9 Things You Should Know About Social Anxiety Disorder

If you are just starting to learn about social anxiety disorder (SAD) this article will give you a starting point to go more in depth on a variety of topics. Find out a little bit about various aspects of the disorder and decide which topics to explore further.

It is more common than you think.

One in 10 people suffers from social anxiety.
Social anxiety is more common than you think. Getty / Saumil Shah

Over a lifetime, approximately 10% of people will experience the symptoms of social anxiety disorder (SAD).

It is the third most common psychiatric disorder after depression and alcohol abuse. However, it is common for those with SAD to receive a diagnosis only after many years of experiencing symptoms. Often, a diagnosis is made only after a person seeks help for a related problem, such as depression.

Symptoms may vary depending on cultural influences.

Social anxiety may show up differently in eastern cultures.
Social anxiety can vary by culture. Getty / Khoa Vu

In some Asian countries such as Japan or Korea, people with social anxiety disorder may fear offending others rather than being embarrassed. For example, they may fear that their extreme anxiety or direct eye contact may offend a conversation partner.

It is more common in women than in men.

Social anxiety is more common in women.
Women tend to suffer more often with social anxiety. Getty / Eva Bee

In the general population, SAD is more common in women compared to men.

If you have SAD, you probably have another disorder too.

Drinking is often used to cope with social anxiety.
Alcohol abuse sometimes pairs with social anxiety. Getty / Zero Creatives

Social anxiety disorder quite often pairs with other disorders, most often depression, other anxiety disorders or substance abuse. Social anxiety can lead to feelings of isolation and despair, which may provoke depression. Feeling nervous about social events may lead to drinking to cope. For these reasons, people often suffer with more than one of these disorders.

It can be generalized or specific.

Public speaking anxiety is only one social fear.
Public speaking fears alone reflect specific social anxiety disorder. Getty / Blend Images / Dave and Les Jacobs

If your only trigger is public speaking, you would be diagnosed with specific SAD. If, on the other hand, you fear most different kinds of social situations, the term generalized social anxiety disorder would be used.

It is caused by both genetics and environment.

Your genetics influences your chances of having SAD.
Genes likely play a role in social anxiety disorder. Getty / Atomic Imagery

SAD is the result of a combination of both biological and environmental factors.

If you have a genetic predisposition toward social anxiety disorder, you may not develop the disorder if your environment lacks the necessary triggers. Similarly, experiencing a traumatic social incident will not lead to the disorder if you don't already have a genetic predisposition.

SAD is more than just shyness.

Shyness differs from social anxiety disorder.
Shyness is a lesser form of social anxiety disorder. Getty / PhotoAlto Agency RF Collections / Sandro Di Carlo Darsa

While shy people are uneasy in social situations, they do not experience extreme dread in anticipation of these events, and don't tend to avoid situations that make them uneasy.

In this way, shyness may be thought of as a lesser form of social anxiety that does not cause as many impairments in functioning.

SAD tends to go undiagnosed and untreated.

Not many receive a diagnosis of their SAD.
Diagnosis of SAD can be challenging. Getty / Gary Waters

Less than 25% of people with SAD symptoms ever receive treatment. It is in the nature of those with social anxiety disorder to be reluctant to seek treatment. In addition, as the disorder is only now becoming more commonly recognized, it may often go undiagnosed even when a person seeks help. 

SAD is highly treatable!

Therapist talking to client in a group setting.
Behavior therapy can be conducted in a group session. Getty / Tom Merton

If you've suffered privately with the symptoms of SAD for a long time, it may seem like nothing can help.

While the disorder tends to go undiagnosed and untreated, for those that do seek and receive treatment, the majority show substantial improvement. Medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of both can lead to dramatic improvement of symptoms.


Somers JM, Goldner EM, Waraich P, Hsu L. Prevalence and Incidence Studies of Anxiety Disorders: A Systematic Review of the Literature.  Can J Psychiatry 2006;51(2).

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