so easy to determine.

Social phobia can have many causes. The Center for Health and Society of the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) also sees various causes of social phobia.

Cause 1: heredity

Although there is no gene responsible for social anxiety disorders, we do notice that they often affect several members of a family. In that sense, there is indeed a hereditary susceptibility.

Neuroscientist  Janna Marie Bas – Hoogendam, researcher at the University of  Leiden , studied the brain structure of family members with social anxiety disorders.

And what turned out? Social anxiety has an influence on the structure of certain brain regions and it is precisely this structure that is hereditary.

If your parents or other members of your family have social anxiety disorder, chances are you are sensitive to it too.

Cause 2: upbringing

Education also plays a major role in the development of social anxiety disorder. Children who are overprotected by their parents are more likely to develop a social anxiety disorder later in life.

If you were not given the opportunity as a child to interact with other children in a casual way, you may have a hard time dealing with social situations as an adult.

For example, if your parents didn’t let you go to birthday parties because they could be “too dangerous,” then you haven’t been able to learn to feel good in social situations.

For example, some parents also find youth movements too dangerous while you are just learning to feel good among others. Being restricted in establishing and maintaining social contacts as a child or young adult can later lead to a social anxiety disorder.

Cause 3: self-confidence

Social phobia also has a lot to do with self-confidence. After all, one of the hallmarks of social anxiety disorder is that you attach great importance to what others think about you.

You are afraid of doing or saying the wrong things and you avoid social contacts because of this. As a child, were you little or not encouraged by your parents or were you criticized a lot?

Then you can have low self-esteem and a lack of self-confidence and it is precisely this lack of self-confidence that can be a trigger to develop a social anxiety disorder.

Cause 4: imitative behavior

Children often imitate the behavior of their parents. And this can still have consequences at a later age.

Suppose your parents didn’t like parties at all. They hardly ever went out themselves and they had few social contacts.

If you’ve been given this from home, chances are you’re not interested in social gatherings at all. This can of course lead to you feeling insecure in a group of people, which in itself leads to a social phobia.

Cause 5: traumatic events

Traumatic events during childhood can also lead to social anxiety disorders.

Incidentally, the book Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – the pre-eminent manual for specialists in the field of mental health care – refers to traumatic experiences as the cause of social anxiety disorders.

For example, a traumatic event could be the sudden loss of someone very dear to you. This may concern a death, but also, for example, if you no longer have contact with one of your family members due to a divorce.

In addition, sexual abuse can also lead to a social anxiety disorder. Another common cause of social anxiety disorders is bullying. If you were often bullied as a child, this can also be the cause of a social phobia.

Social Anxiety Disorder vs. Being Shy

Social anxiety disorder is much more than just being shy. Everyone is shy at some point in life.

Maybe you don’t handle compliments well and you blush quickly. Or do you feel embarrassed because of something you said or did without thinking or maybe you are shy when the man or woman of your dreams appeals to you.

Signs of shyness include blushing, clammy hands, or even starting to stutter.

If you suffer from social phobia, these symptoms include palpitations, trembling hands or legs, and a general sense of panic. It can even be so bad that your surroundings look completely different and you lose control of yourself.

Although shy people often avoid social situations, social phobia goes much further. It is an all-consuming fear that takes over your whole life, as it were. You can no longer function normally and you are anxious to get out of the house.

Very often, people with social phobia end up in depression or suffer from addictions or compulsions.


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