The Science Behind Social Anxiety

22/04/2021, Malminder Gill, Hypnotherapist

Do your palms sweat if you so much as think about talking to a group of people?

Does the idea of meeting new people or having a job interview make you feel nauseous?

Perhaps your mind goes blank in every social situation, or maybe the idea of meeting people in real-life after lockdown feels really uncomfortable to you?

Social anxiety is a relatively common concern. Studies suggest that around 5% of people have a form of social anxiety. However, women are two to three times more likely to have social anxiety.

So, what’s going on behind the symptoms of social anxiety and is there science behind social anxiety?


Social anxiety is the fear, worry or stress about being in social situations. Often people with social anxiety will have a fear of being watched or judged by others. As a result, doing everyday things, such as eating or drinking in front of others, using public bathrooms, or contributing to a meeting, can cause anxiety.

If you have social anxiety, you may have a fear of humiliation, judgement, criticism or rejection.


In social situations, you may notice the following symptoms:

  • Sweating and a rapid heart rate
  • Blushing, feeling embarrassed, awkward and self-conscious
  • Feeling physically unable to think or speak
  • Feeling sick, nauseous or butterflies in the tummy
  • Struggling to make eye contact and has closed-off, uncomfortable body language
  • Avoiding social situations that make you fearful
  • Sleepless nights worrying about forthcoming social situations
  • Anxious thoughts about the ways other people may judge you.


1. It's In Your Genes

Social anxiety can actually be heredity. Studies have found that you are up to six times more likely to have social anxiety if you have a close relative with social anxiety disorder. Furthermore, it is estimated that around one-third of the causes of social anxiety can come from your genetics. 

2. A Specific Event

It may be that a particular event has triggered your social anxiety. It may have been a social situation when you were a child or in adulthood that impacted you, causing social anxiety. This is known as direct conditioning, where you have learnt to be fearful of social situations because of your experience. 

3. Your Upbringing

It is possible that you learnt to be anxious about social situations because of what you were taught or exposed to. For example, if a parent was always worried about what someone would think of them, or lots of the conversations in your childhood were around fitting in, conforming and being fearful of judgement or scrutiny, then you may have learnt social anxiety through information transfer.

As a child, if you didn’t have many social situations or perhaps were exposed to many challenging social situations, then you may not have developed social skills. This may cause social anxiety later in life.

4. You Saw An Embarrassing Social Situation

You don’t have to have had your own social blunder to develop social anxiety. Instead, you may have witnessed a difficult, traumatic, embarrassing or upsetting social situation that has had an impact as if it happened to you or that you fear the same thing happening to you. This is known as observational learning. 

5. It's In Your Culture

There are lots of ways that social anxiety can manifest in a group or cultural settings. For example, taijin kyofusho is a Japanese term for fear of making other people uncomfortable. With this, you may feel worried about what the wider group believe and have a fear of upsetting people in your social circles.


1. The Amygdala Response

Research shows that those with social anxiety have increased activity in the amygdala – the part of the brain that deals with certain emotions. It is here that your brain will begin to sound the fear response and will put your brain and body into fight, flight or freeze mode.

However, you can help to calm the amygdala using hypnotherapy. By connecting with and talking to the brain’s amygdala and limbic system, an experienced hypnotherapist can begin to relax this anxious response system and calm the fight or flight response. With this, it means you can go into social situations without the stress of fight, flight or freeze being the overriding response.

Studies show that those without social anxiety do not have the amygdala response. Instead, the focus goes to the cerebral cortex. This is the area of the brain that deals with thinking and evaluation. This means they can evaluate the situation and act in response with calmness and clarity.

2. Tapping Into The Cerebral Response

For people with social anxiety, achieving this cerebral response can be crucial in choosing the right response to the social situation and learning how to choose how to act in each situation that presents itself. Unfortunately, with social anxiety, the amygdala takes centre stage, making it really difficult to think rationally and clearly about the situation.

By working on practices that can calm the amygdala response, you open up the brain to be more aware, present and responsive in social situations.

As well as hypnotherapy, your hypnotherapist may also recommend exercises you can do yourself before each social situation. This could include deep diaphragmatic breathing and mindful meditation.


If you’re looking to overcome social anxiety, then hypnotherapy can be incredibly effective at tapping into the amygdala response. This can help reduce your anxiety and allow the other parts of your brain to take control of the situation in a way that feels comfortable for you.

As well as tuning into the brain’s response and tapping into the science behind social anxiety, I will create a blended therapy approach incorporating NLP and coaching practises. With this, you can develop all the tools you need to reduce the fear and anxiety around social situations and increase your confidence with a positive social mindset.

If this blog has got you interested in starting your wellness journey call our wellness advisors at 020 7843 3597 or enquire here.

About The Author
Malminder Gill is an award-winning Harley Street Clinical Hypnotherapist, NLP Master Coach, Author, Speaker and widely-acclaimed Hypnotherapy and Coaching subject matter expert. Her impressive client list includes C-suite executives from some of the world’s largest organisations, royalty, and celebrities, as well as thousands of individuals that she treats in person, or through her many self-help downloads, audio recordings and podcasts.

Top Mindful Eating Tips For Christmas

Need help to book? +-

Opening Hours (UK Time)
Monday to Friday: 9:00am - 5:30pm
Saturday: 10:00am - 2:00pm
020 7843 3597

Email us an enquiry

Would you like us to call you?

call me back

« back

Leave your name and number and we'll call you back as soon as possible.

No Thanks