9 Ways to Overcome Social Anxiety

A woman stands in the middle of a crowded room with an anxious face.
  • Social anxiety is a disorder that causes intense feelings of fear and stress around groups or in public settings.

  • Although social anxiety can’t be cured or prevented, there are a number of management techniques people can adopt to help control their symptoms, including identifying your triggers, improving your communication skills, and stepping out of your comfort zone.

  • Speaking to a mental health professional about social anxiety also helps. They can provide more tailored guidance and recommend an appropriate treatment plan for your specific situation.

Social anxiety disorder is a prevalent mental health condition that affects over 15 million Americans in their lifetime.

People with this condition may experience an intense fear of social situations and actively avoid participating in group activities.

Living with social anxiety can be extremely difficult — especially if you don’t know how to overcome it.

Luckily, there are several healthy coping mechanisms that help to reduce your social anxiety symptoms and improve your quality of life.

What is Social Anxiety?

Social anxiety is a common mental health disorder characterized by an intense fear of recreational events.

People who experience severe social anxiety often feel an overwhelming sense of being embarrassed, humiliated, or negatively judged by others. This anxiety usually flares up in various social situations, such as addressing an audience, meeting new people, and starting a new job.

These feelings are usually so severe that they significantly impact a person’s daily life and functioning.

What are common symptoms of social anxiety?

Although each individual is different, common signs of social anxiety include:

  • Emotional distress: excessive worrying, intense fear, and negative thoughts.

  • Physical signs: Flushed appearance, shortness of breath, upset stomach, racing heart, trembling, and feeling faint.

  • Behavioral signs: Avoiding social situations, hiding in the background, or drinking before social situations to soothe your nerves.

Can Social Anxiety be Cured?

While most social anxiety disorders can’t be cured or permanently eliminated, they can be managed and reduced with the correct treatment.

Many individuals with social anxiety can experience significant improvements in their symptoms and quality of life if they are proactive in overcoming their fears.

A man stands against a wall and holds his head.

Ways to Overcome Social Anxiety

1. Identify your triggers

Social anxiety is different for everyone. You might feel anxious in a situation where you feel like others might judge you — like when you’re ordering food at a restaurant.

In other situations — like being around people — you might feel completely fine.

Determining when you feel most anxious can help you take the important first steps toward finding solutions for these emotions. Once you’ve identified which situations trigger you, you can start thinking of ways that you can make yourself feel safer when you are in similar environments.

2. Keep a journal

Keeping a daily journal can help you see how much you’ve improved and where you might still be struggling.

Journaling can also be helpful when you need to identify triggers or want to remember how a certain social situation made you feel.

Writing about your thoughts and experiences may also help you recognize when you are falling into old habits and thinking patterns.

3. Practice social skills

Actively seeking out supportive social environments is another great way to overcome your anxiety.

You can try to take a social skills class or assertiveness training course to help you build confidence in situations where you may feel uncomfortable.

During these courses, you’ll be able to work on your communication skills and learn how to better connect with people around you.

Volunteering or doing something you enjoy — like walking dogs from the shelter — helps you to learn how to engage with a small number of like-minded people while giving you an activity to focus on.

4. Step outside of your comfort zone

One of the best ways to overcome social anxiety is by purposefully putting yourself in situations that make you uncomfortable.

For example, perhaps you don’t like going shopping by yourself because you’re worried about what people might think.

You can challenge yourself to do something small — like getting a coffee or buying flowers — to help you get out of your comfort zone. Once you become comfortable with small things, you can start challenging yourself to bigger events. In this case, it may include going grocery shopping or visiting a restaurant by yourself.

When doing this, it’s important to be in tune with your feelings, and to have an exit strategy just in case.

We also don’t recommend starting with something too challenging that will cause intense anxiety, especially if you are alone.

A woman sits in a criss cross and meditates.

5. Practice relaxation techniques

Relaxation techniques may be useful in helping you manage any physical symptoms associated with social anxiety. These methods focus on breathing and may help you calm down by promoting progressive muscle relaxation.

You can also try meditating in the mornings or evenings. Meditation is a great way to check in with yourself and practice building a resilient mind.

When you are mentally strong, it might be easier to convince yourself that you don’t need to fear certain situations, which can help you overcome anxiety.

