Social Anxiety Disorder 

Social Anxiety Disorder 

How SAD Happens: The Development of Social Anxiety Disorder 


Many people say Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) feels just how it sounds: sad. The disorder can be described as an experience of overwhelming senses of anxiety, apprehension and self-consciousness in everyday situations. Symptoms may begin as small as avoiding eye contact with others or blushing when interacting, however can manifest into much more severe feelings such as an increased heart rate, sweating and trembling. You may be reading this and thinking to yourself, ‘I experience some of these things, do I have SAD?’. Well statistically, SAD is one of the most prevalent anxiety disorders, affecting approximately 15 million adults.[1] So let’s discuss some possible explanations of how this disorder develops:


Life Experiences 


One way in which SAD can develop is through an individual’s differing life experiences. During childhood, one may experience stressful events or perhaps trauma, which can lead to the development of anxiety in adulthood. Some examples of this may include losing a loved one, sexual abuse, divorce and bullying, just to name a few. All of these experiences impact the way we view life from a very young age, which is then carried into our adult lives and shape the people we become.


If you feel as if you are experiencing SAD, think back to your childhood – are there any pressing memories or events that stand out to you that you can think of? Try and pinpoint the emotions you felt at the time and how these emotions have developed over time. Reflecting on past experiences is a great way to view your personal growth and how you’ve overcome challenges.


Behavioural Inhibition


This is one of the most researched causes of SAD, which explores the personality type of distress and nerves when in a new situation. All of us can safely say we have seen a child become distressed and upset when faced with an unfamiliar situation. This is an innate characteristic that can be improved through early interventions. It is important to intervene at a young age as it has been found that children who show signs of behavioral inhibition as a toddler are at greater risk of developing SAD later on in life.[2]



Family History


SAD can also develop throughout an individuals life due to genetic factors. Although no single gene has been identified as of yet, heredity plays a huge role in the development of the disorder. You may also be 2 to 6 times more likely to develop the disorder if you have a first degree relative with SAD. [3] Therefore, it is important to recognise the contribution of genetics in disorders such as SAD, in order to support future generations.


Hopefully this post has helped you understand the development of SAD and that there are many different causes of the disorder. Next time you see someone in a social situation acting uncomfortable or distant, reach out and be understanding of what they may be going through. Sometimes you’re happiness can reduce someone else’s sadness.

By Molly Gravestock 

Psychologist Assistant @ We Are Human Counselling 


If you have been affected by any issues raised in this post, you can contact The Samaritans for free on 116 123, or you can visit Mind’s website at

[1] Kuo, Janice R. et al. “Childhood Trauma And Current Psychological Functioning In Adults With Social Anxiety Disorder”. Journal Of Anxiety Disorders, vol 25, no. 4, 2011, pp. 467-473. Elsevier BV, doi:10.1016/j.janxdis.2010.11.011.

[2] Muris P, van Brakel AM, Arntz A, Schouten E. Behavioral Inhibition as a Risk Factor for the Development of Childhood Anxiety Disorders: A Longitudinal Study. J Child Fam Stud. 2011;20(2):157–170. doi:10.1007/s10826-010-9365-8

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

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