8 Tips for Managing Social Anxiety
Social anxiety disorder is a common form of anxiety, but it’s also one that can radically impact your daily life and make completing basic tasks at work or school difficult. If you or a loved one experiences symptoms of social anxiety, here are some indicators that it’s becoming an issue and what you can do to manage overwhelming feelings of anxiousness and fear.
Signs of social anxiety
The symptoms of social anxiety can be uncomfortable or even debilitating. People who live with a fear of social situations can experience:
Even though anxiety is a mental health condition, it can have a myriad of uncomfortable effects on the body. Physical symptoms of anxiety include but aren’t limited to:
- Elevated heart rate
- Upset stomach
- Flushed face
- Feeling like you can’t breathe
- Getting dizzy or lightheaded
- Panic attacks
Sometimes, these symptoms are extreme enough that a person might believe something is physically wrong with them or even that they could be having a heart attack. Even though there’s no imminent emergency, a person with social anxiety may feel like there is one.
Mental and emotional symptoms
Along with physical symptoms, individuals with social anxiety also experience several cognitive and emotional symptoms, such as:
- Having anxious thoughts about upcoming social interactions
- Intense fear of being in social situations
- Feeling self-conscious when you’re at the center of attention or in front of others
- Low self-esteem or confidence in one’s self
- Fear of public embarrassment or humiliation
- Feeling like people will notice that you’re nervous
Several behavioral symptoms go along with social anxiety, like:
- Difficulty making eye contact with other people, especially in public situations
- Difficulty with public speaking, such as stuttering or skipping words
- Feeling like you need to pace or move around
- Avoidance of social situations
- Engaging in extreme people-pleasing behaviors in social situations
8 tips for coping with social anxiety
Although symptoms of this condition can be debilitating, there are several coping strategies you can use to overcome social anxiety, like:
1) Focus on making small steps
Part of coping with social anxiety is stepping outside your comfort zone, but it’s important you don’t do this too fast. Even though there’s no actual danger from engaging in public situations, it can feel like there is.
Set goals and take small steps towards them. Don’t rushyourself — instead, strive for small bits of progress consistently over time. Remember that this is a marathon and not a race and that pacing yourself can help you develop new habits that last.
2) Use focused breathing
Deep breathing activates your parasympathetic nervous system, which is the part of your body that’s engaged when you’re calm and relaxed. By breathing in deeply while you’re feeling anxious in public, you can “trick” your body into thinking you’re already in a relaxed state. This, in turn, can help you calm down.
Here are some breathing exercises you can try:
- Breathe with your diaphragm. This is also sometimes called “belly breathing.” Imagine a string connected to your belly button that pulls your tummy out as you inhale and back in when you exhale. This uses the diaphragm muscle to expand your lungs from the bottom, which also helps stimulate your vagus nerve, which runs the length of your body and is the main parasympathetic nerve.
- Exhale longer than you inhale. Taking in too much oxygen when you’re anxious can cause you to hyperventilate or even possibly pass out. Try inhaling for four seconds, holding your breath for four seconds, and exhaling for eight seconds. This helps regulate your oxygen intake and can make it easier to calm down.
- Breathe out of your nose or through pursed lips. When exhaling, try breathing slowly out of your nose or through pursed lips as though you were blowing air out through a straw. Exhaling this way takes longer, so it also helps prevent you from taking in more oxygen than you need.
3) Reframe negative thoughts
With social anxiety often comes intense negative thoughts, like worrying if someone will notice you’re anxious or that you’ll make a big mistake. Most of the time, you can reframe these thoughts to something more positive.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy designed to do exactly this and works to challenge negative thoughts and deconstruct irrational beliefs.
For example, if you feel like you “always” do poorly in social scenarios, CBT can help you reframe this thinking. Instead, you might recognize that you sometimes do poorly, but you also sometimes do well, and it’s just as easy to hope for a good outcome as it is to worry about a bad one.
