5 Root Causes of Social Anxiety – Highly Effective Social Anxiety Relief Strategies

When we think of social anxiety, the first things that come to mind are shyness and awkwardness. But are these really the root causes of social anxiety? According to a study by The Department of Psychology at the University of Cambridge, as many as one in five adults may experience some form of social anxiety disorder at some point in their lives.

What Really Causes Social Anxiety? 5 root causes of social anxiety

That’s why it’s important to understand what exactly causes this condition and how you can manage it better. Social anxiety disorder is an intense fear of being observed or scrutinized by others, leading to avoidance of common activities or new people for fear of embarrassment and humiliation.

However, there are many different subtypes based on the type of trigger from which the individual experiences anxiety. Social anxiety can be debilitating and make your life difficult if left unmanaged. Luckily, we’re here to help ease your worries about these issues so you know exactly what causes them and how you can manage them better.

Related: Best drugs for Social Anxiety: Over the Counter (OTC) Medication and other solutions


What are the root causes of social anxiety?

The root causes of social anxiety are tied to genetics, childhood trauma, your brain’s perception of situations, and other mental ailments. They can either be environmental factors, negative experiences, or genetics. The cause may be a combination of two or more factors but the actual cause is unknown.

The following are the probable causes of your social anxiety disorder:

1. Genetics: Family history

We’re all born with certain genes that can make our bodies respond differently to certain situations. Some of these genes can determine whether you’re more prone to experiencing social anxiety.

It’s common for social anxiety to run in the family, so chances are if you have anxiety, at least one of your parents or other family members may have experienced it, too. If your parents have anxiety and you have a genetic predisposition for the disorder, you’re more likely to experience social anxiety than someone who doesn’t have any family history of it.

This is because you’re more likely to inherit genes that make you more sensitive to social situations. Basically, some people are inherently more sensitive to their surroundings and the people around them.

2. Childhood Trauma (Negative experiences): teasing, bullying, rejection, ridicule, or humiliation as a child

When you’re still a child, your brain is developing and creating new pathways every day. You can imagine that it’s relatively easy to make connections between positive memories and negative ones.

When you experience a negative situation as a child, your brain makes a connection that’s more likely to remain with you into adulthood. Most people will experience hurtful things while growing up, but not everyone experiences social anxiety.

If you experienced bullying or other types of bullying, you might find yourself more self-conscious around others, which can lead to social anxiety. If you had a best friend growing up and were regularly made fun of, you might find it more difficult to find friends as an adult.

3. Excessive Self-Consciousness: fear being judged by others when we fear judgment for ourselves

Excessive self-consciousness can be a big factor in causing social anxiety. This means you may have an unhealthy amount of concern for the impression you’re making on others.

You may try to control your behavior according to what you think others want, and it may take a lot of effort to feel comfortable in social situations. This can be related to negative experiences in the past, such as being criticized for something you did.

It can also happen if you’re very focused on the way you look, the way you sound, or what you’re saying. Most people will fear being judged by others to the point of judging themselves. This can harm their mental health.

4. Mistaken Beliefs About Being Socially Approved

Some people may have a mistaken belief that everyone is evaluating them negatively. You may believe that others have formed an opinion about you based on your appearance or your social skills even though they haven’t.

You may believe that others have formed an opinion about you that isn’t based on reality and is therefore false, but you still take it very seriously. If you’re very self-conscious, you may think that everyone is watching and judging everything you do, even the things that aren’t related to social interactions.

You may believe that others are evaluating your personality, skills, and abilities even when they aren’t. This can significantly hinder your ability to function in everyday situations because you’re always worried about how others view you.

Socially-prescribed perfectionism

You may have what’s called socially-prescribed perfectionism. This means that you have high expectations for yourself and engage in self-criticism. You may feel like you have to be perfect in every situation, and that’s just not possible.

You may also have high expectations for others, and it can make you feel more nervous around others because you feel like you have to be perfect for them, too.

If you have socially prescribed perfectionism, it can make your social anxiety disorder worse. You may want to consider working with a therapist to explore this.

5. Unusual brain functioning- Overthinking and analyzing situations

Many people with social anxiety tend to overthink and analyze situations in their heads. Instead of looking at them objectively, they overthink and make things more challenging than necessary.

