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Social Anxiety Disorder Centre for Addiction
and Mental Health

 Health Info A-Z


Social Anxiety Disorder

What is social anxiety disorder?

Social anxiety disorder (also known as social phobia) involves a “marked fear or anxiety about social situations in which the person may be exposed to possible scrutiny by others” (American Psychiatric Association, 2013, p. 202). This fear and/or avoidance related to social situations lasts at least six months.

Fears may be associated with most social situations related to public performance or social interactions, such as participating in small groups, meeting strangers, dating or playing sports.

What are the signs & symptoms of social anxiety disorder?

Cognitive signs and symptoms include thoughts such as:

  • “I’ll look anxious and stupid.”
  • “People will think I’m weird.”

Physical signs and symptoms include:

  • blushing
  • sweating
  • dry mouth.

Behavioural signs and symptoms include:

  • avoiding social gatherings, parties, meetings
  • avoiding public speaking

What are the causes & risk factors of social anxiety disorder?

There are no clear-cut answers as to why some people develop social anxiety disorder, although research suggests that various factors may be involved. Like most mental health problems, social anxiety disorder appears to be caused by a combination of biological and psychological factors and challenging life experiences. These include:

  • stressful or traumatic life events (e.g., bullying)
  • a family history of anxiety disorders
  • other medical or psychiatric problems.

What is the treatment for social anxiety disorder?

Many psychological treatments, such as relaxation training, meditation, biofeedback and stress management, can help with social anxiety disorder. Many people with social anxiety disorder also benefit from supportive counselling or couples or family therapy. However, experts agree that the most effective form of treatment for social anxiety disorder is cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT for social anxiety disorder may include exposure therapy which involves direct or imagined controlled exposure to objects or situations that arouse anxiety. Medications have also been proven effective, and many people receive CBT and medication in combination.

Reference: American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.), Washington, DC: Author.

Adapted from Anxiety Disorders: An Information Guide © 2016 Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

Where can I find help, treatment and support for social phobia?

Treatment from CAMH 

Help for Families from CAMH

Ontario Mental Health Helpline (open 24/7 for treatment anywhere in Ontario)​​


Where can I find more information related to social phobia?


Anxiety: An Information Guide (CAMH online store)

Anxiety Disorder 101 (online tutorial) Please Note: Your pop-up blocker must be turned off to view this tutorial

What Older Adults, Their Families and Friends Need to Know about… Anxiety (PDF)

Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy: An Information Guide (CAMH online store)

Understanding Psychiatric Medications: Antidepressants

Understanding Psychiatric Medications: Benzodiazepines

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