Can Hormones Influence Anxiety in Social Settings?

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People with social anxiety disorder (also known as “social phobia”) have a strong fear of being disapproved of by others. Because this often leads to social avoidance and limited interaction with other people, social anxiety disorder can significantly impair one’s quality of life.

What Is It Like to Have Social Phobia?

People who suffer from social phobia can seem aloof or indifferent to the company of others. In reality, they do have a desire for strong, meaningful relationships with other people.

Unfortunately, even if they appear calm, people who have social anxiety disorder often feel paralyzed by fear in social situations. These individuals are usually told to “get over” their “shyness” and just “put themselves out there,” but social phobia is much more than shyness.

To a person with social phobia, interacting with others can quickly become tiring just because of the exhaustive effort it takes to seem calm and comfortable. Social phobics worry excessively about if they are saying the right thing and how others are perceiving them. Many social phobics are so stressed by social interaction that they give up on trying to enjoy them, even though the wish to have healthy relationships remains. It can make them feel even worse when they are told by their family to just “loosen up,” because they suffer from a condition which is difficult to overcome.

What Causes Social Anxiety?

Just as with other mental health issues, experts are still debating what causes social anxiety disorder. Psychologists and psychiatrists often have differing opinions about whether a mental health condition is biological/genetic or environmental (“nature versus nurture“), and some believe it to be a combination of both types of factors.

What if there was a specific factor that might influence social anxiety and the behaviors it yields? An interesting article by a university student examines the effects of progesterone on social anxiety and responses to social rejection.

A Connection between Progesterone and Social Anxiety?

In his article, the student proposes a link between the release of progesterone and negative social interaction. As previously mentioned, social phobics greatly fear rejection. According to the article, this may be related to a lack of progesterone.

In a healthy individual, the student explains, social rejection is followed by a release of progesterone in the body. This is the ideal response to rejection, as it helps one to recover emotionally from being rejected. In people with high social anxiety, a decrease in progesterone was actually observed. This made them more vulnerable to hurt feelings and social withdrawal, among other negative behaviors.

The article raises questions about whether there are other hormones involved in recovery from rejection. It also calls for further research related to social anxiety and the factors that contribute to it.

Recommended Resources

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

AnxietyRUs February 17, 2013 at 2:33 am

Thank Goodness for medication. This is an interesting hypothesis about the role of hormones social anxiety disorder. I would be interested in any further studies that are made along these lines.

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Rich Presta February 17, 2013 at 10:23 pm

Stay tuned, we’ll let you know here if we see more!

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Rhonda C February 18, 2013 at 12:09 am

I totally believe that hormones at least contribute to symptoms. A spike or drop in our hormonal balance can throw a woman off in many ways so it’s not far-fetched at all to believe that the same thing can cause anxiety or make us more sensitive to it.

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Rich Presta February 18, 2013 at 4:47 pm

Right Rhonda, in fact, to measure anxiety we often measure stress hormones themselves to quantify or validate the reaction!

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