Social anxiety disorder

Social anxiety disorder (also called social phobia) is when you experience intense anxiety about social situations or performing in front of others.

You might fear being judged, criticised, laughed at or humiliated in front of others, even in everyday situations. For example, eating in front of others at a restaurant might cause anxiety.

Girl playing with her dog

How common is social anxiety?

If you have social anxiety disorder you’re not alone:

  • around 11 per cent of Australians experience social anxiety during their lifetime
  • around 7 per cent experience social anxiety in any 12-month period.

Download our Social Phobia fact sheet (PDF, 2781KB).

Signs and symptoms of social anxiety

Common symptoms of social anxiety include physical and psychological symptoms.

When symptoms can happen

Social anxiety may happen before or during:

  • performing in front of others - such as giving a speech or being watched while you work
  • social situations – such as meeting new people or having a meal with friends
  • specific situations – for example, you might feel calm at work but have a specific fear of talking to people at parties.

Behaviour

If you have social anxiety you may try to avoid situations where you fear acting in a way that's humiliating or embarrassing.

This can have a serious negative effect on your work life, personal relationships and everyday activities.

Feelings

If you can’t avoid a situation you can become extremely anxious and distressed. You might try to leave the situation as soon as you can.

Thoughts

You may worry excessively that you’ll do or say the wrong thing and that something terrible will happen as a result.

Physical symptoms

You might experience:

  • excessive perspiration
  • trembling
  • blushing or stammering when trying to speak
  • nausea or diarrhoea.

Effective treatments for social anxiety

Research shows that the most effective treatments for social anxiety are:

  • cognitive behaviour therapy
  • behaviour therapy (including exposure therapy)
  • antidepressant medication – for severe social anxiety.

Learn more about Treatments for anxiety.

Do I have social anxiety disorder?

Many people feel nervous in social situations. You might feel anxious about giving a speech at a wedding or delivering a presentation to work colleagues. That’s an expected part of life and doesn’t necessarily mean you have an anxiety condition.

A mental health professional may diagnose social anxiety disorder if:

  • you experience the symptoms listed on this page
  • the symptoms cause significant distress or stop you from doing everyday activities
  • the symptoms are persistent (for example, for at least six months).

If you think you may have social anxiety we can help you find the support you need at Get mental health support.

Should I get support?

You may be feeling unsure about whether you should seek support.

Our anonymous mental health check-in can help you understand whether your anxious feelings are the kind of worries that will go away on their own, or whether it’s time to get more support to help you feel better.

It’s an evidence-based tool which asks you 10 questions about the feelings you’ve been having over the past 4 weeks. It’s sometimes called the “K10” and is widely used by GPs and mental health professionals.

Mental health check-in

Causes of social anxiety

Temperament

Adolescents who are shy or socially inhibited are particularly at risk. In children, clingy behaviour, shyness, crying easily and excessive timidity may indicate temperaments that could possibly put them at risk of developing social anxiety.

Family history

Social anxiety can run in the family, in part because of a possible genetic predisposition.

Learned behaviour or environment

Some people with social anxiety attribute the development of the condition to being poorly treated, publicly embarrassed or humiliated (for example, being bullied at school).

Supporting someone else

If you’re worried about someone close to you, there are things you can do to support them.

Journey to recovery - personal stories

If you have an anxiety condition, you’re not alone.

Learn what anxiety feels like and how it can be managed.

Read and watch more personal stories about anxiety

Finding answers to anxiety: Amy's story

From an early age, much of Amy’s life has been consumed by anxiety, especially in social situations.

Read more

Anxiety doesn’t stop for your AFL career

Living out his dream in the AFL, Liam thought mental health wasn’t something he had to worry about. His anxiety had other ideas.

Read more

References

Beyond Blue uses statistics from trusted references and research. For a full list of references for all statistics quoted on our website, please visit Statistics.