Social anxiety is an issue that needs appropriate attention.
If you feel uncomfortable in social settings, don’t simply brush it off.
Below are the top insights from 11 experts on how to get rid of social anxiety.
Social anxiety can be extremely stressful for those who suffer from this mental health issue.
In the course of helping many individuals overcome their social anxiety, I have developed tips that work incredibly well!
Use mental imagery to create a positive setting in your mind
For example, before going to a party, you might imagine that you are nestled in a field of lavender or sitting by the ocean. When you arrive at the party, you would continue to imagine the positive place you have created.
Related: The 19 Best Positive Thinking Books
Breathe to relax your nervous system
When anxiety kicks in, the body’s sympathetic nervous system increases your heart rate, quickens your breathing, and floods your system with adrenaline.
To engage the parasympathetic nervous system (your body’s calming system), take deep, slow breaths. Count to four on the inhalation and four on the exhalation. As you focus on your breath, your body will naturally relax.
Take essential oils with you
Calming essential oils such as lavender and chamomile have been proven to relax the body and mind. Take a vial of your favorite oil with you and dot the oil on your wrists and neck with the oil before going out. Your body and mind with thank you!
Avoid caffeinated beverages
Caffeinated beverages can make social anxiety worse by increasing adrenaline in the body. Try to drink calming herbal teas to soothe your body and your senses.
Alissa Schneider, MA, LMHC
Licensed Mental Health Counselor
Social anxiety can be an extremely difficult thing to deal with. It tends to creep up in a lot of different situations: from the work environment to the social aspect of life, it is anywhere and always ready to attack.
Luckily, there are some ways to cope with social anxiety, and maybe even kick it to the curb for the long run as well.
Assess when and where you feel anxious
Is it around a particular group of people or at a particular type of event, like a large gathering or in a public place? Or is it almost consistent, and present in several different areas and situations in your life?
Looking at when you experience the anxiety is the first step in lowering it because we can’t really lower it if we don’t know the cause.
Utilize techniques such as deep breathing and imagery
You can do deep breathing almost anywhere at any time, so it is easy to use and not easily noticed by others.
There is some science behind this, and it does really work for a lot of people. You can use the 4 x 4 method, where you breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 2, and breathe out for 4. That can be tailored to whatever feels comfortable for you.
Gratitude journaling is an exercise that can really help to lower anxiety
Sometimes we struggle with worrying about different things and don’t pause and notice all of the things that are going right and well in our lives.
Anxiety can trick us into having negative thoughts and a negative outlook, but journaling about a couple of things we are grateful for a few times a week can really help to turn around this negative and anxious thinking.
My last tip for someone struggling with social anxiety is to try using essential oils
Essential oils like lavender oil and chamomile oil have shown to have positive effects on anxiety. This can be carried with you and applied topically in situations when you have high anxiety.
You should also check with your doctor before using oils, but also you should get a thorough examination if you struggle with anxiety, because there are a lot of physical conditions that can be associated with anxiety. It is important to rule out any physical causes.
Clinical Psychologist | Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
Talk therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Social anxiety can make us reluctant to speak to strangers and also to doctors. Therefore, many social anxieties go untreated.
It is treatable and many clients report finding great relief from talk therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
Some doctors also prescribe medications that are helpful for social anxiety. Talk therapy can help you build confidence and overcome situations that scare you the most socially.
During therapy, you will begin to get out more socially while working through the stress with your therapist. CBT helps you understand the ways your thoughts might be contributing to social anxiety.
You will work with your therapist to identify and change negative thoughts contributing to social anxiety. One way to alleviate social anxiety is to focus on the present and leave the past behind. Mindfulness is a good tool for this.
Anna Prudovski, M.A., Clinical Psychologist
Clinical Director, Turning Point Psychological Services
Shift the direction of attention from internal to external
If you have social anxiety, you probably heard numerous suggestions about relaxing, practicing deep abdominal breathing and thinking positive thoughts.
And you probably have figured out by now that none of these strategies work for you in the long run. Why is that?
The reason for that is that the main pattern that leads to social anxiety is called “Self-Focus”.
This is when a socially anxious person is preoccupied with the fear of being judged by others and, hence, is concentrating hard on his or her physical symptoms, facial expressions, the tone of voice, body posture, etc.
The strategies mentioned above only increase Self-Focus. This leads to an increase in anxiety and also to missing important social cues, making social interaction even more challenging.
So what can you do instead? Evidence-based and very effective treatment of social anxiety involves shifting the direction of attention from internal to external.
It simply means actively and mindfully directing attention to the social situation that you are in.
