When Social Anxiety Impairs Immunity…


It is estimated that about 7% of the population is affected by thesocial anxiety, a form of anxiety disorder. Indeed, the Covid-19 pandemic would have increased this proportion since the winter of 2020. Recently, American researchers established a link between social anxiety and immunity. This work was published in the scientific journal PNAS.

woman with social anxiety

What is social anxiety?

Social anxiety can go as far as social phobia. Indeed, it corresponds to a fear associated with social activities, in particular activities where the person must demonstrate a certain performance, such as speaking in public. Social anxiety manifests itself in different symptoms:

  • An acceleration of the heart rate;
  • Muscle tremors or twitches;
  • Excessive sweating;
  • Muscle or abdominal pain;
  • Digestive disorders (diarrhea);
  • A blush;
  • Mental confusion.

L’social anxiety can, depending on the stage, be managed by the person themselves or require support. Medical care, when necessary, revolves around drug treatments, psychotherapy and group sessions.

Social anxiety and immunity

L’social anxiety would it have a link with immunity? This is the result reached by American researchers after a recent study, conducted on 5,744 adults over the age of 50. The objective was to identify a possible relationship between:

  • Social stress, for example daily discriminations, stressful life events, life traumas, chronic stress…;
  • Immunity parameters, in particular the percentages of naïve and differentiated T cells (a type of immune cell) and the ratio between CD4+ and CD8+ cells.

The researchers’ initial idea was based on the observation that exposure to stress is a risk factor for poor health and accelerated aging. Immune aging plays a major role in immune health and tissue aging. Indeed, it results in particular in a decrease in naive T cells and an increase in differentiated T cells.

Social stress promotes immune aging

In this study, exposure to life trauma or chronic stress is associated with a lower percentage of naïve CD4+ cells. In addition, people suffering from discrimination or chronic stress had a higher percentage of differentiated CD4+ cells. Stressful life events, continued discrimination, and life trauma were accompanied by a reduced percentage of naïve CD8+ cells. Stressful life events, ongoing discrimination, and chronic stress were associated with a higher percentage of differentiated CD8+ cells. Finally, continuous discrimination and chronic stress were linked with a lower CD4+/CD8+ ratio.

These results reveal a link between thesocial anxiety and immunity, and in particular important parameters in immune aging. Certain lifestyle factors or CMV (Cytomegalovirus) seropositivity tended to reduce the importance of this link. Thus, according to this study, social anxiety could contribute to accelerating immune aging, hence the importance of taking charge of it to preserve the health of the people concerned.

Estelle B., Doctor of Pharmacy


– Social stressors associated with age-related T lymphocyte percentages in older US adults: Evidence from the US Health and Retirement Study. pnas.org. Accessed July 6, 2022.
Estella B.

Specialist in medical information and therapeutic patient education.
Passionate about the fields of health and the marine environment.

Writes reliable scientific content with verified sources in compliance with our HIC charter.

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