What Causes Social Anxiety Disorder?

Social anxiety disorder (SAD) can be caused by genetics, learned behavior and health issues.  SAD can develop at any age.  I attended a Mental Health 101 presentation yesterday, which was part of Appleton’s Mental Health Awareness activities.  The presenter, from NAMI Fox Valley, shared a few statistics:  18% of people have anxiety disorders – that’s 40 million adults!  She also said that if someone is going to develop a mental illness, 25% of people will have it emerge by age 14 and 60% by age 22.  The key message here is that early intervention is of critical importance.

Back to the causes of SAD, I believe that some people are genetically prone to be more anxious.  It’s in the chemical make-up of their brain – that’s why medications exists that help to adjust the chemicals – to reduce the anxiety.  Just remember that medication alone will never eliminate SAD.  When it comes to learned behavior, when a child has a parent who is clearly uncomfortable and anxious in social situations, the child observes this behavior.  The child may learn to act this way over time, because not only are they seeing that the parent is socially anxious, but they are also more prone to the disorder because of genetics.  In these situations, it is likely that SAD will develop at some point in the child’s lifetime.  Of course, there is still a chance that a child may adjust socially without any issues.  Only time will tell!

I mentioned that SAD can develop at any age.  There may be situations where a person is in a car accident, or has a health issue.  Situations like these can negatively impact self-esteem and result in an onset of negative thought patterns which turn into something like SAD.  Or perhaps a person is, or has been, in an abusive relationship.  A person in this situation will be beat down emotionally and physically and will be left with a lot of issues to address including the possibility of SAD.

One more point about causes of SAD relates to bullying.  I will briefly mention bullying here, although I plan to devote a future blog post to this topic…  When a person is bullied, they can move beyond the terrible memories of those experiences and even forgive their attackers.  The issue that victims are often faced with, however, is in addressing the emotional damage that the bullying has done to them.  Long-term issues such as SAD can develop as a result of being victimized by a bully earlier in life.  More to come on this topic!

For me, I believe I developed SAD because of genetics and learned behavior.  Now, as I look back, I’m glad that I experienced SAD so that I can share my message in hopes of shedding light on the disorder for those who are living with uncertainty and fear in the midst of SAD.


Lisa is passionate about helping people to discover and live their best life. As a life and career coach, Lisa thrives on building solid, trusting emotional connections and being a positive advocate and accountability partner for you. Her coaching certifications and tools along with her personal and professional experiences result in a coaching experience that can help stressed out, overwhelmed clients to experience the joy and life satisfaction that Lisa now experiences. As an author, speaker and educator, Lisa speaks from the heart. Her engaging and inspirational style motivates people to continually grow and learn. She shares her personal struggles with anxiety and extreme stress openly and honestly while encouraging people of all ages to seek help.

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