As soon as you catch yourself being hooked by your thoughts, physical sensations, and emotions, switch your focus to the person you are talking to. Continue doing it as frequently as possible until it becomes second nature.
Other helpful tips:
- Seek as many social interactions as possible. You need to practice shifting your attention and getting used to various social situations.
- Ban the “post-mortem analysis”. Socially anxious people tent do over-analyze social situations. This makes them worry even more and see themselves in a very negative light. Allow yourself up to 5 minutes of analyzing and then re-focus on doing something else.
- Drop the rigid rules about how you “have to” behave, like “I must always be calm ” or “I have to sound smart.” All these rules do is put even more pressure on you. Let them go and strive to be flexible instead.
Twilynn Jourdain, LPC, NCC
Individual, Couple, and Family Therapist, Thriveworks
Overcoming social anxiety requires a plan, dedication, and assistance
Social anxiety is a chronic disorder involving very high anxiety with an intense fear of embarrassment, paranoia that “all eyes are on me,” worry that others are going to judge or ridicule and/or the person feeling like a “fish out of water” literally unable to breathe when in situations they feel they can’t control.
The person suffering from social anxiety is not just a typical introvert or someone who overly enjoys their “me time.” There is significant avoidance of people and situations that provoke a sense of insecurity and awkwardness.
Physiological symptoms include but are not limited to nausea, shakiness, muscle tension, avoidance of eye contact, heart palpitations, and profuse sweating when in the company of unfamiliar people or when venturing out to unfamiliar places.
Those suffering usually struggle from low self-esteem, have trouble asserting themselves, and typically are guilty of negative self-talk.
Their negative thoughts heighten their fears to the point of emotional paralysis, meaning that they usually get stuck in their unpleasant emotions experienced while in social settings.
Clearly, social anxiety can be debilitating, interfering with daily life activities, and overwhelming as those suffering find themselves further isolated from friends and family.
This results in a downward cycle of emotions with anxiety heightening at each instance where social interaction is introduced. For those in the midst of this cycle, the anxiety can be overwhelming and can lead to other diagnoses like depression, substance-related and addictive disorders.
Some people with the disorder do not have anxiety in social situations but have performance anxiety instead. They feel physical symptoms of anxiety in situations such as giving a speech, playing a sports game, dancing or playing a musical instrument on stage.
Overcoming social anxiety is possible, but requires a plan, dedication, and assistance.
Of course, the first step is acknowledging that you need help and finding the right resources to guide you through this journey.
Causes of social anxiety can be genetic or due to underdeveloped social skills.
No matter the cause, treatment is very possible. The resources you choose can and should be unique to your own needs and comfort level.
In essence, finding a competent mental health professional and/or team that will help you navigate this trying time in your life is the key to learning how to take back control of situations where you previously felt lost, anxious and out of control.
Players on your team may include a therapist or counselor, your primary care provider, a massage therapist, yoga instructor, meditation guide, art teacher, or anyone else that helps you find calm in the storm.
Know that there is no need to suffer alone any longer because help is available and waiting. It’s time to share your best self!
Jonathan Berent, L.C.S.W.
Author | Psychotherapist, Social Anxiety
Social anxiety, which is based on performance dynamics, is the quintessential “disease of resistance” because of toxic levels of humiliation, embarrassment, and shame.
Most sufferers do not go for help. Those who do go for help avoid this process for as long as possible. This results in the anxiety becoming significantly ingrained.
Effective treatment involves the duel process of integrating technique with core work
Technique involves the paradoxical process of making friends with adrenaline; learning to accept it vs. fight it and channeling it into productive energy.
Core work involves resolving the deeper emotions of embarrassment and shame which drive social anxiety.
These emotions emanate from the sufferer’s “reservoir”, which is one’s conscious and unconscious past. “Getting rid” of social anxiety requires differentiating “performance” from “person-hood”.
Matt Smith, MA, LPCA, LCASA, NCC
Owner | Executive, Modern Era Counseling
Talk to others about your social anxiety
Social anxiety often involves distressing self-beliefs and emotions. The more you struggle with anxiety in the presence of others, the more intense self-beliefs, like “something’s wrong with me” or “others are judging me,” can begin to take hold.
And over time, these and other similar beliefs can lead to feelings of embarrassment, inadequacy, and shame.
As a therapist, I encourage clients who are suffering from social anxiety to share their experience with others. Of course, therapy can be a helpful venue to begin the process of talking openly about feelings of worry and fear that come up in social settings.
But I also encourage people who suffer from social anxiety to look for opportunities to share this experience with people they trust.
