It’s natural for each of us to find ourselves nervous in certain social situations. However, if you find everyday events to be challenging, you may struggle with a social anxiety disorder (also known as social phobia). In such cases, it’s likely you’re trying to figure out how to overcome social anxiety.
While it isn’t easy, there are a number of techniques that can make it easier to socialize with others. Throughout this article, we’re going to take a deeper look at how to overcome social anxiety disorder. At the end, we invite you to ask further questions.
What is Social Anxiety?
Simply put, a social anxiety disorder is when one experiences generalized anxiety in social situations. ¹ Symptoms of the condition can vary from person to person, but can be divided into two sets:
Emotional and Behavioral Symptoms: ² ³ ⁴
- Avoiding people and activities
- Expecting the worst from situations
- Fear of judgement
- Fear of physical anxiety symptoms (see below)
- Feelings of anxiety prior to activity
- Rethinking social situations
- Severe anxiety when interacting with strangers
Physical Symptoms: ⁵
- Difficulty with breathing
- Feeling your mind go blank
- Muscle tension
- Rapid heartbeat
- Upset stomach (sometimes includes nausea)
It remains unclear what the root cause of social anxiety is, but scientists believe it’s a combination of brain structure, environment, and genetics. Furthermore, those who have experienced previous trauma are more susceptible to social anxiety. ⁶
How to Overcome Social Anxiety
In order to overcome social anxiety, it’s important to address it as soon as possible. When left untreated, social anxiety can damage relationships with others and lead to social isolation (which can in itself cause depression).
Luckily, compared to other mental illnesses, social anxiety is very treatable. Though, the techniques you take to overcome it will likely differ from someone else. Here are some of the most common coping mechanisms for social anxiety.
1.) Cognitive Behavior Therapy
When it comes to social anxiety treatment, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is by far the most effective. Simply put, CBT requires you to consider your thought patterns about social situations and develop techniques to modify your behavior. ⁷
For example, if you fear a social event will cause you to blush and someone may see you blushing, then it’s in your interest to identify where this fear is coming from along with adopting techniques to overcome this fear.
CBT is a very personal process and your experience will likely differ from another person’s. However, it has been an integral part for many in overcoming social anxiety, and chances are it will be for you too.
2.) Slowly Put Yourself in Anxiety-Inducing Situations
In order to incorporate what you learn in CBT, it can help to prone yourself to “situational exposure.” This is the process of gradually putting yourself in situations where you know anxiety will be induced. ⁸
Most medical professionals would recommend you start small. For example, going to a cafe with a friend or doing an activity on your own that you wouldn’t normally do (i.e. grocery shopping).
From there, you can identify your anxiety based on the following rating:
- 0 – Perfectly relaxed
- 25 – 49 – Mild anxiety. Can cope with the situation.
- 50 – 64 – Moderate. Distracted by anxiety, but aware.
- 65 – 84 – High. Difficult to concentrate on anything but anxiety.
- 85 – 100 – Extreme. Anxiety is overwhelming and you want to escape.
Once you’ve managed a rating between 0 and 49 in these smaller situations, you can work your way up to events that tend to cause more severe anxiety, such as large social gatherings or public speaking.
3.) Practice Public Speaking
If your social anxiety is mild to moderate (i.e. it’s not causing anxiety attacks), you may want to practice public speaking. This is a great way to face your fears while also identifying what thought processes cause you to have those fears in the first place.
There are a number of groups available where people are able to practice public speaking without actually being in the position. Furthermore, there are certain types of exposure therapy that allow you to simulate public speaking and work through the process with a therapist. ⁹
4.) Develop a Support System
Many with social anxiety struggle to tell those around them that they have this condition. However, those who can develop a support system are much more likely to feel comfortable in social situations.
Ideally, you want someone who can support you in becoming more independent over time. In most cases, when a person who’s socially anxious needs a trusted friend or family member who can guide them through these situations while advocating they take on certain events alone.
