15 Embarrassing Things to Do in Public to Overcome Social Anxiety

An older woman dancing alone in the park

Victor Pontes / Getty Images

Everyone experiences embarrassment from time to time. People with social anxiety disorder (SAD), however, are often harder on themselves about these moments. This is because they more strongly believe that their social blunders will lead to criticism and rejection.

While thinking of embarrassing things to do in public might seem like the last thing you would want to do if you live with SAD, it just might be the best way to start overcoming your fears. This strategy can serve as a type of exposure that can help you confront your fears and practice facing social challenges.

This article explores some of the embarrassing things you can do in public to help confront your anxiety. It also covers why this approach can be helpful.

Press Play for Advice On Dealing With Embarassment

Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast shares how to embrace feelings of embarrassment so they don't scare you anymore. Click below to listen now.

Follow Now: Apple Podcasts / Spotify / Google Podcasts / RSS

Why Doing Embarrassing Things Can Help SAD

Doing silly or embarrassing things in public could be considered a type of behavioral experiment, which is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This type of therapy is often done in a more structured way under the guidance of a therapist. However, doing behavioral experiments such as exposing yourself to the things that make you anxious or nervous can also be a useful self-help strategy.

The key when it comes to social anxiety is to choose something to do that would normally embarrass you or that you would try to avoid. When you fear something, your first instinct is often to avoid it. The problem is that this approach often ends up making you feel even more fearful in the future. Unlike your typical habit of avoidance, your goal with this task is to become embarrassed or to have others judge you.

Intentionally doing embarrassing things in public is an example of what is known as social mishap exposure. People who have social anxiety tend to overestimate the social costs associated with making mistakes in front of other people.

By doing embarrassing things in public without relying on avoidance coping, people are able to experience the actual consequences of social mishaps. In doing so, they can see that the impact is actually much less than they feared, which will ultimately help them feel less fearful of social situations in the future.

Social mishap exposure differs from traditional exposures practices in CBT because the aim is to intentionally cause people to experience the outcome they have been trying to avoid. Where exposure in CBT strives to help people see that the things they fear are unlikely to happen, social mishap exposure is designed to show that even if the worst happens, it isn't as scary or consequential as people feared.

The key is to start small and build up your ability to do these types of silly things. Do the easier ones first and the harder ones later. Ideally, these silly things make you feel a little or a lot embarrassed but don't hurt you or anyone else.

Recap

Doing embarrassing things in public is a type of social mishap exposure. This technique can help people develop a more realistic understanding of what happens if they make social mistakes, which can eventually reduce feelings of social anxiety.

Embarrassing Things to Do In Public

Everyone makes embarrassing mistakes from time to time. If you are looking for ways to practice social mishap exposure, explore some of these embarrassing things to do in public for ideas.

  • Ask for a discount on something. Do this somewhere that seems completely inappropriate, such as a grocery or department store. "Can I get a better price on those bananas?" The goal is not to get the discount but to embarrass yourself. Act as though there is nothing unusual about your request.
  • Ask for directions and then go the opposite way. Leave the direction-giver bewildered.
  • Ask someone for directions to the place where you already are. When they explain your embarrassing mistake, give a big smile and say "Thank you! That makes it so much easier."
  • Pay entirely with pennies. Count slowly and don't apologize.
  • Pretend to recognize someone you don't know. Walk up and say "Hey James, how are you doing?" The other person will quickly tell you that you've made a mistake. 
  • Read a magazine or book upside down. Do this on a bus or in a mall—anywhere that you are likely to get some odd looks.
  • Try to sell your stuff to telemarketers when they call you. Don't take no for an answer.
  • Wear something outlandish or completely out of character for you. Try out a fancy hat. When others comment on your attire, say "What do you mean?"
  • Wear your shirt backward and buttoned incorrectly. Walk around a crowded store and make it your goal to make eye contact with several people.

You can often try these things on your own, but you may find it helpful to work with a therapist to overcome your social anxiety. A therapist can combine exposure to social mishaps with other effective techniques such as cognitive restructuring and psychoeducation to learn more about social anxiety.