They may replay a situation over and over again in their head, picking apart their behavior and the things they said. They may focus on the fact that they made a mistake, wondering what other people think about it and what they must be thinking of them now.

They may try to predict what others will say or do in the future, which is something we can’t ever fully know for certain. This negative affect may influence the way we live causing anxiety.

Loss of self-esteem- Lack of confidence and self-worth

If you don’t feel confident in yourself, you may be more likely to feel self-conscious and nervous around others. You may worry about what others think of you and be concerned about making mistakes.

If you lack self-worth, it can make it more challenging to interact with others because you may feel like you’re not worthy of their time. People with social anxiety disorder often struggle with feelings of low self-esteem.

They may feel like they don’t deserve to go out and be around other people because they don’t think they’re good enough. If you feel this way, it may be helpful to talk to a therapist. They can help you explore your feelings and come to a healthier conclusion.

Misconduct of GABAergic and Corticotrope Processing

Anxiety can be a result of a malfunction in the emotional-processing brain structures. Thus, people with mood and anxiety disorders exhibit decreased cortical GABA. GABA controls anxiety, stress, and fear, therefore misconduct in the pathway can cause social anxiety.

You may have mismanaged GABAergic and corticotrope processing, which are essential neurotransmitter processes in the brain. GABAergic regulates anxiety and reduces feelings of nervousness, while corticotrope helps improve social functioning in people with social anxiety disorder.

If these processes are mismanaged, it can cause excessive anxiety and fear, making it harder to function in social situations. The effects of these pathways misconduct can be exacerbated by negative experiences during childhood such as teasing, bullying, rejection, ridicule, or humiliation.

Diagnosing Social Anxiety Disorder

Social anxiety disorder is diagnosed based on a list of criteria that a doctor will assess about you. You can take an online quiz to see if you think you would be diagnosed with social anxiety disorder. You can also talk to your doctor about whether you think you may have the disorder.

The doctor will want to know the answer to the following questions:

  • Do you avoid certain situations because you fear being scrutinized, criticized, or rejected?
  • Do you frequently worry about being judged by others?
  • Do you feel like everyone is watching you, waiting for you to make a mistake so they can laugh at you?

If the answer to any of these questions is YES, then your struggle may be a sign of social anxiety disorder. This condition is also referred to as a social phobia. It is a type of anxiety disorder that impacts the way an individual interacts with other people.

Social anxiety disorder can significantly impact your ability to have healthy relationships and enjoy life. If left untreated, anxiety can lead to substance abuse, depression, isolation from friends and family, and an overall negative perception of yourself.

Whether you’re just beginning to suspect that you might have this condition or are already in treatment for it, there are plenty of ways that social anxiety disorder can bring your life down if not treated effectively.

Symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder

Social anxiety presents several symptoms mostly associated with being in social places. It is a serious mental disorder to deal with if you can not visit places with other people or even perform in stages where people are observing you. If you have a social anxiety disorder, you may experience any combination of these symptoms:

  • Feeling anxious or nervous around other people
  • Feeling self-conscious, like you’re being watched all the time
  • Focusing on your own flaws and worrying about what others think of you
  • Experiencing negative thoughts about your abilities and future
  • Avoiding social situations that you think might cause you to feel anxious
  • Having a hard time making friends because you don’t want to make a mistake
  • Having trouble in your romantic relationships because of your symptoms
  • Finding it very challenging to go to school or work
  • Having thoughts that you have a serious mental illness
  • Having trouble sleeping or eating due to anxiety
  • Having trouble concentrating due to anxiety


It’s important to remember that social anxiety can affect anyone, even people who seem confident and outgoing. It’s also important to know that you can get help for this and live a normal life, even though it may seem challenging at times.

With the right treatment and support, you can greatly improve your ability to function in social situations. You can even make friends and go out on dates if you want to. You just have to be willing to put in the effort and follow a treatment plan such as CBT for social anxiety plan to help you improve.

There are many different ways to manage your social anxiety, so it’s important to try a few different things until you find what works best for you. It can take time to find the right approach, but it’s worth it in the end. You can live a normal and fulfilling life with social anxiety.

Dr. David Barlow

David is a well-known researcher and author in the anxiety disorders area with extensive research on their etiology, nature, and treatment. He started the site to share his real-life experiences on the management of anxiety disorders with successful diagnosis and treatment being his motivation to write or review the content on this site.