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?

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 be of help.

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? This reflects behaving in ways that are consistent with feeling more in control. It's the old "fake it until you make it" approach.

To do this, 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 some ideas to get you started. These are all things that a person who has overcome social anxiety might find easy to do. You can get started on the path to overcoming social anxiety by gaining a bit of control over small areas of your life like this.

To make this process less overwhelming, choose one thing to work on at a time and continue to work on it until you feel you have mastered it.

Make a Controversial Choice

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. By standing up for something a bit controversial, you are showing yourself that you are not afraid of the negative opinions of others.

Be the Early Bird

Get to work first. Arrive at the party first. Get your presentation out of the way (go first). Choosing to go first tells your brain that you are not afraid and you are ready to tackle what comes your way.

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). Trying out new things will make you feel like you are adventurous and that your anxiety is not holding you back.

Send cards. Bring others into conversation by asking them questions. Introduce yourself. Introduce others. Make someone feel at home in your home. Doing these little thoughtful things will force you stop focusing on yourself and start focusing outward on others.

Not just exercise. Find ways to move that challenge you. Try a dance class, a yoga class, or something that sounds interesting to you. Choosing group activities will challenge you to see yourself as someone who enjoys being around other people.

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. Showing yourself respect with the things that you say will gradually train your brain to be compassionate.

Have Gratitude

Write 3 things you are thankful for each day every night in a journal. Choose a gratitude affirmation each day of the year and repeat it to yourself as you go through your day.

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. Following your values will give you a sense of purpose and help you rise above any anxiety that starts to creep up along the way.

Self-Actualization

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 like those "top of the pyramid" things you work towards once you've got everything else in your life sorted out.

Social Anxiety and Self-actualization

How does this relate 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.

Social anxiety makes it hard for you to seek friendship, improve family bonds, feel good about yourself, and show yourself respect.

It also might make it hard for you to be creative, spontaneous, and accepting. When you are focused on when the next anxiety attack is coming, 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.

Perhaps this means that you can jump up into self-actualization, even if you are still battling social anxiety. Try to make small changes each day to feel more in control. Focus on one area at a time until you have mastered it. Alongside these small changes, you can also be working on overcoming your anxiety.

A Word From Verywell

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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