8 Things People Do to Control Social Anxiety

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If you've been waiting until you feel that your social anxiety is under control to stretch yourself outside your comfort zone, you may never get to that place. In the meantime, why not "fake it until you make it" by doing little things that can help you feel more in control of your social anxiety, instead of it controlling you?

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Have you heard of Maslow's hierarchy of needs? It is a pyramid of needs rising from most basic up to most advanced, with the idea being that you can't progress up a level until the level below it is met.

They go in this order:

  • Physiological: breathing, food, water, sex, sleep
  • Safety: resources, employment, health, family
  • Love/belonging: friendship, family, sexual intimacy
  • Esteem: self-esteem, achievement, respect
  • Self-actualization: creativity, morality, spontaneity, acceptance

For example, if your basic physiological or safety needs are not met (you don't have food or shelter, or your health is compromised), it will be very difficult for you to seek or achieve love or belonging because you are so focused on your basic needs.

At the very top of the summit is "self-actualization." That is the level at which people seek fulfillment at a higher level. You might think of this as those "top of the pyramid" things you work towards once you've got everything else in your life sorted out.

Applying Maslow's Hierarchy to Social Anxiety

If you apply this to social anxiety, you can imagine that the person struggling with SAD would be stuck at the level of safety needs. If you struggle daily with social anxiety disorder, you may not feel in control of your mind and body. You also might have trouble finding or keeping a job, meeting people, and other situations.

This will make it hard for you to seek friendship, improve family bonds, feel good about yourself, and show yourself respect.

But it also might even make it hard for you to think about things like being creative, spontaneous, and accepting. When your whole world is focused on when the next panic attack is going to strike, it can be hard to step back and accept yourself, choose creative pursuits, or make spontaneous plans.

But does it have to be that way? Was Maslow necessarily right in all cases?

Results from a 2011 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggested that a person could achieve self-actualization and good social relationships even if basic and safety needs are not completely met.

Does this mean that you can actually jump up into self-actualization, even if you are still sloshing around in the depths of social anxiety disorder? Wouldn't it seem to be worth at least finding out?

Steps to Take Control of Your Social Anxiety

If you feel as though you have no power in your life (as many with social anxiety do), doing little things that make you feel more in control may actually help to drive you upward through that pyramid of needs. Hypothetically speaking.

Even if you don't feel in control of your life, your mental wellness, or your social anxiety—what if you were to act as though you were? Behave in ways that were consistent with feeling more in control. It's the old "fake it until you make it" approach.

Think of those things that you could do even in the face of unending social anxiety. If you do those things enough, maybe, eventually, you will start to feel less out of control. Now, make a list of little things that you could do that would make you feel more in control. Be sure that the list contains items that are very specific. Also, focus on what to do rather than what not to do.

Below are ideas to get you started. These are not all necessarily about self-actualization, but rather those things that would be considered at the "top of the pyramid" for someone with social anxiety disorder.

1. Make a controversial choice that others might not like, but that you do. Examples might include following a political candidate, choosing a particular career path, or simply saying "no" to something that doesn't sit well with you.

2. Be the early bird whenever you can. Get to work first. Arrive at the party first. Get your presentation out of the way (go first).

3. Try new things. Walk somewhere you have never been. Sign up for an art class. Attend church if you have never been. Go on a spontaneous trip (local or far-reaching depending on your means).

4. Be thoughtful of othersSend cards. Bring others into conversation by asking them questions. Introduce yourself. Introduce others. Make someone feel at home in your home.

5. Move your body. Not just exercise. Find ways to move that challenge you. Try a dance class, a yoga class, or something that sounds interesting to you.

6. Respect yourself with the words you say to yourself. Speak to yourself nicely. Say things you would want someone else to say to you. Say things that you would say to someone else to build them up.

7. Have gratitude. Write 3 things you are thankful for each day every night in a journal.

8. Identify your values. Deep down you have core values—dig those up. Fight for what you believe in. Volunteer to help in an area you are passionate about.

Beyond doing these things to push yourself into self-actualization, also be mindful of the things you can't control, like what other people think of you, what other people will think of you, what happened in your past, physical/mental limitations, and the future. By loosening your focus on these, you'll find that you can more easily enjoy yourself in situations where you would normally feel anxious.

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Article Sources
  • Greater Good, University of California, Berkeley. Maslow's Theory Revisited.
  • Tay L, Diener E. Needs and subjective well-being around the world. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2011;101(2):354-365.