4) Practice mindfulness and relaxation techniques
You can use mindfulness and relaxation techniques during social events to help reduce anxious thoughts and feelings or curb the intense fear that comes with being around other people. Here are some simple tactics to try for yourself:
- Guided imagery
- Body scanning
- Making a gratitude list
- Dancing (if the event is the appropriate context, such as a wedding)
- Living in the moment
- Progressive muscle relaxation
5) Reach out to your support system
If you’re feeling very anxious and having trouble calming down on your own, reaching out to your support system may be helpful. Call a friend or family member, or visit an online chat room you like to frequent. Even just letting someone know how you’re feeling can help.
6) Perform self-care
Self-care is an important part of managing mental health conditions like anxiety. These activities can reduce stress, keep your body healthy, and help relax and nourish your mind.
Below are several self-care habits that can help reduce symptoms of anxiety:
- Take a warm bath at the end of the day. This can help to lower blood pressure and relax your muscles after being in stressful social situations.
- Eat your favorite foods. Eating food you love helps the brain make and release more dopamine. This feel-good chemical works to reduce anxious thoughts and may make engaging in public situations easier. Just remember to balance sugary or high-fat foods with nutritious, unprocessed foods like fresh fruits, vegetables, and lean meats.
- Read self-help books. Not only is reading another great way to relax and take your mind off of things, but many books can give you even more tools and resources to help overcome social anxiety. Reading books like Rewire Your Anxious Brain by Catherine M. Pittman, PhD, and Get Out Of Your Own Way by Mark Goulston, MD can help you learn new techniques for managing feelings of anxiety while giving your mind and body a chance to recharge.
- Detox from social media. Social media can be a great way to connect with friends and family, but spending too much time scrolling can increase feelings of anxiety. Try taking a break from social media for a few days or limiting your time scrolling each day to see if it helps.
- Get enough exercise. Self-care isn’t just about pampering — it’s also about making sure your body gets what it needs. Exercise is a great way to boost serotonin and helps you build up the physical resources to withstand stress and anxiety when it strikes.
7) Keep things in perspective
It can also be helpful to remember that most social situations aren’t putting you in actual danger, even though it may feel like it. Anxiety symptoms are also seldom truly dangerous, and the human body is well-equipped to handle the short bursts of adrenaline brought on by anxiety and panic attacks.
When you’re feeling anxious in a social setting, try to remind yourself that your body is only reacting as if there is an emergency — it doesn’t mean there actually is one. Step away from the situation momentarily to ground yourself and practice breathing exercises or relaxation techniques to help calm your body and mind.
8) Meet with a qualified therapist
Talk therapy is a great way to slowly improve your social skills and build a foundation of coping mechanisms you can fall back on when engaging in public situations becomes difficult.
A qualified mental health professional can meet with you at a time that works with your schedule and will listen to your concerns and offer helpful suggestions for managing anxiety in different circumstances.
SonderMind is helping to change the way people access professional help. We provide people who are living with social anxiety disorder or symptoms of social phobia with effective, affordable mental health support with customized treatment options that fit their needs.
With SonderMind, you can get matched with a therapist whose clinical background and focus aligns with your counseling goals. It’s easy — just answer a few simple questions and we’ll do the rest.
Benefits of working with a SonderMind provider
Clients of SonderMind report seeing noticeable results in as few as six sessions. You can enjoy the same benefits of working with our qualified providers, like:
- Access to the highest-quality mental health professionals
- Flexible support that works with your busy schedule
- Feedback-informed treatment and measurement-based care
- Access to in-person care or virtual care, depending on your preferences
- Affordable access to care
Get paired with a therapist selected just for you today with SonderMind
SonderMind can help you connect with a therapist specifically selected for you based on answers to important questions about yourself. You can see a SonderMind provider online or in person to get the support you need when and where it’s most convenient for you.
Match with a SonderMind provider and be on your way to better mental health today.