Supporting a Loved One With Social Anxiety Disorder

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If a close friend or family member has been diagnosed with social anxiety disorder (SAD), there are many challenges that they will face. Having a supportive family and network of friends will make treatment and recovery easier.

Getting better is a process—it takes hard work on the part of the person diagnosed and patience from family and friends.

Tips for Supporting a Loved One With Social Anxiety Disorder

Below are a variety of ways to support your friend or family member through this process.

Learn About Social Anxiety Disorder

SAD is more than just severe shyness. It is a real medical condition that has been linked to abnormalities in brain chemistry and dysfunctional thinking patterns. Learning as much as you can about the symptoms of the disorder and what treatments are effective will help you know what to expect from the illness and from recovery.

Don’t Enable

Your friend or relative may have spent many years with the symptoms of social anxiety disorder before being diagnosed. During this time, you may have developed habits to help them avoid anxiety-provoking situations. It will take time and practice to unlearn these patterns.

For example, if you have developed the habit of speaking on behalf of your friend while in social situations, gradually stop this behavior. If they become too anxious and want to leave a social situation, negotiate with them to stay just a little bit longer.

It is a delicate balance between not enabling avoidance and being sensitive to the need for slow progress. Learn when to be patient and when to push.

Encourage Treatment

If your friend or family member is resistant to receiving treatment, listen to their concerns. If they have questions about specific aspects of treatment, you can ask to speak to a member of the treatment team to ease their worries.

Gently encourage them to seek treatment, and encourage them to complete treatment once it has begun.

Praise Small Accomplishments

Therapy and recovery are gradual processes. It is important that you recognize small steps made by your friend or family member and give praise and positive feedback.

Voice that you are proud of them for trying, even if they don't initially reach a goal that has been set. Applaud progress and encourage the use of skills learned during therapy.

Keep to a Routine

The period of treatment and recovery can be a stressful time. It’s important that your friend or family member knows that you will be consistent and reliable and that there will be routines that can be counted on. If you normally spend a couple of hours at a dinner party, don’t expect your spouse to stay late into the night.

During particularly stressful periods, such as holidays, be flexible and modify your expectations. Try to keep family life as stress-free as possible.

Ask Them What They Need

Don’t assume that you know what your friend or family member needs. If you are in an anxiety-provoking situation, ask how you can best help them cope.

Together, you can determine how little or how much you will need to be involved in the recovery process.

Be Patient

Treatment and recovery can be a slow process—it may take months to change patterns that have been learned over many years.

Be patient and don’t expect too much from your friend or family member all at once.

Manage Your Own Emotions

If your friend or a family member becomes overly anxious or panicky in certain situations, it is important not to get too emotional yourself. Although it is important to be empathetic, try not to focus too much on the fear.

For example, if your friend panics before going to a social gathering, avoid overly empathizing with them about how difficult it will be. Focus on the positive progress that they are making and your confidence in their ability to cope.

Don’t Place Blame

Do not regard social anxiety disorder as being someone's fault. Feeling guilty or blaming your friend or relative will only make things worse.

Accept that the disorder is the result of biological and psychological factors that are out of everyone's control.

Be a Good Listener

Sometimes just telling someone about your problems makes them seem more manageable. Allow your friend or family member to explain how they feel. In addition to making you more aware of what they are going through, it will help them feel less isolated.

Don’t tell them that they are being ridiculous or that their fears are silly. A person with social anxiety disorder knows that their fears are irrational. Nevertheless, they are unable to control them.

A Word From Verywell

Helping someone with an anxiety disorder requires patience and understanding. In the case of social anxiety disorder, it also requires the ability to be close to someone who may sometimes seem to be pushing you away. Learn to separate the symptoms from the person, and you will be much further ahead in your journey toward helping your loved one.

If you or a loved one are struggling with social anxiety disorder, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

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. Deacon BJ. The biomedical model of mental disorder: a critical analysis of its validity, utility, and effects on psychotherapy research. Clin Psychol Rev. 2013;33(7):846-61.  doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2012.09.007

  2. Social Anxiety Disorder: More Than Just Shyness. National Institutes of Health.

  3. Treating social anxiety disorder. Harvard Medical School. March 2010.

  4. Anxiety Disorders. National Institutes of Health. July 2018.

Additional Reading
  • Anxiety Disorders Association of America. Helping Others. 
  • Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. Anxiety Disorders: An Information Guide. 

By Arlin Cuncic, MA
Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety." She has a Master's degree in psychology.