Learning how to overcome social anxiety can be grueling. Social anxiety can be so powerful that it can cause physical reactions that leave you shaking, dizzy, and terrified of being rejected. People who experience severe social anxiety know that sometimes even just thinking about being in a social setting can be overwhelming and excruciatingly painful.
Knowing how to get over social anxiety can be so powerful and life-changing, you might feel like a new person. If you find that fear of everyday, common activities are dictating your life, it might be time for you to explore some of the social anxiety tips we’re offering here. Do any of the following cause you intense, crippling anxiety and stress?
- Going to the grocery store
- Engaging with coworkers or fellow students
- Eating in a public setting
- Going on dates
- Going to parties
- Public speaking or leading meetings
- Attending class or work meetings
Read on for the top tips out there for dealing with social anxiety. You’ll be able to take back control of your life, with the skills you need so you know how to deal with social anxiety and live your life to the fullest. You don’t have to be part of the 15 million estimated Americans who struggle with social anxiety — there is help. Read on to learn more.
1. Identify Your Triggers
Whether you are an introvert or extrovert with social anxiety, identifying triggers can help you figure out when and where you might experience anxiety. Part of understanding how to get rid of social anxiety is learning which specific situations might cause you to experience severe stress.
One of the interesting and often frustrating things about social anxiety is that it doesn’t present the same way in every person. What might cause you Anxiety may not bother someone else. By figuring out where you feel the most anxious, you can begin working on how to overcome your fears. Then, you can begin to feel more comfortable and confident in the social settings you once avoided.
2. Find a Therapist
Therapy can be a game-changer when dealing with social anxiety, whether it’s talk therapy like online cognitive behavioral therapy or online exposure therapy. A therapist can help you understand that your social anxiety in college, work, or everyday life isn’t just about being shy or nervous.
Any type of anxiety can be difficult to work through on your own. Remember that social anxiety disorder is a mental health condition, and sometimes professional help is a necessary and very beneficial part of knowing how to overcome it. This can be especially true if your anxiety has become debilitating and is seriously interfering with your life.
A therapist can help you:
- Understand the difference between being shy and having social anxiety
- Identify and anticipate triggers
- Learn how to reframe the negative thoughts that result in your social anxiety
- Find social skills and coping strategies that’ll allow you to overcome your anxiety
- Use holistic therapy and relaxation techniques like mindfulness meditation to help you learn how to overcome social anxiety
- Potentially refer you to a psychiatric clinician to find medication to help with social anxiety symptoms
“Social anxiety can feel disabling, but working with a therapist can improve your prognosis. Cognitive behavioral therapy for social anxiety can help you identify sources for your emotions, and also help narrow the search for understanding. The right support can help coping with somatic symptoms while fostering integration rather than avoidance.”
Talkspace therapist Elizabeth Keohan, LCSW-C, LICSW, LCSW
3. Remember — Baby Steps Are Still Steps
You don’t need to make huge strides every step of the way. Something as small as committing to yourself that you’ll attend an event and following through is a huge sign of progress. It doesn’t even have to be a formal event. it can be something as small as ordering a coffee if that’s something that would normally trigger your anxiety.
You don’t need to commit to doing something as huge as giving a speech to hundreds of people or throwing a party on your own — keep in mind that any progress is progress to be proud of.
4. Rename Your Feelings
Sometimes simply renaming the anxious feeling you have about a social situation can help you overcome at least some of your anxiety. If you have an event coming up that you’re feeling nervous about, rather than identifying those feelings as nerves, try telling yourself you’re excited. It may seem like a small thing, but you can retrain your brain by using effective techniques like positive affirmations.
“Remembering a few things can ease the burden of engaging with others socially. Consider a mantra beforehand to connect with your own inner strength while overriding the urge to judge yourself. And remind yourself that listening is more than OK when you feel unprepared or anxious; A conversation first gives you time to contribute thoughtfully, instead of feeling driven to respond in absorbte.”
Talkspace therapist Elizabeth Keohan, LCSW-C, LICSW, LCSW
5. Challenge Negative Thought Patterns
People with social anxiety often spend an exorbitant amount of time worrying about what could happen. Often, these worries are over every little thing that might go wrong in a social setting.
Maybe you worry about:
- Saying something that might offend somebody
- Unintentionally being rude
- Tripping or falling
- Calling someone by the incorrect name
- Forgetting someone’s name
- Spilling on yourself
- Laughing at the wrong time or inappropriately
- Sneezing or coughing
- Falling ill in front of others
While, yes, there is always the potential for these things to happen, and it’s true they might be a little bit embarrassing, try to keep things in perspective. We all make mistakes, and everybody understands this. Most times, any mistake you could make in a social setting or at a social event would be in front of people who wouldn’t judge you. Just because you make a mistake doesn’t mean someone is going to think differently about you or look down on you.
