Overcoming a Fear of Being the Center of Attention When You Have SAD

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Fear of attention is common for those with social anxiety disorder (SAD). Although avoiding the limelight might feel like a good strategy to control your anxiety, in the long run, you are teaching yourself that you can't handle being in the spotlight.

Using Exposure Therapy to Help Address a Fear of Being the Center of Attention

In contrast, gradually introducing yourself into situations in which others are focused on you will help you to overcome your fears. This process is known as exposure therapy and is usually one part of a cognitive-behavioral treatment program.

You can also practice exposures on your own as part of a self-help regimen. The idea is to create a list of feared situations ranging from the least anxiety-provoking to the most anxiety-provoking. Slowly, you progress through the list, staying in each situation long enough so that your anxiety lessens and you overcome your fears.

When practicing exposures, it is important not to use partial avoidance strategies or safety behaviors. An example of this would be telling someone your opinion but do it in such a quiet voice that you can't be heard. If you are going to engage in these situations, you need to fully experience the anxiety that arises and then subsides.

In addition to practicing in real life, you can also "try out" situations in your imagination. This is a good way to get started and can have an impact on how you handle them in reality.

Fear Hierarchy Related to Being the Center of Attention

Below is a list of potential items for your fear hierarchy related to being the center of attention. Remember to tailor this list to your particular situation and make sure to order the items so that the easiest ones come first.

  1. Wear something flashy. Wear something that makes you stand out in a crowd.
  2. Spill your food. Instead of being afraid to shake and spill your food, do it on purpose.
  3. Knock something over in a store. Pretend to fumble and knock over a food display in a grocery store.
  4. Stumble over your words. Are you afraid to trip over your words? Do it on purpose and jumble what you are trying to say.
  5. Make a phone call in front of people. Instead of waiting to be alone to make a phone call, do it in front of other people.
  6. Talk loudly. When you make a phone call talk loud enough so that everyone in earshot can hear you.
  7. Offer your opinion about a hot topic. If everyone is discussing a movie or current event, offer your opinion to the group.
  8. Answer a question in class. If you are a student, put your hand up and offer an answer the next time your teacher asks the class a question.
  9. Participate in a sport. Take part in a sport that will require you to be the center of attention some of the time such as baseball, volleyball or horseshoes.
  10. Play a game. Play a party game or card game such as Trivial Pursuit or Euchre.

Use the above list to create your own fear hierarchy for being the center of attention. If you find that your anxiety is severe or that you are unable to face these types of situations at all, you should consider contacting your doctor or a mental health professional for diagnosis and a treatment plan.

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4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Social Anxiety Disorder: More Than Just Shyness. National Institute of Mental Health.

  2. Cornwell B, Heller R, Biggs A, Pine D, Grillon C. Becoming the Center of Attention in Social Anxiety DisorderJ Clin Psychiatry. 2010;72(07):942-948. doi:10.4088/jcp.09m05731blu

  3. What Is Exposure Therapy? Clinical Practice Guideline for the Treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. American Psychological Association.

  4. Fang A, Sawyer A, Asnaani A, Hofmann S. Social Mishap Exposures for Social Anxiety Disorder: An Important Treatment IngredientCogn Behav Pract. 2013;20(2):213-220. doi:10.1016/j.cbpra.2012.05.003

Additional Reading
  • Antony MM, Swinson RP. The Shyness and Social Anxiety Workbook. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger; 2008.