Statistics show that more than 15 millions of Americans are struggling with social anxiety. The first signs of this mental health condition start to appear around the age of 13, but in about one third of the cases people wait before seeking a professional help even up to 10 years.
The causes of social anxiety have not been clearly established yet. It is believed that there are more factors involved such as:
The family medical history
Medical studies about social anxiety revealed that there is an inherited component, which can trigger the occurrence of the disorder. When a first-degree family member (parent or sibling) suffered or suffers from social anxiety, it became a kind of stereotype to say that “anxiety disorders run in families”. However, statistically talking genetics proved to be responsible in no more than 30% of cases.
The genes we get from our relatives may predispose us to the development of certain negative behavioral patterns, but the way we choose to think and take action can counteract this deficiency.
The importance of amygdala
Researchers claim that the structure located in the brain and known as amygdala, plays a role in regulating emotions, “fight or flight” response, and hormone secretions. Persons with an overactive amygdala are prone to develop higher level of fear showing an increased amount of anxiety in social situations. The fight or flight response does not naturally return to normal and reaches points where the individual experiences an impairment of his social skills.
Chemical imbalance in the brain
Another aspect is related to the secretion in the brain of three important neurotransmitters: serotonin (commonly named as the “happiness hormone”), gamma amino butyric acid (GABA), and norepinephrine. Lower levels of these chemicals lead to an imbalance that is often associated with mood swings, depression, and feeling insecure.
The psychological factors of social anxiety have the root cause in the individual’s past social interactions faced from an early age and the messages related to them, which had been stored into his memory.
Being bullied in school during childhood or adolescence dramatically increases the chances to develop anxiety disorders in adulthood. It is a fact that many patients diagnosed with social anxiety reported personal events when they were teased and intimidated by others.
On the other hand, in a study published in Psychological Science, which is one of the best rated psychology journals, is indicated that the aggressive tendency of some persons to bully people around them, in fact is a response to their own mental pressures connected to anxiety.
Parenting style represents a risk factor when:
parents are overprotective
An overprotective attitude keeps children from making new friends, or getting involved in social activities that are considered harmful and dangerous. Moreover, it induces the child’s fear that he is not able to handle safely events that other kids easily deal with.
children are rejected by their parents
The lack of parents’ affection and attention is not only painful for a child but it also creates the idea that he/she might be the cause. The child starts to be afraid that he does not behave properly, is not good enough at school, or embarrasses his parents.
parents are irritable or depressed
parents exaggerate the importance of having good manners and being well-prepared
Consume of drugs and alcohol
According to the data published by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a significant percentage of people with social anxiety (about 20%) consume alcohol and/or drugs. They claim that alcohol and drugs are the main means to face stressful situations.
Major changes such as moving to a new town or finding a new job break important contacts with family and friends. The psychological impact leads to vulnerability and adaptation problems when it comes to interacting with strangers.
New life stages
A large number of persons with social phobia recognize that the transition from childhood to adolescence, and later to adulthood represents or represented a hard time. The new role in society is the triggering event of their anxiety.
Negative core beliefs
Core beliefs are the thoughts about ourselves that we hold inside our mind for a long time. These beliefs determine our attitude and activate the way we behave in various situations. When we perceive mostly our shortcomings, we sever our inner energy necessary to cope with the daily challenges.
Observing others’ experiences
This environmental factor refers to the individual’s tendency to develop the symptoms of social anxiety after he/she observes what happened to others. Seeing someone, who is terrified when being bullied or made fun of, has a similar impact as it would be his/her own traumatic experience.
Early traumatic events
The exposure to traumatic events from an early age may be the starting point of an anxious response to social activities, years later.
Parents, who have their own history about feeling fearful and uncomfortable in society, are prone to transfer inaccurate information to their kid that disables his/her ability to learn and show good social skills.
As in the case of many mental issues, it has been not identified the exact cause of social anxiety yet. The general point of view is that the occurence of this disorder rely on a complex interaction between genetic inheritance, brain activity, personal experiences, and environment.