If you find that you have negative thoughts about an upcoming event, challenge yourself by trying to replace them with more helpful, positive ones. Try using a technique known as realistic thinking — ask yourself questions about the scenarios you’re worried about, and then answer in an honest and fair way. When you catch yourself imagining the social situation ending in disaster, you can ask yourself “what is the worst that could happen? The best? And what’s the most likely?” Running through these kinds of scenarios with the help of your therapist can help you refocus your mind away from disaster scenarios.
Some questions you could ask yourself might include:
- Why do I think I will embarrass myself? It happened before and everyone laughed at me.
- How many times have I successfully not embarrassed myself? More times than not.
- What is the absolute worst thing that could happen if I do embarrass myself? They might laugh.
- Have I ever seen someone else embarrass themselves? What did I do in that instance? Of course! I tried to be empathetic and understanding and let them know we all make mistakes.
- How did they react to their mistake? They laughed it off.
- Could I do the same thing? Absolutely! Why couldn’t I?
Role-playing is an excellent way for you to walk through scenarios you might fear, so you can feel prepared if they come up. Keep in mind…that’s a big “if.” You can role-play in therapy, or you might ask a friend or a family member you’re close with to help you.
You can role-play about needing to go into a restaurant or store to order or buy something. Or maybe you have an intense fear of giving the wrong answer, so you could role-play what to do if and when that happens. Role-playing can be effective in a number of situations.
7. Practice Kindness
At first glance, the simple act of being kind might not seem like an obvious solution to social anxiety. However, research has shown that there’s definitely a link between kindness and social anxiety.
At the root of most people’s anxiety, there lives a fear of rejection. Doing acts of kindness results in gratitude or other positive reactions. By doing something kind and receiving a positive reaction in return, you might be able to reduce your intense fear of being rejected in social settings.
8. Learn (and Use!) Relaxation Techniques
Relaxation techniques are effective in helping with the physical symptoms you might experience during social anxiety. Sweating, difficulty breathing, heart pounding, an upset stomach, and lightheadedness are all physical reactions that are common for people with social anxiety.
Relaxation techniques that focus on breathing can help calm many of these physical symptoms.
- Try 4-7-8 breathing. Take deep, slow breaths in for 4 counts, hold for 7 seconds, and then exhale for 8 seconds.
- Likewise, progressive muscle relaxation — where you tense and then relax groups of muscles throughout your body — is also effective.
9. Reduce Your Alcohol Intake
Though you might feel like alcohol relaxes you and helps you get through a social event, too much of it can be anxiety-inducing. Additionally, using alcohol or any other substance to help you manage your anxiety might lead to a point where you feel like you can’t socialize without it.
10. Be Mindful of Avoidance
Going to social events but finding ways to keep your interaction with others at a minimum isn’t truly overcoming your social anxiety. Try to be aware if you look for ways to be at an event but not engage. For example, do you try to keep busy in the kitchen? Do you remain an outsider looking at, maybe focusing on your phone so nobody tries to talk to you?
It’s true that you’re showing up, but without engaging with others, you aren’t dealing with your social anxiety. You’re also limiting how deep any relationships can develop by avoiding truly connecting.
11. Get Out There
Even if it’s something as small as going to a fast food restaurant or a coffee shop with a book or your laptop, stepping just a little bit outside your comfort zone can help you build confidence. The added bonus to this tip is the stakes are low. You aren’t committing to going to a huge event, but you’re practicing how to be in public, even if it’s just to watch a show on your iPad.
12. Act With Confidence
Learning to be confident is just like learning anything else. The more you practice it, the easier it will come. The phrase “fake it till you make it” can actually be beneficial for some people with social phobia. You don’t have to go all in and become the center of attention, but being even just a little bit more assertive can help you overcome your fear.
13. Be Gentle With Yourself
Be kind and gentle with yourself throughout your journey. You’re taking on a huge task and trying to overcome your social anxiety. It won’t be easy, and you’ll probably have setbacks. Reminding yourself that you’re human and not perfect will help. Everyone feels embarrassed or uncomfortable at some point in their lives. Give yourself the grace that you’d give anyone else who’s trying to make a change in their life. If you have setbacks, it’s OK.
Using the social anxiety tips here, you can begin on a path to becoming a strong, confident, engaging person who looks forward to time spent with others. You don’t have to live with the crippling fear of social events. You deserve a full life, with enriching engagements and interactions that fill your world with joy and companionship. With just a little help, you can learn how to overcome social anxiety.
1. Facts & Statistics | Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA. Adaa.org. https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/facts-statistics. Published 2021. Accessed December 27, 2021.
2. Trew J, Alden L. Kindness reduces avoidance goals in socially anxious individuals. Motivational Emot. 2015;39(6):892-907. doi:10.1007/s11031-015-9499-5. https://rd.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11031-015-9499-5#citeas. Accessed December 27, 20213. Mayo-Wilson E, Dias S, Mavranezouli I et al. Psychological and pharmacological interventions for social anxiety disorder in adults: a systematic review and network meta-analysis. 3. The Lancet Psychiatry. 2014;1(5):368-376. doi:10.1016/s2215-0366(14)70329-3. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanpsy/article/PIIS2215-0366(14)70329-3/fulltext. Accessed December 27, 2021
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