What actually triggers social anxiety disorder?

While everyone may feel a little awkward from time to time when forced to go out of the house and actually deal with other people, if you are suffering from social anxiety, the thought of having to interact with others can lead to intense fear and panic that makes it difficult to work, attend school, or even spend time with friends or family. Social anxiety is not a rare disorder, with up to 12 percent of the population experiencing it at some point in their lives (via the National Center for Biotechnology Information). 

Even celebrities — people who make their living by performing for millions – are no stranger to crippling social anxiety: Australian actress Samara Weaving, Queer Eye‘s Antoni Porowski, former 90210 star AnnaLynne McCord, pop star Britney Spears, 50+ year showbiz veteran Donny Osmond, and even everybody’s favorite Friends character Chandler are just a few of the famous names who have struggled with this disorder.

Meeting new people can trigger social anxiety

One common trigger for social anxiety is having to meet new people, whether it be in a work or a social setting. Bridges to Recovery explains that if you are suffering from social anxiety, you may fear that these new people will be prone to judge or likely to reject you, or perhaps that you yourself will somehow do something so embarrassing that it will completely ruin the first impression you’re trying to make. 

In fact, the Mayo Clinic recognizes that meeting new people is so stressful that even if you haven’t previously experienced symptoms of social anxiety, a particularly traumatic experience involving having to interact with new people may cause you to develop the condition.

Going out on a date is a similar, but also totally different, type of social anxiety trigger. While meeting new people is scary in and of itself, what could be more stressful than meeting a new person with the expressed intent of hoping they will like you, find you attractive, and potentially want to enter into a romantic relationship with you? Even if your social anxiety disorder has allowed you to progress past that awkward first date, this only ups the stakes.

Having people watch you eat

As if dating wasn’t bad enough, what’s one of the things people typically do on a date? They go out for dinner, or at least for a drink or coffee. Yeesh! Help Guide lists eating or drinking in public as a major social anxiety trigger, and if you think about it, there is a lot that could potentially go wrong between your plate and your stomach — and since everyone has to eat at some point, it’s no surprise that this is an extremely common trigger for social anxiety.

Oh, and when it comes to drinking, it’s best to stick to water or at least decaf, as coffee and other caffeinated beverages will do you no favors as they can increase your feelings of anxiety. And as to booze… well, you may feel less anxious in the moment, but self-medicating with alcohol could lead to a situation that you’ll soon come to regret. 

Attending parties

Parties are like all the social anxiety triggers rolled into one. There are new people, sometimes lots of new people… and they will attempt to make conversation with you! On the other hand, they might not, which could even further increase your anxiety.

Also, you’ll often find yourself surrounded by festive food and drinks, which goes back to the eating and drinking thing, and you might have to participate in performative activities, such as singing “Happy Birthday.” 

While social anxiety can be really hard to deal with, and you might consider just skipping being social altogether to completely avoid these triggers, there is help available, so reach out to your doctor and schedule an appointment if you’re specifically avoiding situations like these.

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