Researchers continue to study possible causes, including:
* Genes. Researchers are seeking out specific genes that play a role in anxiety and fear.
Social anxiety disorder seems to run in families.
But it’s not clear whether that hereditary component is related to genetics or to anxious behavior you learn from other family members.
* Biochemistry. Researchers are exploring the idea that natural chemicals in your body may play a role in social anxiety disorder.
For instance, an imbalance in the brain chemical serotonin (ser-oh-TOE-nin) could be a factor.
Serotonin, a neurotransmitter, helps regulate mood and emotions, among other things.
People with social anxiety disorder may be extra-sensitive to the effects of serotonin.
* Fear responses. Some research suggests that a structure in the brain called the amygdala (uh-MIG-duh-luh) may play a role in controlling the fear response.
People who have an overactive amygdala may have a heightened fear response, causing increased anxiety in social situations.
Social anxiety disorder is one of the most common of all mental disorders.
Up to 13 percent of people in Western countries experience social anxiety disorder at some point in their lives.
Social anxiety disorder usually begins in the early to midteens, although it can sometimes begin earlier in childhood or in adulthood.
A number of factors can increase the risk of developing social anxiety disorder, including:
* Your sex. About twice as many women as men have social anxiety disorder.
* Family history. Some research indicates that you’re more likely to develop social anxiety disorder if your biological parents or siblings have the condition.
* Environment. Some experts theorize that social anxiety disorder is a learned behavior. That is, you may develop the condition after witnessing the anxious behavior of others. In addition, there may be an association between social anxiety disorder and parents who are more controlling or protective of their children.
* Negative experiences. Children who experience teasing, bullying, rejection, ridicule or humiliation may be more prone to social anxiety disorder. In addition, other negative events in life, such as family conflict or sexual abuse, may be associated with social anxiety disorder.
* Temperament. Children who are shy, timid, withdrawn or restrained when facing new situations or people may be at greater risk.
* New social or work demands. Meeting new people, giving a speech in public or making an important work presentation may trigger social anxiety disorder symptoms for the first time. These symptoms usually have their roots in adolescence, however.