Learn what social anxiety is and how it feels for many individuals.

What does it feel like to have social anxiety? For someone who has never experienced anxiety, depression or other mental health conditions, describing what social anxiety feels like can be challenging at best. Social anxiety symptoms can manifest in different ways for different people. However, many individuals with social anxiety report feeling similarly when faced with uncomfortable social situations.

Psychological Symptoms

Social anxiety comes with a variety of mental and physical symptoms. Some people may experience only a few symptoms, while others experience many. Some examples of psychological symptoms of social anxiety include:

  • Fear of offending someone: A person with social anxiety may fear that anything they say will somehow be misconstrued or misunderstood by the people around them. Even though it may not be true, there is a genuine, persistent fear of offending someone through actions or words.
  • Fear of being embarrassed in a social situation: Those with social anxiety may fear that in any given social situation, loved ones, friends, acquaintances or strangers may embarrass them or “call them out” for doing something embarrassing. Part of the fear of embarrassment is feeling out of control.
  • Fear of being the center of attention: Some individuals with social anxiety disorder have a strong dislike or fear of attention. These individuals prefer to be out of the limelight.
  • Fear of being judged: In many cases, individuals with social anxiety fear being judged by others for factors like their appearance, work or accomplishments.

Physical Effects

Besides psychological symptoms, having a social anxiety disorder can be physically debilitating for people. There are many real physical effects associated with social anxiety. For some, physical effects last a short time and pass within a few minutes. For others, physical effects last until the person can remove themselves from an uncomfortable social situation. Often times, physical effects come on without warning and can hinder a person’s ability to function or communicate with others. Some social anxiety physical symptoms include:

  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Dizziness
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Sweating palms
  • Feeling faint
  • Feeling the desire to run away or “escape” from the situation

How Social Anxiety Manifests

How exactly does social anxiety manifest? In some cases, there are specific social situations that trigger anxiety, while other situations rarely bother a person. Triggers for social anxiety are highly subjective and depend on the individual in question.

Some examples of common social anxiety triggers include:

  • Freezing up when meeting someone new: Sometimes, meeting someone new can trigger social anxiety. Individuals may feel uncomfortable around people they do not know well.
  • Stumbling through a speech or presentation: Individuals with social anxiety may feel very anxious when speaking in public. For some, getting through even a few slides of a presentation without stumbling on their words is a challenge. For others, social anxiety and speech problems happen no matter the social situation.
  • Talking to a police officer or other authority figure: Many people feel nervous talking to authority figures like bosses or police officers. Individuals with social anxiety may feel particularly unsettled when talking to such figures.
  • Interviewing for a new job: Most people are nervous before a job interview and want to create the best impression of themselves as possible. However, for some, job interviews can trigger social anxiety, decrease their performance or impact their ability to get a job.

Overcoming Social Anxiety Disorder

How can individuals overcome social anxiety? It may not be easy for some people to overcome their social anxiety. They may avoid triggers and live a more isolated life, or only associate with close family and friends to avoid upsetting social situations. If a person wants to address their social anxiety directly, they can decide to seek treatment. Typical treatments for social anxiety and social anxiety disorders include:

The overall goal of social anxiety disorder treatment is to help an individual identify social anxiety triggers that they commonly avoid, decide which trigger they are most fearful of, test their triggers, develop effective coping strategies and gradually expose themselves to their triggers until they are no longer uncomfortable with that particular social situation.

Do you or a loved one struggle with both social anxiety and addiction? The Recovery Village can help. Contact a representative to discuss treatment options for co-occurring social anxiety and addiction.

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Editor – Megan Hull
Megan Hull is a content specialist who edits, writes and ideates content to help people find recovery. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Bonnie Bullock, PHD
Bonnie is a medical communications specialist at Boston Strategic Partners, a global health industry consulting firm. Her recent work in mental health includes developing conference materials for clinical studies in mood disorders and copy-editing clinical manuscripts. Read more

National Institute of Mental Health. “Social Anxiety Disorder: More Than Just Shyness.” Accessed July 11, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.