Revealing your social anxiety to others is seldom easy but can be helpful in several different ways. For example, telling a trusted friend about your anxiety can help him or her gain a deeper understanding of what you’re going through, which in turn can help you feel less alone.
Additionally, friends and family can provide feedback that can help minimize your feelings of inadequacy and shame.
You don’t need to tell everyone in your life about your social anxiety but telling even one or two people can go a long way in helping you to feel more calm and relaxed in the presence of others.
CEO | Co-Founder, Mettl
It’s difficult to be in a situation where you are facing social anxiety and don’t really have an understanding as to what probably you can do to avoid it.
The first step always comes with addressing your issues, that you actually have a problem and need to do something about it.
The other steps that will help ease your anxieties are:
Go on social outings with people you are comfortable with
Social anxiety reduces when you are with your ‘own people’ who you know don’t pass judgment on you, know your issues, don’t make fun of you, and will stand by you.
Go to social outings with these set of people and practice the art of better social interaction.
These people can act as a pillow or support for you and besides, you can be sure that whatever judgment is made against you and the anxieties about it are shared equally by people who are with you, at least in your mind, which acts a strong reassurance.
The brain always needs a reassurance that everything will fall in place.
Practice it by giving yourself some tasks over a period of time and accomplishing them, it could be as small as smiling at new colleagues, asking for routes in a private transport even if you know the route, and other some small tasks. It’s a long-term haul but completely worth it.
Talking to people about their interests
Human beings love talking about themselves, their habits, their interests, and dislikings and when the other party is inclined to know what arouses the interests of an individual, it works as a great conversation starter.
When you are with people get them started on what motivates them and what are they passionate about and you will see the conversation flowing without much of your efforts.
Add little stories out of your life to the conversation around their interests and you will find discomfort and uneasiness won’t remain your problem.
Taking long breaths
The moment you are in a difficult situation where you are sure you are new to people and people are new to you, your body sends signals to your brain to take breaths in short spikes that further aggravates your heart beats and perspiration rate.
Because your brain thinks it’s a fight or flight situation, why don’t beat the brain at its own game by taking longer breaths that instantly cools and reassures your brain that everything is fine.
When you are meeting people, make a conscious effort and practice of taking long breaths that are not noisy. You don’t want to give out that you are anxious or nervous while actually practicing something that will make you relaxed.
Being nicely dressed
You are not socially anxious with people you are meeting every day. It’s only when you have to confront a lot of new faces that you know nothing about.
When you are going to a place where you are bound to meet new people, make it a point to dress well. Your inherent confidence is easily built when you look good.
Looking good makes you feel good about yourself and better at talking to people by keeping anxiety at bay.
Justin Baksh, MS, LMHC, LPC, MCAP
Chief Clinical Officer, Foundations Wellness Center
For clients who believe that using drugs and alcohol allows them to be more outgoing and social, one of their ‘a-ha moments’ have been after I asked them this series of questions:
How does that drug or those drinks magically activate these qualities? When the drugs or alcohol wear off, how are they magically deactivated? Where do the skills of being charismatic and humorous come from?
It’s in answering these questions that clients realize that it’s all in them, they just need the courage to follow through in real life.
So how do you build up that courage? You need to take one small step at a time.
For example, your first goal could be to initiate a conversation. How you pursue your particular goal will be based upon the frequency that you engage in anxiety-producing events.
If it’s parties that you attend once a week that trigger your anxiety, then once a week your goal is to engage in a conversation at a party.
If visiting the supermarket a couple of times a week fills you with dread, then a couple of times a week, go to the supermarket and start a conversation with the cashier as you go through the line.
Manage expectations versus reality
Don’t put any expectations on the conversation you initiate, for example. It doesn’t have to be 15 minutes or a half hour or contain certain content like telling a joke or making the other person laugh.
It’s simply initiating the conversation – that’s your goal in the beginning.
The outcome may take time or may not come into existence.
You may never be the life of the party, for example, or you may eventually get there. What will happen is that social anxiety won’t be as paralyzing or debilitating as it once was.
Speaker | Entrepreneur | Researcher
Figure out where you get your energy from
My number one advice for anyone dealing with social anxiety is to figure out where you get your energy from, in public settings.
Realizing that mine stemmed from knowing I was creating positive impact and empowering those around me. I light up when I see other people lit up with curiosity, happiness, and love.
So, as an introvert, whenever I am adding value to other people’s lives, I feel comfortable being around them. Also, seeking group shared experiences helped me make friends because I was able to avoid small talk, which as an extreme trigger for me, and instead focus on what I had in common with the other people in that group.