How Does Social Anxiety Affect one’s Brain?

How Does Social Anxiety Affect one’s Brain

Social anxiety is different from being shy; it is a state in which an individual feels nervous when in a group of people or surrounded by a group of people.

This is known to be a chronic, and at times very disabling, mental illness that can affect the affected part of the brain as well as the rest of the mind.

It is also important to note that deciphering the neural basis of social anxiety can help explain why this condition happens and ways that it can be dealt with.

The Neurobiology of Social Anxiety

Social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia, is the experience of extreme anxiety or fear in relation to situations where people can potentially be observed, criticized, and/or laughed at.

This fear is not just in the head but actually engineers the brain to produce changes in the body.

Amygdala Hyperactivity

The amygdala is another structure formed of neurons located in the median temporal lobe of the brain and has the main function of determining emotional responses, particularly those of fear.

During social interactions, people with social anxiety display substantial levels of amygdala activity.

This hyperactivity means that as much as an individual gets into a social setting, they will feel fear at higher levels than normal for an ordinary person.

Prefrontal Cortex Dysfunction

The prefrontal cortex area is often associated with animals’ decision-making, regulation of their behavior and choice of companions, reactions to stimuli, or even simple emotions.

Moreover, it has been shown that in a state of social anxiety, the activity of the PFC tends to be lower.

This diminishes their power to control the fear activity in the brain that is caused by the amygdala, making individuals anxious and experiencing much difficulty in handling their social relations.

Altered Neurotransmitter Activity

Neurotransmitters are substances that mediate signals between neurons and are involved in the transmission of HIV.

Neurotransmitters involved in curing social anxiety are serotonin, dopamine, and gamma-aminobutyric acid.

These include the neurotransmitter systems responsible for the perception, processing, evaluation, and learning of social and emotional stimuli and appraisals, or the systems involved in the regulation of effort and reward.

Imbalances or dysfunctions in these neurotransmitter systems can lead to the development and maintenance of social anxiety.


Certain scientific evidence has linked it with mood regulation, and the availability of this neurotransmitter in reduced quantity may result in anxiety and depression.


This neurotransmitter is associated with the basic operation of the brain reward pathway and motivation.

Neurotransmitter’s abnormalities in the dopamine system can cause one to approach social situations with a fearful view on the rewards and punishment, which leads to the avoidance behavior among the individuals’ suffering from SAD.


GABA is a relaxant that assists in putting off the brain’s activity or the nervous system. Levels of GABA are also inversely related to anxiety.

when levels of GABA are low, the potential for excitability is present, causing anxiety.

Cervical Stenosis and Brain Connectivity

Recent research in the field of neuroimaging has reported that patients with SAD have deviations in the measure of integration between the amygdala and other parts of the brain, including the PFC.

This changed connectivity may lead to abnormalities in the brain’s capacity to control the emotional state in depressed patients.

This is the culmination of fear and its response, coupled with the relaxation of the ability to handle anxiety in social interactions.

Cognitive and behavioral implications

The changes that are observed in the brain structure because of social anxiety can have a negative impact on the cognitive and behavioral spheres.

These changes can begin to affect a person’s daily life, interpersonal relationships, and productivity at work.

Negative Self-Perception

Because of the increased activity of the amygdala and the decreased functioning of the PFC, it becomes disabling for an SAD-afflicted person to see themselves in a positive light.

They may feel like someone is always counting or looking down upon them, which may result in vulnerability and low self-worth.

Avoidance Behavior

Individuals with SAD try to avoid situations that cause them fear and anxiety because avoiding fear and situations causing anxiety helps reduce stress.

Extremely self-conscious people might shun activities that make them come across other people, like being in the limelight or feeling as if they are being eyed.

Though situations and people can be avoided temporarily, avoiding them strengthens the anxiety in the long run, which is not good.

Impaired social skills

Social anxiety also reduces the chances of learning effective social skills and applying them in actual social situations.

People could experience inhibition when it comes to starting discussions, a mutual stare, or non-verbal signals.

This can in turn aggravate their anxiety, driving them to withdraw from their peers and feel lonely.

Cognitive Distortions

The thoughts of socially anxious people are distorted, including catastrophizing or worrying about the worst-case scenario, overgeneralizing.

Where one negative event necessarily leads to other negative events, and mind-reading or presuming to know what other people are thinking or feeling.

These are the cognitive biases that are likely to increase the level of anxiety and make any social events stressful.

Impact on Daily Life

Social anxiety affects the cognitive and behavioral functioning of an individual. Some of the common ways are:

Emotional Well-Being

Long-term social phobia can cause other disorders of the mental type, including depression and generalized anxiety, and the development of addiction.

It can lead to fear and avoidance, which in turn cause hopelessness and helplessness. These, in turn, have an adverse effect on the emotional health of the affected individuals.

Physical Health

When it comes to the impact of social anxiety on the physical health of individuals, it has been established that stress that is induced by symptoms of social anxiety can have an impact.

The consequences of chronic anxiety include hypertension, a high risk of cardiac disorders, gastrointestinal complications, and reduced immunity.

Such endurance in stress can have a significant impact on the body’s health and well-being.

Professional and academic performance

This type of anxiety often hinders performance in business or academic life in the worst manner imaginable.

Social phobia can hinder a person from participating in decision-making meetings, presentations, or group assignments.

Such avoidance can block promotion, study, professional, and academic progress, effectively perpetuating a culture of anxiety.

Treatment for Social Anxiety

Many studies address social anxiety and how it modifies neural activity and connections, as well as cognition and behavior in general.

Knowledge of these neurophysiological processes is imperative for the formulation of therapeutic interventions and the management of the psychological disorders that co-occur with epilepsy.

However, treatments like CBT, meditation, mindfulness, relaxation techniques, and others are really effective in managing social anxiety.

If you know someone who is dealing with this or any other form of social anxiety and would like to consult a psychologist, feel free to reach out to us at Athena Luxus.

With world-class amenities and trained professionals, we assure you that we will provide the best-in-class services. Call us at +91 9718921212 or drop us an email at and we will get in touch with you shortly.

Also Read:
Is Alcoholism Genetic or Hereditary?
Managing Addiction Relapse During Recovery
Role of Resilience in Overcoming Life’s Challenges
Common Myths and Facts About Schizophrenia

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