Social anxiety

Description

Social anxiety belongs to the large group of anxiety disorders.

Social anxiety is characterized by an intense fear associated with social activities or performance situations where the person is likely to be observed by others. In these types of situations, they will almost always feel afraid of being judged negatively (fear of being embarrassed, humiliated or rejected). Social interactions such as speaking or eating in public will almost always cause anxiety.

Not that fear is a normal emotional response to a real or perceived threat, a defense mechanism for ensuring survival. Fears are generally temporary and mild and do not prevent a person from functioning. In a person with social anxiety disorder, the fear is excessive, persistent and invasive. The person may try to avoid situations or conditions that recall the object of their fear, which can prevent them from functioning. We talk of social anxiety when this fear has been present for at least six months.

Just like adults, children can experience anxiety. For more information, go to the page Stress and anxiety in your child or teenager.

Performance anxiety

Performance anxiety is a form of social anxiety that occurs in contexts of evaluation or competition. It is characterized by an exaggerated fear of failure and can lead to suffering. It can affect learning and performance negatively and is believed be a cause of dropping out of school. It can also affect a person's social, emotional and behavioural development as well as their self-esteem.

Signs and symptoms

People with social anxiety experience anxiety as soon as they are in a frightening situation or as soon as they anticipate having to face it. This interferes significantly with their lifestyle.

This anxiety and this intense fear are often accompanied by one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Fear of being judged
  • Fear of offending others or being rejected
  • Tendency to avoid social situations, such as avoiding going to parties
  • Physical ailments

Performance anxiety

When it comes to performance anxiety, the exaggerated fear of failure is often accompanied by one or more of the following signs and symptoms:

  • Distorted, often negative thoughts before, during or after a performance or evaluation situation (for example, the person may tell themselves that they are not good enough and that they will fail)
  • Discomfort, stress and fear at the time of the evaluation
  • Fear of failing or of getting poor results
  • Panic attacks during evaluation situations
  • Feeling of ineffectiveness, or even incompetence
  • Insomnia or physical ailments before or during evaluations
  • Tendency to avoid certain situations for fear of failure or criticism
  • Constantly looking for positive feedback
  • Excessive pursuit of perfection
  • Unlimited studying in order to maximize the chances of getting a perfect grade

When to consult

Do not wait to be unable to conduct your usual activities to seek help. If you have signs or symptoms of an anxiety disorder, you can consult a resource in the field of anxiety disorders and mental health. You will find information, help and support.

However, consult a doctor or another healthcare and social services professional if you experience one of the following situations:

  • You feel extreme anxiety, which can escalate to a panic attack, when you are in the presence of certain objects or in a particular situation. You react in the same way when you anticipate facing those objects or being in those situations.
  • You avoid finding yourself facing these objects or situations, which interferes with your ability to function.
  • You use alcohol, drugs or unprescribed medication to cope with these objects or situations, or when your anxiety is too high.

The person you will meet can assess your needs and offer solutions to support you in the management of anxiety. To clarify the nature of your difficulties, they may suggest that you carry out a health exam or refer you to another professional for a more in-depth assessment. They will then discuss with you the different services or approaches that could meet your needs.

To find out how to access mental health care and services, go to the page Stepped mental health care and services.

General notice

Distress and suffering may be very severe for a person with anxiety and for their family and friends. If you have suicidal thoughts and fear for your safety or that of people around you, see the page Recognizing signs of distress and preventing suicide. You will find further information on help and resources available.

Care and services

There are treatments and services that are recognized as effective in supporting people with social anxiety. In particular, they relieve the symptoms and help them regain control of their lives and daily activities. The earlier a person consults, the better their prospects for recovery.

For more information, see the section Care and services of the page Anxiety disorders.

Study or job support services may also help you.

Associated issues

Living with untreated social anxiety disorder can have several consequences for the person and their family and friends. Consult the page Anxious disorders to find out the issues associated with anxiety disorders.

Prejudice

People with anxiety disorders are sometimes victims of their own prejudices and those of society at large. These prejudices discourage people from seeking help or continuing their treatment. To find out more about prejudice, its consequences and how to fight it, go to the page Fighting the stigma surrounding mental disorders.

Mental health and prevention

It is not always possible to prevent the onset of social anxiety. However, if you exhibit signs or symptoms associated with this disorder, there are ways to reduce symptoms and feel better.

Tips for promoting good mental health can help you change certain lifestyle habits. These changes can have a positive impact on your health and reduce or even eliminate some risk factors associated with the presence of mental disorders.

Risk factors

Social anxiety has no clear identified cause. Often, it is a combination of several factors that results in the onset of the signs and symptoms of social anxiety. These factors can be biological, hereditary, individual or environmental. See the page Anxiety disorder to learn more about the risk factors of anxiety disorders.

Performance anxiety

Rather, performance anxiety is associated with individual or environmental factors, such as:

  • A low sense of personal effectiveness: the person judges themselves on their ability to solve a given task or not. They tend to give up quickly if they have difficulty and focus on the difficulties and the consequences of failure
  • Low self-esteem: the person may try to increase their feelings of self-worth through academic or athletic success and, if they fail, may doubt their worth and feel shame
  • The presence of irrational thoughts: the person has all-or-nothing thoughts (if I fail this exam, I will never be good in my field) or excessive generalization (I failed this exam, I will fail them all), they tell themselves that they have no right to make mistakes or they have unattainable ideals of success
  • Perfectionism: they make excessively high demands of themselves and evaluate themselves too critically
  • Overvaluing individual performance and success
  • Assessing abilities based on academic success: from childhood onwards, the person may consider their grades to be representative of their abilities and level of intelligence
  • Exceedingly high parental expectations
  • A lack of support to develop strong self-confidence

Help and resources

To find information and support resources or to obtain care or services for social anxiety, go to the page Finding mental health help and support resources.

Last update: December 20, 2023

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