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Social anxiety disorder symptoms - recognising when you need support

Social anxiety disorder - which is also known as social phobia - is more than just shyness. Social anxiety symptoms can be distressing to experience and seriously impact on your daily life as well as your work, relationships and self-confidence.

If you think that you have been experiencing social anxiety, we have outlined its common signs and symptoms as well as the treatment options and therapy formats that are available at our hospitals and wellbeing centres located around the UK.

Remember, you are not alone. While reaching out for support is understandably a difficult step to take, social anxiety disorder is a common mental health condition, and is one that can get better with the right help.    

Common social anxiety symptoms

It is normal to feel worried in some scenarios. Many of us will experience this when we are in high-pressure situations such as giving a presentation, interviewing for a job or taking an exam. But, for someone with social anxiety disorder, they will experience an extreme and often constant level of anxiety when faced with everyday scenarios.

Common signs and symptoms of social anxiety include the following:

  • Avoiding or worrying excessively about upcoming social activities, such as work lunches, parties or meals out
  • Dreading upcoming everyday activities like phone calls, shopping and work meetings
  • Worrying excessively about possible embarrassing scenarios, such as going red in the face, sweating or not being able to speak coherently
  • Expecting the worst possible scenario from upcoming social scenarios
  • Worrying excessively after a social scenario
  • Fearing criticism from others
  • Fearing meeting new people
  • Finding it difficult to be the centre of attention
  • Finding it difficult to do things when other people may be watching, such as eating in groups or working in an open plan office
  • Avoiding eye contact with other people
  • Experiencing physical sensations such as heart palpitations, nausea, trembling or sweating
  • Worrying to the extent that it affects sleep, appetite and work

If you are experiencing some or most, but not all, of these social anxiety disorder symptoms, that can be normal for someone with the condition. You don’t need to experience every symptom to have a social anxiety disorder.

Physical symptoms of social anxiety disorder

With social anxiety disorder, you will often experience physical symptoms too. These can be unpleasant, and you may worry about other people seeing them. Common ones include:

  • Blushing
  • Shaking and trembling
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Dry throat and mouth
  • Feeling as though your mind has gone blank

You may find that these symptoms appear most when you are stressed, or when you are in an environment where you feel anxious. You may experience them daily, or every now and again. Some people can also go on to experience panic attacks due to their fears of social situations.

The impact of experiencing social anxiety symptoms

If left untreated, social anxiety can have a serious impact on your health and wellbeing.

The social anxieties you have are likely caused by negative thoughts and beliefs that you hold, which will often be about yourself. For example, you may believe negative things about your abilities, your appearance, your mannerisms, your voice and other people’s perceptions of you. These negative beliefs then cause you to worry excessively before, during and after social situations.

This can go on to severely dent your self-esteem and confidence, stop you taking opportunities that would be beneficial and cause you to become isolated, as your worries about social situations stop you from getting out and maintaining relationships.

Managing your social anxiety disorder symptoms with professional treatment

It is so important to access the right support. We recognise that this is understandably difficult for someone experiencing social anxiety disorder symptoms, but it is well-worth pushing yourself to speak to a doctor or your local GP. They will be able to talk to you about your symptoms, and provide you with access to the right treatment, which may include a referral to a specialist like Priory Group. You can also start your treatment journey by coming to Priory for an initial assessment, and we can work with you to produce a treatment plan for managing your social anxiety symptoms going forward.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is often recommended for social anxiety disorder, and is one of the treatment options available here at Priory Group. Through this programme, you have the opportunity to address the thoughts and beliefs that cause you to feel anxious. You come to understand that you have control over these thoughts and are provided with strategies to help you move beyond the beliefs that are causing you worry.

Relaxation and mindfulness exercises can also be taught. Mindfulness helps you to understand that certain things in life lie outside of your control, and trains you to focus your attention to the present, rather than worrying about possible past or future situations.

Medication can also be prescribed for social anxiety disorder, if it is deemed appropriate.

Coronavirus information

We have now resumed face-to-face therapy at some of our hospitals and wellbeing centres, as well as continuing to offer this remotely. We continue to offer access to inpatient services where this is required. For more information on our online therapy service, please visit our Priory Connect page or read our latest online therapy blog. For the latest information on how Priory are responding to coronavirus, and keeping our patients and staff safe, please visit our COVID-19 preparedness blog.


Blog reviewed by Dr Oluwagbenga Odeyemi (MBBS, MPH, MRCPsych, PGDip. in Clinical Psychiatry), Consultant Psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Woodbourne

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For details of how Priory can provide you with assistance regarding mental health and wellbeing, please call 0800 840 3219 or click here to submit an enquiry form. For professionals looking to make a referral, please click here

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