Social Anxiety Triggers

Social Anxiety Help

Larry Cohen, LICSW

Social Anxiety Triggers

An anxiety trigger is a situation that we tend to perceive as dangerous. With social anxiety, triggers could be any type of interaction with people, or simply being around people in certain settings.

Anxiety triggers vary considerably person to person. What is difficult for one socially anxious person may be relatively easy for another. In addition, some people suffering from social anxiety tend to be anxious in only one or two specific types of interactions, while others are anxious in many settings. We also differ as to how much we tend to avoid our anxiety triggers, or the extent to which we push ourselves to try to handle them. Following is a list of common social anxiety triggers. Please note that certain details or variables (eg. those in parentheses in this list) may make a big difference as to how likely you are to perceive these situations as dangerous. Some terms used to apply to some of these triggers include: shyness, performance anxiety, public speaking anxiety, stage fright, sexual anxiety, shy bladder (pee shy, paruresis), unassertiveness (passivity), and most broadly: social phobia.

  • talking to an attractive stranger (the stranger initiates, or you do)
  • joining and participating in a group conversation (how big the group; how well you know the people)
  • mingling at a party, bar or other group social activity (how many people there; how well you know them)
  • speaking in front of a group (how many people there; how well you know them; prepared or ad hoc; controversial or not)
  • speaking up in a meeting or a class (whether are you called on or you volunteer; how well-prepared you are)
  • asserting yourself (with a friend, boss, stranger, partner)
  • phone calls (with strangers or friends; who initiates the call; whether others are near you and can overhear)
  • being alone in public settings (restaurants; movies; on the street; how crowded)
  • eating in front of others
  • writing in front of others
  • dancing (how many others on dance floor)
  • inviting someone out (socially or on a date; how well you know him/her)
  • going out on a first date (how attracted you are)
  • coming out to someone as LGBT: lesbian, gay, bi or trans (friend, family, stranger)
  • physical affection intimacy for first time with someone (whether you or your partner initiates)
  • having sex with someone (how critical/accepting your partner is)
  • urinating in a public bathroom (how large the bathroom is; whether others are present; stall or urinal)

The Purpose of Anxiety

Perception is the Starting Point

Fight, Flight or Freeze

When Dangers are Social

Social Anxiety Does Not Equal Introversion

Social Anxiety Triggers

Biology, Social Anxiety and Medication

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Social Anxiety


If you have any questions or comments, please email Larry Cohen, LICSW, with offices in Washington, DC.

Social Anxiety Help is a founding regional clinic of the National Social Anxiety Center (NSAC):