14 Embarrassing Things to Do in Public to Help Overcome Social Anxiety

An older woman dancing alone in the park

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We all experience embarrassment from time to time. People with social anxiety disorder (SAD), however, might be harder on themselves about these moments, more strongly believing that their social blunders will lead to criticism and rejection.

While thinking of silly 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.

Overview

Doing silly things in public could be considered a type of behavioral experiment, which is a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). 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.

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.

Unlike your typical habit of avoidance, your goal with this task is to become embarrassed or to have others judge you.

Silly and Embarrassing

Below is a list of 20 silly things to do in public to get started.

  • Ask for a discount on something. Do this somewhere that it 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."
  • Dance in public as though there is music. Sing your favorite song in your head and start dancing around freely.
  • 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.
  • Sing in public. Loudly. Smile while you do it.
  • 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?"

Center of Attention

You can also contemplate doing things that challenge your social anxiety in that they draw attention to you. Rather than being silly, 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.

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

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!

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  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. 

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