7 Quick Ways to Overcome Social Anxiety

Have you ever experienced stage fright? Can you bring to mind a time when the teacher called on you in class and you stumbled over your words because of nerves? Is there a time when you went out to eat either on a date or during a job interview and you suddenly had no appetite when the waiter set down your dish? 

Social situations, especially new or unfamiliar ones, can cause stress for anyone, but typically an individual can power through the nerves. However, for some individuals these nerves become more than just stress. They can become crippling to the point of being unable to function, leading one to avoid new situations entirely. It’s known as social anxiety. 

What is social anxiety?

Social anxiety, or social phobia, is a fear of social situations. It is a step further than shyness, where a person feels such discomfort around others that they become paralyzed. It could be particular situations, such as going on a date, giving a presentation, interviewing for a job or speaking during a meeting or class; or, it could be fear of all situations, including going out to eat or even engaging with the checkout clerk at the grocery store. 

Social anxiety is highly common, known to keep people from freely engaging in everyday situations out of embarrassment, judgment, and fear of rejection or becoming the center of attention. It’s possible that social anxiety stems from genetics, but past experiences such as abuse, bullying or teasing during childhood especially could also lead to social anxiety in later years. Additionally, research suggests that the way one’s brain perceives the reactions of another person (such as misreading their facial expressions to believe they are disappointed or judgmental when they really aren’t) could further aggravate social anxiety. 

Symptoms of social anxiety

Social anxiety manifests in different ways for different people. However, some common physical symptoms include increased heart rate, blushing, sweating, shaking, dizziness, upset stomach or nausea, shortness of breath or the sensation of one’s mind drawing a blank. Other signs of social anxiety include refusal to make eye contact, or speaking in a voice quieter than normal. There may be awkwardness or hesitation in social interactions, or the desire to stay away from social environments entirely, especially if they involve unfamiliar people.

Coping with Social Anxiety

Social anxiety can feel all-encompassing, like there’s nothing you can do to control the feelings when they arise. Thankfully, this is far from the truth. There are many ways you can deal with social anxiety, ahead of time and in the moment. 

  • Breathe:  Anxiety can put you into a state of fight or flight, a place of high tension or even panic. Breathing calms the body down through focusing on the movement of your abdomen rising and falling with each inhale and exhale. It recenters your brain when you take a moment to inhale for a count of four and exhale for another four seconds. By resetting your brain and moving it out of panic mode, you can address the situation as it is, not as it appears to be. 
  • Prepare: If you know you’re going to be in a new environment, prepare your mind accordingly. If it’s a job interview, research commonly asked interview questions and write down your answers ahead of time. If it’s a party, maybe look up some small talk questions, such as their favorite places to travel, sports to play or watch, or hobbies.
  • Face your fear: Of course, take it slowly at first and don’t throw yourself into an uncomfortable situation right at the start. But don’t allow yourself to avoid social interactions by pulling out your phone. Keep it in your pocket and allow yourself to be slightly uncomfortable, but tell yourself you can do this! Even if it’s just a small comment on what’s being said in the group, it’s a huge step in the right direction.
  • Give yourself credit: Be proud of yourself when you step out of your comfort zone. It’s more difficult than it sounds, but it’s momentous for coping with social anxiety when you take small steps to relinquish its control. Recognize those moments and praise yourself!
  • Say no…or yes: Perhaps you constantly turn down invitations; on the flip side, maybe you refuse to say no and grow overwhelmed. Sometimes, it’s good to say no to an invitation if you recognize it’s more than you can handle. Setting good boundaries for yourself is underrated (and vastly important) when it comes to caring for mental health. On the other hand, if “no” is your frequent answer, perhaps try saying yes, and venturing into an uncomfortable situation. You might find you’re better at small talk than you believed yourself to be.
  • Challenge negative thoughts: If you think, “I’m staying home, I’ll have nothing to talk about at this dinner,” dispute this negativity with positive thoughts. You might be anxious, and you can recognize its presence, but then talk back to it. Tell yourself three things you will be able to talk about at dinner, such as a vacation you’re taking, a hobby you enjoy or a new music artist you discovered.
  • Avoid negative coping mechanisms: If substance use, such as alcohol, is the only way managing a social situation is possible, it might be good to consider reaching out for help. Compassionate counselors at Mazzitti & Sullivan Counseling offer not only a listening ear, but concrete methods for handling social anxiety and any subsequently involved substance use.

Call 1-800-809-2925 to get in touch with licensed healthcare providers today at Mazzitti & Sullivan Counseling, for help managing and overcoming social anxiety.



Call 1-800-809-2925 to get in touch with licensed healthcare providers today at Mazzitti & Sullivan Counseling, for help managing and overcoming social anxiety.