Being the Center of Attention

You can also contemplate doing things that challenge your social anxiety in that they draw attention to you. These behaviors are designed to make you the center of attention. You will soon realize, however, that people notice you (and the mistakes you make) much less than you think.

  • Go to a restaurant on your birthday and have them sing to you. Don't look at the table. Smile and look around the restaurant as you are the center of attention.
  • Pay with the wrong bills or change. Wait for the cashier to notice before correcting yourself.
  • Press the wrong button for someone in an elevator. Do this on purpose. But, then apologize and press the right one.
  • Show up late somewhere and make a spectacle of yourself. It might feel like the end of the world but it's really not.
  • Dance in public as though there is music. Sing your favorite song in your head and start dancing around freely.
  • Sing in public. Loudly. Smile while you do it.

One benefit of this approach is that you can tailor it to your specific fears. For example, if you fear embarrassing yourself at a social event, looking for ways to make yourself the center of attention while you are at a party can be a great way to confront this fear.

Notice how little others really pay attention to what you do.

Tips for Coping With Embarrassment

The goal of doing embarrassing things in public is not to terrify yourself. While you don't want to engage in avoidance behaviors, there are things that you can do to help manage your feelings of anxiety while still practicing this social mishap exposure.

  • Start small: Don't start by tackling your greatest fear right off the bat. Work on some smaller ways to embarrass yourself and gradually work your way up to more fear-inducing actions. 
  • Pay attention to how others respond: People with social anxiety often have an exaggerated sense of feeling that everyone is watching them, a phenomenon known as the spotlight effect. When you start practicing doing embarrassing things, you will quickly notice that many people don't even notice your social mishaps.
  • Practice deep breathing: Deep breathing practices can be a highly effective way to tame feelings of anxiety. Spend time each day practicing deep breathing and then use this type of breathing to calm your body when you are in an embarrassing situation.

Also, remind yourself that everyone gets embarrassed once in a while. By practicing embarrassing yourself in public, you'll be less likely to experience fear and anxiety in the future.

It is also important to make sure that this type of exposure activity does not end up making anxiety worse. Doing it under the guidance of a therapist and incorporating relaxation techniques such as deep breathing can help minimize that risk.

Recap

There are a number of strategies you can use to cope with feelings of embarrassment. Start slow, remember that most people won't even notice, and use deep breathing to calm your anxiety.

A Word From Verywell

The goal of these activities is to prove to yourself that you can make mistakes without it being a catastrophe. People with social anxiety view social situations as having strict rules of conduct, so it is important for you to break those down. Now go make some mistakes!

If you are finding it difficult to manage your feelings of anxiety or are experiencing significant distress, talk to your healthcare provider or a mental health professional. They can recommend treatments or medications that can also help you cope with your symptoms.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you do embarrassing things in public?

    You can do embarrassing things by choosing where you will embarrass yourself and what you will do. Get in the right frame of mind and remind yourself that practicing is a good way to reduce your social anxiety. Once you embarrass yourself, notice how it probably wasn't as difficult or embarrassing as you expected.

  • What are some of the best treatments for social anxiety disorder?

    Treatments for social anxiety often involve medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of both. Antidepressants, beta blockers, and benzodiazepines can be helpful for relieving symptoms of anxiety. These are often used alongside therapy, which often involves cognitive behavioral therapy. Specific techniques that are often helpful for social anxiety include exposure, cognitive restructuring, and social skills training.

  • How can exposure therapy help get rid of social anxiety?

    Exposure therapy is a type of behavioral therapy that is often used to help people deal with fear, phobias, and anxiety. By gradually exposing yourself to the things that you are afraid of, the fear will begin to lessen. Exposure can involve either imagined or real world. By getting experience and practice being exposed to the things that you fear, you will eventually start to feel more comfortable and less fearful.

Was this page helpful?
3 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. Moscovitch DA, Rodebaugh TL, Hesch BD. How awkward! Social anxiety and the perceived consequences of social blundersBehav Res Ther. 2012;50(2):142-149. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2011.11.002

  2. Renner, K. A., Valentiner, D. P., & Holzman, J. B. (2017). Focus-of-attention behavioral experiment: An examination of a therapeutic procedure to reduce social anxiety. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, 46(1), 60–74. 

  3. Fang A, Sawyer AT, 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