What causes social anxiety?

Social anxiety is a condition that causes sufferers to experience incapacitating fear around social situations. 

If you suffer from social anxiety, something as simple as answering the phone or speaking to a checkout assistant can trigger an anxiety attack. 

Social anxiety is a complex disorder that doesn’t have a single, easily-explained cause. However, in this article we’ll explore what the latest research has to say to give you a better idea of the combination of factors that can lead to the condition. 

It’s genetic

There’ve been many studies that have set out to pin down the origins of anxiety. Many of these have focussed on how much your genes influence your tendency to suffer from the condition. 

Several of these studies (many of which you can find links to in this fascinating Healthline article) demonstrate a link between certain genes and the symptoms of anxiety, including phobias and panic disorders, suggesting people born with these genes are more likely to suffer from anxiety. 

So, it appears that you could be destined to be predisposed to anxiety-related illnesses because of your DNA.

It’s hereditary

Studies also suggest that anxiety disorders can be inherited. So, if your parents or grandparents suffer from an anxiety-related condition, you’re statistically more likely to experience them yourself. 

It’s also worth noting that females are twice as likely to experience anxiety related illnesses than males – something else you don’t have any control over.  

It’s down to how your brain is wired

Another key factor that the research has revealed in your tendency to suffer from anxiety is the way your brain is wired. 

If you have an overactive amygdala (a set of neurons deep in the brain’s medial temporal lobe that plays a key role in processing emotions), you may demonstrate increased levels of feelings of fear. 

Sound complicated? Ask yourself if you’re the type of person that takes highly emotional experiences like an argument with a loved one or an altercation with a stranger in their stride, or whether it’s something you find overwhelming. If it’s the latter, you may well have an overactive amygdala, which essentially causes your fear levels to be on high alert at all times. 

If you struggle to cope with emotional experiences, this article from Matt Norman provides some self-care tips on managing an overactive amygdala that you may find useful. 

However – and this is important to remind yourself – you should never assume that your emotions aren’t “real” because they might be being influenced by any of the factors we’ve discussed so far. If what you’re feeling is being influenced by things outside of your control, it doesn’t mean they aren’t valid or that you can’t proactively work towards overcoming through methods such as counselling. 

It’s caused by your environment

Whether you’re born with inherited “anxiety genes” or not, being regularly exposed to anxious behaviours, especially as a child, can contribute to the likelihood of you developing similar traits. 

For example, if you grew up in a household with a very anxious, panicky or fearful parent, those might become a learned behaviours of your own (a phenomenon this Child Mind Institute article explores in depth). 

The reassuring thing to remember about this is that a learned behaviour can be unlearned with the right support and guidance.

Lastly, there is also research that shows that negative life experiences can lead to anxiety-related disorders. Going through an emotional trauma, such as a form of abuse, harassment or conflict, can link certain people, places or environments to that experience. Your brain’s fight-or-flight response may then get triggered when you’re confronted with a similar situation in the future, even though you’re in a perfectly safe environment.

How to overcome social anxiety

Why ever you find yourself experiencing social phobias, you are not to blame and trust us when we say that you can get better. 

The treatment for social anxieties very much depends on the symptoms and personality of the individual, which only highlights the importance of a thorough assessment and pairing during the counselling process, like we do here at NECS.

If you would like to speak to us regarding your own social phobia, contact us today to book your first appointment, which we’ll aim to schedule within a week. We can also offer support to individuals throughout the UK via telephone and video call appointments.

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