6. Challenge your thoughts

For people with social anxiety, negative thoughts are usually common during recreational situations, and these beliefs can contribute to feelings of intense fear.

It might seem difficult at first, but try to challenge these thoughts the next time they come up by following these steps:

  1. Identify the automatic thoughts that arise when you’re in a social situation. For example, “People will think that I am stupid.”

  2. Ask yourself questions about these thoughts, such as “Why would people think that of me?” and “Will people really associate nervousness with incompetence?”

These steps help you to logically assess your thoughts and to determine if your concerns are valid or not. Over time, you can learn to replace these thoughts with a more realistic and positive outlook.

7. Reduce your intake of alcohol

Although having a drink to soothe your nerves before a social situation can make you feel more relaxed, it’s not a healthy coping mechanism.

Consistently reaching for alcohol to deal with your symptoms could lead you to a point where you may find it impossible to socialize without a drink. You may also need to consume more and more alcohol to see the same effect, which may result in developing a drinking problem.

Alcohol may also intensify your feelings of anxiety and leave you feeling much worse. To avoid this, you can try to drink more mindfully and avoid doing it just to calm yourself down.

8. Go to therapy

Despite what some people may think, social anxiety goes far beyond just feeling shy or nervous. It’s a mental health condition that often requires professional medical help to overcome.

Although you can also do a lot on your own for managing and treating social anxiety disorder, speaking to a therapist is a good place to start.

A trained mental health professional can:

  • Offer you more insight into your condition

  • Help you identify your triggers and suggest healthy coping mechanisms

  • Teach you coping strategies that can help you overcome anxiety

  • Offer guidance on reframing your negative thoughts

They may also recommend different types of therapy and treatment methods to help you work through your social anxiety. These may include:

  • Group therapy

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

  • Exposure therapy

  • Medication to help you manage severe symptoms

  • Online therapy programs

  • Gratitude practices

  • Setting goals

  • Other psychological and pharmacological interventions specific to your condition

A therapist may also recommend strategies like talking to a family member when you feel anxious and doing things like getting more physical exercise to alleviate your symptoms.

9. Be kind to yourself

Overcoming social anxiety can be a long and frustrating process — especially if it’s not happening as fast as you’d like.

When you start feeling stuck or demotivated, remember to avoid negative self-talk and focus on what you’ve achieved instead.

You can also reflect on situations where you may have experienced anxious feelings and determine how you can be more proactive next time.

For example, you may have experienced social anxiety in the middle of a crowd when attending a concert. Next time, you can try to sit in the back or closer to the aisle, where you can find an exit route if you’re feeling too closed in.

A woman looks at herself in the mirror and makes a depressed face.

Can You Prevent Social Anxiety from Developing?

Medical professionals aren’t currently sure what exactly causes social anxiety, so it’s difficult to determine if it can be prevented.

The most recent research suggests that there is no way to prevent social anxiety from developing. But you can reduce its impact on your life by seeking professional treatment.

When Should I See a Doctor About Social Anxiety?

If you are experiencing symptoms of social anxiety that significantly interfere with your daily life, speak to your doctor or a mental health professional.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) advises that you should also seek medical attention if you:

  • Are actively avoiding social situations to prevent intense feelings

  • Experience persistent or excessive fear and anxiety

  • Experience intense anxiety for more than six months

  • Have symptoms that cause significant distress or impairment

A doctor or mental health professional can perform a thorough evaluation and provide you with an accurate diagnosis. They can also recommend appropriate treatment options and lifestyle changes to help you manage your condition.

Remember that seeking help is a proactive step towards managing social anxiety and improving the quality of your life.

Where Can I Learn More About How to Overcome Social Anxiety?

If you’re concerned about your symptoms or suspect that you might have social anxiety, LifeMD is here to help.

Virtual platforms like LifeMD offer online personalized treatments with licensed professionals to help you reduce the impact of anxiety on your life. If necessary, licensed healthcare providers can also prescribe anxiety medications.

Dr. Anthony Puopolo

Dr. Puopolo holds a B.A. in Biology from Tufts University, M.A. in Biology from Boston University, and Doctor of Medicine from the Boston University School of Medicine. He also completed a Family Medicine and Psychiatry residency program in the U.S. Army.

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This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. Consult a healthcare professional or call a doctor in the case of a medical emergency.

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