It’s a difficult process and not everyone is equipped to support someone with anxiety. However, if you can find that one person, getting in the habit of going to social events can become much easier.
5.) Exercise and Other Physical Activities
In order to further eliminate anxiety, it’s beneficial to take on certain lifestyle changes that help reduce it. One of the most notable is exercise as many studies have proven it can help lower the presence of symptoms. ¹⁰
Furthermore, this doesn’t require you to go about a rigorous exercise. Regularly incorporating simple activities such as jogging or hiking can make all the difference.
Some have also found other forms of physical activity to be helpful – most notably, yoga. This allows you to practice breathing techniques while naturally lowering your blood pressure and heart rate. ¹¹
6.) Dieting and Supplements
You are what you eat. While it isn’t always the case, people with social anxiety tend to have unstable diets that don’t identify their condition. By eating healthier and taking anxiety-reducing supplements, you’re less likely to feel anxiety throughout the day. ¹²
But what does eating healthier look like? Here are some tips:
- Eat small, regular meals
- Intake plenty of whole grains and good carbohydrates
- Avoid refined sugars
- Opt for herbal tea instead of coffee
- Avoid alcohol and other substances
- Drink plenty of water
Alongside these diet changes, it can also help to take the following supplements:
- Cannabidiol (CBD)
- Omega-3 fatty acids
If you’re already on medication for social anxiety, we recommend consulting a doctor before incorporating other supplements into your regimen.
7.) Breathing Techniques
One of the most common symptoms of anxiety is rapid, shallow, and uncontrollable breathing. This symptom can escalate and leave you feeling tense, dizzy, and suffocated. ¹³
In order to overcome these negative patterns, it can help to practice slow breathing. This may involve:
- 4-7-8 breathing
- Alternate-nostril breathing
- Belly breathing
- Box breathing
- Lion’s breath
- Mindful breathing
- Pursed-lip breathing
- Resonance breathing
To get a better idea of what each of these techniques entails, we recommend doing more research and practicing one or two at a time.
Final Word – Go Easy on Yourself
Overcoming anxiety isn’t an easy process. You should be proud of yourself for simply coming to this page and trying to research the process on your own.
The next steps you take are likely going to come with obstacles. And when those problems arise, it’s only natural you may be hard on yourself.
However, it’s important to remember that by simply trying to overcome social anxiety, you’re putting in more effort than is expected of you. And for that reason, you should be proud of yourself and continue with positivity.
Still have questions about how to overcome social anxiety?
We invite you to ask them in the comments section below. If you have any further knowledge to share – whether personal or professional – we’d also love to hear from you.
¹ National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): Social Anxiety Disorder: More Than Just Shyness
² Biological Psychiatry: Neural Mechanisms of Cognitive Reappraisal of Negative Self-Beliefs in Social Anxiety Disorder
³ Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience: Amygdala and insula response to emotional images in patients with generalized social anxiety disorder
⁴ Biology of Mood & Anxiety Disorders: Emotion regulation in social anxiety disorder: behavioral and neural responses to three socio-emotional tasks
⁵ Anxiety & Depression Association of America: Social Anxiety Disorder: Symptoms
⁶ Trauma-Informed Care in Behavioral Health Services: Chapter 3: Understanding the Impact of Trauma
⁷ HHS Public Access: Impact of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Social Anxiety Disorder on the Neural Dynamics of Cognitive Reappraisal of Negative Self-Beliefs
⁸ The Centre for Clinical Interventions: Situational Exposure
⁹ Cognitive Behaviour Therapy: Virtual Reality exposure therapy for public speaking anxiety in routine care: a single-subject effectiveness trial
¹⁰ frontiers in Psychiatry: Effects of Exercise and Physical Activity on Anxiety
¹¹ International Journal of Yoga: Exploring the therapeutic effects of yoga and its ability to increase quality of life
¹² frontiers in Psychiatry: Nutrition as Metabolic Treatment for Anxiety
¹³ frontiers in Psychiatry: The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention, Negative Affect and Stress in Healthy Adults