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.

Practice Deep Breathing

Having social anxiety means that you probably haven’t had very many positive experiences in social situations. One way to increase the likelihood of having these positive experiences 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, it will be 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.
     
  1. Count your breaths per minute again and see if the number has gone down.
     
  2. 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.

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 anxiety, 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 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:
     
    1. Tell a funny story about yourself to a group of people that you know well.
    2. Tell a funny story about yourself to a group of people that you don’t know well.
    3. Voice your true opinion to a group of friends.
    4. Voice your true opinion to a group of strangers.
    5. Make a toast at dinner with people whom you know well.
    6. 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.

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.

Sources:

Andrews, G. (Ed.). (2007). Clinical Research Unit for Anxiety and Depression, UNSW. Self Help for Social Phobia

Jorm AF, Christensen H, Griffiths KM, Parslow RA, Rodgers B, Blewitt KA. Effectiveness of complementary and self-help treatments for anxiety disorders. Med J Aust. 2004;181(7 Suppl):S29-46.

Lewis C, Pearce J, Bisson JI. Efficacy, cost-effectiveness and acceptability of self-help interventions for anxiety disorders: systematic review. Br J Psychiatry. 2012;200(1):15-21.