How to Socialize If You Have Social Anxiety Disorder

Portrait of woman sulking at party.

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Knowing how to talk to people when you have social anxiety disorder (SAD) can be difficult. Even after receiving treatment, you may find that you lack some of the social skills needed to connect with people effectively. It is a hurdle that many people with SAD face but one which can be overcome with a little patience, practice, and insight.

Social Performance Deficits

A 2008 study published in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders sought to determine whether individuals with SAD were actually worse at social interactions or just thought that they are.

What the researchers found was that, in people who were socially awkward, their performance was generally worse in their heads compared to what actually occurred. It is rather like giving a speech you thought you messed up, but the message still came through.

In people with SAD, the outcome was somewhat different. What the researchers found was that individuals with the disorder had social performance deficits, essentially gaps in their communication skills which limited how well they could interact.

This would be akin to giving a speech without knowing your subject or to whom you were speaking. Without these key reference points, it would be difficult to know how to act or respond appropriately.


Many people with SAD have avoided talking to others for most of their lives. Even when they are finally able to control their anxiety, they will often have no idea how to start a conversation, read body language, or identify social cues.

There are some tips that may help. The aim is to teach you that communication is about more than just speaking. Like any new experience, there may be stress and the occasional gaffe when you first start, but you need to believe that these are normal. By merely being present, things will improve, sometimes invisibly, as you become more accustomed to social situations.

Below are a variety of techniques to try that can help.

Practice Nonverbal Communication

People with SAD tend to be unaware of the physicality of communication. As a result, they may create barriers that either suggests they are either distracted, disinterested, or disingenuous.

These behaviors may include:

  • Inability to maintain eye contact
  • Speaking too softly, too quickly, or with an unsure tone
  • Standing too far away
  • Smiling too much or too little
  • Slouching or keeping your arms crossed
  • Looking down

To overcome this, learn the 10 rules of body language, including what different body positions and gestures communicate to others and the ways you can make yourself more approachable by simply nodding, maintaining eye contact, and using simple mirroring techniques.

Combine Conversation With Activity

Keeping a conversation going can be difficult even for the best of us. Social communication can often be like a tennis match where you're always setting up and preparing for the next response one after the next. While awkward gaps can happen to anyone, nobody really loves them.

To overcome this, put yourself in situations where you can combine conversation with activity. Invite a person to join you at a place where you can move about or focus on an activity if there is ever a hiccup in the conversation.

While lunches or dinners may be okay, there is really is nowhere to turn if the conversation runs dry (other than to comment on the food or surroundings). Instead, consider these options:

  • Attending a sporting event
  • Doing these activities together can help stimulate conversation and take some of the pressure off the back-and-forth volley few of us are experts at.
  • Joining an exercise or yoga class
  • Playing a sport or even a simple board game
  • Shopping together
  • Taking a walk or a hike
  • Visiting a nursery or a farmer's market

Work on Conversation Skills

Conversing is as much a skill as riding a bike; the more you do it, the better you will get. To get started, you will need to pick up some tools to help navigate the common structure of all social interactions. Among them:

These are just a few of the tips that can help you on the road to becoming socially interactive. Ultimately, the most important thing to remember is that mistakes will happen and you will need to forgive yourself. We have all had social mishaps that have mortified us—it's human—but it is only by making mistakes that we can learn and improve.

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Article Sources
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  1. Voncken, MJ, Bogels, SM. Social performance deficits in social anxiety disorder: Reality during conversation and biased perception during speech. J Anxiety Disord. 2008;22(8):1384-1392. doi:10.1016/j.janxdis.2008.02.001

  2. Halls G, Cooper PJ, Creswell C. Social communication deficits: Specific associations with Social Anxiety Disorder. J Affect Disord. 2015;172:38-42. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2014.09.040

  3. Howell AN, Zibulsky DA, Srivastav A, Weeks JW. Relations among Social Anxiety, Eye Contact Avoidance, State Anxiety, and Perception of Interaction Performance during a Live Conversation. Cogn Behav Ther. 2016;45(2):111-22. doi:10.1080/16506073.2015.1111932

Additional Reading
  • Halls G, Cooper P, Creswell C. Social communication deficits: Specific associations with Social Anxiety Disorder. J Affect Disord. 2015;172: 38-42.