How to overcome social anxiety

May 22, 2024
How to overcome social anxiety
We are wired to connect, but some people with social anxiety live with a persistent fear of embarrassment, humiliation or rejection from others. As many as 12% of us may experience this in our lifetime, often combined with depression, panic, generalised anxiety, post-traumatic stress and a tendency towards substance misuse as a coping mechanism.

What is social anxiety disorder?

Social anxiety disorder is an intense and persistent fear of being watched and judged by others. People with the condition tend to endure these negative thoughts before, during and after social interactions. There is usually a focus inward on one’s own speech and how you come across, along with discomfort and wanting to avoid social contact altogether. Social anxiety can impact your relationships, school or work performance negatively, limit hobbies outside of the home, and lead to a sense of low self-esteem.

Circumstances where you may feel socially anxious include:

  • Interacting with new people
  • Going to school or work
  • Attending social gatherings such as a wedding or party
  • Attending medical appointments
  • Entering a crowded room
  • Eating in front of other people

What does this mean for those who are socially anxious?

Despite the fact that we need social connection, avoiding others may initially feel like a welcome relief. However, spending lots of time alone for long periods may leave you feeling more overwhelmed by the idea of mixing with people. Here are some tips you can try.

10 tips for managing social anxiety

1. Maintain social connections

Do the best you can to connect in a way that feels realistic and safe for you, and start small. For example, connect on social media, make small talk with a shop assistant, meet a friend for a coffee, chat or walk.

2. Create a feeling of safety

Think about what it is about home that helps you feel safe, and take reminders of home with you. For example, a particular smell or item of clothing may be comforting. It might be possible to take your dog to work, as some companies have become more flexible with this. Trial a routine when returning home to help you feel more in control, such as showering, changing clothes or doing some exercise.

3. Notice the negative thoughts and let them pass

We have evolved to focus on behaviours and thoughts that help protect us, though we cannot effectively differentiate real from imagined threats. Notice the thoughts and recognise when they show up but note that there is no danger here. Try to imagine letting go of judgemental thoughts or write them down, perhaps in a journal, to find some element of relief and closure.

4. Practice self-compassion

If you’re not feeling comfortable enough to engage socially, that’s okay. Go easy and talk to yourself kindly – just as you would to a friend who was struggling. Remember, the way you feel is not the way in which you are perceived by others.

5. Build your resilience

Find an enjoyable form of exercise, create a daily routine, prioritise sleep, and limit caffeine (as this may trigger symptoms that mimic anxiety). All of these are simple ways to build resilience.

6. Share how you feel

Sharing anxieties may help you feel less alone and help you develop strategies for managing your feelings. You may need time and a slower pace to reconnect, so try to be patient with yourself and others.

7. Seek help if needed

If your social anxiety feels unmanageable or is impacting your life, seek out a psychologist via your local NHS wellbeing service or source one privately. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) or Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) can teach more flexible ways of responding to anxiety.

8. Recognise negative coping strategies

Social anxiety is associated with higher rates of negative alcohol use and other negative coping methods; being able to recognise this and build more appropriate coping mechanisms is key to successfully managing your feelings.

9. Manage your tech use

 A greater use of smartphones combined with social media consumption appears to be correlated with social anxiety as well as feelings of isolation and low self-esteem.

10. Volunteer and help others

Studies suggest that doing a kind deed or volunteering may have a positive effect on your mood and outlook. This combined with the social contact of helping and working with others can have a positive effect on your overall psychological wellbeing and result in meaningful connections with other people.

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This article was reviewed on 30th April 2024 by Kerry Torrens.
Dr Laura Keyes is a Clinical Psychologist, registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) and British Psychological Society (BPS). She runs a private practice offering psychological therapy and assessments for neurodiversity to children and adults in Bedfordshire:
All health content on is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other healthcare professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local healthcare provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

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