What is social anxiety?

Social phobia is a form of anxiety disorder where a person feels intense pressure and under constant scrutiny when they are in a social setting.

While most people may feel somewhat nervous or apprehensive when in the spotlight during a public speech, a performance or giving an important presentation for work; for a person with social phobia this kind of experience can lead to high levels of anxiety.

It’s common for a person suffering from social phobia (often referred to as social anxiety disorder) to fear being ridiculed, judged or criticised in social situation for the most ordinary events – everyday occurrences that most people take for granted. The simplest task of meeting a new person via mutual friends can be completely daunting to the point of avoidance. A person may experience social phobia either in a performance situation such as during a work-related assessment; or in a social situation, involving making small talk with either with someone new, or even a close friend.

If you avoid normal, everyday social situations out of embarrassment, fear or worry, you should contact your mental health professional.

What are the symptoms of social anxiety?

The symptoms of social anxiety can manifest in the form of both psychological, behavioural and physical reactions.  The physical symptoms of social phobia include:

  • Diarrhoea or nausea
  • Trembling and shaking
  • Sweating profusely
  • Blushing
  • Speech stammering
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Trouble catching your breath
  • Dizziness or light-headedness
  • The feeling that your mind has gone blank
  • Experiencing muscle tension

Some of the physical symptoms can cause a lot of distress and lead to further anxiety.

People with social phobia tend to suffer from excessive levels of concern that they’ll say or do the wrong thing, resulting in something dreadful happening. In a situation where a person with social phobia can’t avoid being in a dreaded social environment, enduring the occasion places them under enormous stress and anxiety.  This makes it very difficult to function both personally and professionally.

In conjunction with the physical symptoms of social phobia there are the emotional and behavioural concerns.  These include the persistence of:

  • The intense fear of interacting or talking with strangers
  • Being fearful of situations in which you may be judged
  • Worrying about embarrassing or humiliating yourself
  • The fear that others will notice that you look anxious or fearful
  • Avoiding doing things or speaking to people out of fear of embarrassment
  • Going out of your way to avoid situations where you might be the centre of attention
  • Having anxiety in anticipation of a feared activity or event
  • Enduring a social situation with intense fear or anxiety
  • Spending time after a social situation analysing your performance and identifying flaws in your interactions
  • Always expecting the worst result from a negative experience during a social situation

In children, social phobia may present itself by the child having tantrums, being exceptionally clingy to their parents or having selective muteness in social environments.

The symptoms of social phobia may change over time. They may show up if you’re facing a lot of stress or demands. It’s important to note, that even though avoiding situations that produce anxiety may make you feel better in the short term, your anxiety is likely to continue over the long term if you do not seek treatment.

How common is social anxiety?

It is estimated that nearly 11 per cent of the Australian population will experience social phobia during their lifetime, with close to five percent experiencing social phobia in any 12-month period. Social phobia is more common in women than in men.

Social anxiety disorder typically begins in the early to mid-teens, though it can sometimes start in younger children or in adults.

What are the causes of social anxiety?

There are a number of causes of social phobia, which include:

  • Learned behaviour/environment: Some people with social phobia attribute the development of the condition to being poorly treated, publicly embarrassed or humiliated.
  • Temperament: Particularly at risk are adolescents who are shy or socially inhibited. Children who display very clingy behaviour, chronic shyness and cry easily may point to temperaments that may put them at risk of developing social phobia.
  • Family history: Social phobia can run in families, due to the possibility of a genetic predisposition.

Help for social anxiety

At Brain Training Australia we use Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Occupational Therapy and Neurofeedback Brain Training to help our clients struggling with social phobia and social anxiety.

Let us help you. Here is how to get started.


Funding options available Private Health, National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), Medicare, Department of Veteran Affairs (DVA), to cover part of, if not all of your Brain Training Program with us (see our Fees Page).