Social Anxiety Help

Use deep breathing for self-help.
Deep breathing is a self-help strategy. Getty / Cultura / Sean Malyon

Social anxiety help can come in many forms. Although treatment is available and effective for SAD, only 25% of people with the disorder ever receive treatment. While not a substitute for professional treatment, for those that may otherwise receive no help, self-help is a good starting point. Self-help strategies for social anxiety disorder can be used at home to overcome your symptoms.

Social Coping Strategies

Many people with social anxiety disorder lack assertiveness and can benefit from learning to become more assertive through self-help strategies. Practice becoming more assertive by communicating your needs in a calm and relaxed way that respects the needs of others. Usually, this takes the form of "I" statements such as "I feel hurt when you don't respond to my phone calls." Learning to say no is also an important part of being assertive and a skill that most people with social anxiety struggle with.

Improving your nonverbal communication skills is another area in which you can employ self-help strategies if you live with social anxiety. Most people with social anxiety tend to adopt a "closed-off" stance; you may do this without even realizing it. Learning how to have a relaxed posture (e.g., hands at your sides, good eye contact) encourages others to respond positively to you and makes you appear more approachable. Developing body confidence in this way will help you to become more confident in social interactions.

In addition to adopting a relaxed body posture, knowing how to start conversations, keep them going, and listen attentively are skills that you can develop through self-help strategies.

As an example, one quick tip for joining a group of people in conversation is to listen first and then make a comment about what they are already talking about such as, "Are you talking about the election results? I couldn't believe them either." Expose yourself to as many opportunities as possible to develop your verbal communication abilities. Practice being a good listener, asking open-ended questions, and sharing stories about yourself so that others can get to know you better.

Telling Others About Your Social Anxiety

It's likely your closest family and friends already have an idea of your social anxiety. If you want to tell someone specific, send a message that there is something you'd like to share and arrange a time at a quiet place to talk. If you feel too nervous to explain your situation, write down a summary of what you've been feeling. It's best to share your symptoms so that the other person can gain an understanding of what you are going through. Remember that social anxiety disorder is still a little-understood condition and others may need some help to understand.

Emotional Coping Strategies

Practice Deep Breathing

Having social anxiety means that you probably have strong emotional reactions in social situations. One way to reduce these anxious reactions is for your body to be in a relaxed state. When your body is relaxed, your breathing is slow and natural, and your mind is free of negative thoughts, making it easier to enjoy being with others.

You probably breathe too quickly in anxiety-provoking situations, which in turn makes your other anxiety symptoms worse. This is part of the “fight-or-flight response.” Below are some steps to manage your anxious and shallow breathing.

  1. Count the number of breaths that you take in one minute (count an inhale and exhale as one). Make a note of this number. The average person will take 10 to 12 breaths per minute.
  2. Focus on your breathing. Inhale and exhale through your nose. Take deep breaths from your diaphragm instead of shallow breaths from your chest. Inhale for 3 seconds and exhale for 3 seconds (use a watch or clock with a second hand). As you exhale think “relax” and release tension in your muscles. Continue breathing this way for 5 minutes.
  3. Count your breaths per minute again and see if the number has gone down.
  4. Practice this breathing technique 4 times per day when you are already relaxed.

When in social situations, make sure that you are breathing the way that you practiced. In time, this way of breathing will become automatic.

Reduce Negative Thinking

If you live with social anxiety, you probably misinterpret comments or facial expressions made by other people, which contributes to your emotional reactions. In particular, there are two common thought patterns that can contribute to your anxiety.

  • Mindreading. You assume that you know what other people are thinking about you (e.g., "Everyone can see how anxious I am").
  • Personalizing. You assume that the behaviors of others are related to you (e.g., "He looks bored, I shouldn’t have invited him to this movie").

The thoughts that you have are so automatic that you probably don’t even realize you are thinking them. Below are some steps to better managing your negative thoughts.

  1. Think back to a recent social situation in which you felt anxious. Write down what your negative thoughts were before, during, and after the situation.
  2. Ask yourself questions to challenge your negative thoughts. For example, if your negative automatic thought was "People are yawning, they must think that I am boring," ask yourself "Could there be a different explanation?" In this case, your alternative thought could be "It probably had nothing to do with me, they were just tired."
  3. Try to notice the automatic negative thoughts that you have before, during, and after feared social situations, and challenge them with alternatives.

Facing Your Fears

Although in the short term, avoiding feared situations may reduce your emotional reactions, in the long term it severely limits your life. In addition, the number of situations that you fear grows as your fear becomes more general. On the other hand, gradual exposure to social situations will help to reduce the anxiety and emotional reactions that you associate with them.

Below are some steps to overcoming avoidance.

  • Identify the top 10 situations that you avoid.
  • For each situation on the list, break it down into a series of steps, increasing in difficulty. For example, if you are afraid of being the center of attention, your steps might look like this:
  • Tell a funny story about yourself to a group of people that you know well.
  • Tell a funny story about yourself to a group of people that you don’t know well.
  • Voice your true opinion to a group of friends.
  • Voice your true opinion to a group of strangers.
  • Make a toast at dinner with people whom you know well.
  • Make a toast at dinner with people whom you don't know well.
  • Practice each step as much as you need to before moving on to the next. If you notice anxiety, challenge your negative thinking and use the slow breathing technique to relax.

Note that the specific list you create will depend on your fears. For example, you might feel more afraid of speaking in front of people you know well versus a crowd of strangers. In this case, you would reverse items on the list.

Practical Day-to-Day Coping Strategies

Below are some tips to help you cope on a day-to-day basis with social anxiety, such as while at work or attending school.

  • Tell your employer so that you can receive accommodations or supports in the workplace.
  • Arrive to meetings early so you can meet people one-by-one as they arrive.
  • Make a list of questions to ask your teacher or supervisor and start with the least anxiety-provoking ones.
  • Keep up on current events so that you will be able to participate in small talk.
  • Avoid using alcohol to overcome inhibitions.
  • Choose a job for which you have passion, so that even the most challenging aspects of work in terms of your social anxiety will seem worth it.
  • Make new friends by greeting people, giving compliments, and starting brief conversations.
  • Get regular exercise, eat healthy food, and avoid caffeine and sugar to reduce your anxiety.

Mistakes to Avoid

There are a number of common mistakes that people make when trying to overcome social anxiety through self-help strategies. Avoiding these mistakes will ensure that you aren't making things worse.

  • Never try to control your anxiety. The more you see it as something awful that needs to be eliminated, the more focused you will be on it and the harder it will be to reduce.
  • Don't focus on being perfect. Instead, focus on accepting worst-case scenarios and then work backwards from there.
  • Don't wait too long to seek help from a mental health professional. While it can be tempting to think you can solve this all on your own, often people need therapy or medication to successfully manage social anxiety.
  • Never accept social anxiety as a personality trait. While you might be an introvert or have a tendency to be shy, social anxiety disorder is a mental health issue that does not define who you are. It is possible to overcome your anxiety and live a fulfilling life.
  • While there is some evidence that medical marijuana may be helpful for social anxiety, there are also risks associated with its use. Be sure to carefully balance any risks and benefits when considering using this as a coping strategy.

    A Word From Verywell

    Over time, as you practice relaxation, challenge negative thoughts, and face feared situations, you will find it easier to stay anxiety-free in stressful situations. This should help to relieve your social anxiety. However, if you still face severe anxiety on a daily basis, it is important to consult your doctor or a mental health professional, as traditional treatment such as medication or cognitive-behavioral therapy may be advisable.

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