Welcome to the forums. I know how hard it can be to get your thoughts and feelings out, so well done.
I wonder if COVID has maybe exacerbated this anxiety around people. It might not completely explain why you've developed social anxiety, but the good news is that there ways to overcome your social anxiety.
To overcome it, it's really important to understand what keeps it going. Social anxiety occurs when you perceive a social threat in a situation. Our perception of social threat is how strongly we believe that a social catastrophe will occur. This perception is divided into two parts: probability (the likelihood of it happening) and cost (how bad it will be if it does happen). If you believe that it's likely to happen, then our ‘fight or flight’ response is going to be triggered.
As a result, we get a surge of adrenaline and our breathing rate increases, our muscles tense, our heart rate increases, our attention focuses on the threat. But, in social situations, we can’t just run away, which means we can't use the stuff in our body (e.g., adrenaline, oxygen), resulting in you experiencing these bodily changes as intense anxiety.
So we don't have to experience the anxiety, we start to do certain "safety behaviours", and in your case, it's sounds like avoidance. To stop feeling anxious, most people with social anxiety try to avoid social situations to prevent negative thoughts from coming true. Avoidance makes sense in the short term, because it provides some relief from anxiety. However, the relief is only temporary because the underlying perception of social threat is never directly tested, challenged, and modified. Therefore, the social fear remains and actually increases anxiety in more and more situations as people come to believe that they cannot cope with social situations.
You can get help and there are a number of options:
- Medication - you can speak to your GP about this, but this may help reduce the anxiety;
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy - You can try and practice these alone, or with a psychologist.
I'd really like you to look at the social anxiety workbook here: https://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au/Resources/Looking-After-Yourself/Social-Anxiety
But please know you are not alone. There are many ppl who have been in the exact same boat (me included). I couldn't even leave my house earlier this year, which led to spiralling depression. It's not easy, but you can get through this.
Let me know if you want to talk more.