40 Steps for Overcoming Social Anxiety
It’s proven – Changing the way you think will change the way you feel. This guide explains how you can change the negative thoughts driving social anxiety disorder so you can feel happier and more relaxed around other people, and live a more fulfilling life free from fear.
Feeling nervous or self-conscious is normal. But when you suffer from social anxiety, also known as social phobia, these uncomfortable feelings can be extremely painful and even crippling.
People with social anxiety worry that others will notice they are feeling nervous or uncomfortable and look down on them as a result. They feel as though they are the centre of attention the moment they walk into a room, and that people are talking about them in a negative way. Any time someone laughs, they will assume it is about them.
Social anxiety affects millions of people. Not just you
The fear of doing something embarrassing and being negatively judged affects millions of people around the world. Its severity can range from feeling uncomfortable talking in front of groups to avoiding social situations altogether. Social phobia can prevent people from forming close friendships or getting to know other people at all. It also holds people back from leaving the house, preferring the controlled environment and safety of their bedroom.
People with social anxiety will also replay events endlessly in their head. They’ll continuously beat themselves up about the smallest little mistake, making them even more worried about meeting the same people again.
If any of this sounds familiar, it may be that you are experiencing social anxiety. While you may feel down about it right now, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Social anxiety is now a medically recognised and diagnosable condition. Social anxiety is also something that can be overcome with patience and persistence. It doesn’t have to be something you have to deal with for the rest of your life.
What is social anxiety disorder/social phobia and what causes it?
As its name suggests, social anxiety is the fear of social situations. It can cover many different scenarios, from walking around the shops to catching a bus to meeting new people or even talking in front of people you may consider your friends. In all cases, it’s driven by a subconscious fear of being viewed or judged negatively or doing something embarrassing.
My experience with social anxiety
I was always a painfully shy child. I’d rather have my head in a book than hang around with other kids due to my seeming inability to not say or do anything embarrassing. The only exception was playing football (or soccer, if you’re in the US). This was a rare time when I could run and shout freely without having to think of the right thing to say.
But the rest of the time, I dreaded break times at school and counted down the hours when I’d get a brief respite from the sense of discomfort and isolation I felt all day. Suffice to say, school weren’t my happiest years.
Unfortunately, my social awkwardness didn’t reduce as I grew older. It stayed with me into adulthood and followed me into the workplace like a hovering black cloud. People would comment on how I never said anything and walking around the office was like running a gauntlet of negative stares and handing out invitations to be negatively judged.
Eventually, it became clear that these uncomfortable thoughts and feelings would hold me back forever unless I found a way to replace them. If I wanted to be a functioning member of human society, something drastic had to change.
Medication alone was not the answer
So I went to see my doctor to share this deeply rooted problem, thinking there must be some chemical imbalance in my brain that made me feel this way. After listening to my rambling explanation of my behavioral struggles, he promptly put me on beta blockers to help ‘calm me down.’
Beta blockers are normally given to people with high blood pressure. While they did calm my nerves, they just made me feel like an unemotional robot all day. This wasn’t the answer I was looking for.
Thankfully, I was able to find out about social anxiety while researching my symptoms online. This was the light bulb switching on moment for me. After finding out about the specific condition of social anxiety, I set about finding solutions and developing a strategy for overcoming it.
With a diagnose comes treatment
This then led to me working through the negative thoughts with cognitive behavioural therapy and adopting all the strategies outlined in this guide. Improvement didn’t happen overnight. But with practice, patience and persistence, I was able to reduce my social anxiety to a level where it didn’t stop me going where I wanted or doing what I wanted to do.
Such was the sense of satisfaction I felt at improving my mental health and overall happiness, I decided to create www.socialanxietydisorder.org.uk to share the strategies that worked for me in the hope they can help others battling to overcome social anxiety disorder.
Social anxiety disorder is more common than you may think
When you suffer from social anxiety, it can feel as though you’re all alone. That you’re the only person that feels so awful in social situations, and think in a way that nobody else can understand.
But social anxiety is actually more widespread than you might realise. In fact, research suggests that 15 millions people in the U.S. suffer from social anxiety. The majority of people aren’t diagnosed for 10 years or more, but instead forced to suffer in silence.
There are two types of social anxiety/social phobia:
Generalised social anxiety – This can be triggered in any social situation when you feel people are looking at you in a negative way, making you feel uncomfortable or afraid. This can include meeting new people, being watched while doing something or eating in a restaurant.
Specific social anxiety – You feel awkward in specific situations. Public speaking or performing in front of an audience is a specific situation when most people suffer from social anxiety, or as it’s more commonly known ‘stage fright’.
Signs and symptoms of social anxiety disorder
Social anxiety can trigger a variety of emotional and physical symptoms, which vary in severity between individuals.
- Excessive self-consciousness and sensing that everyone is watching you
- Worrying for days, weeks, or even months about how a social situation will play out
- Fearful of strangers and people you dont know
- You automatically have a negative impression of people you dont know. You assume they’re waiting for an excuse to belittle or reject you.
- Embarrassing yourself in public is a constant worry
- You worry that other people will notice your nervousness and reject you as a result
Physical symptoms of social anxiety disorder:
- Difficulty breathing
- You feel sick or have an upset stomach
- Pounding heartbeat
- Sweating or clammy hands
- General shakiness
- Feeling faint or lightheaded
- Face feels like it’s throbbing and its a constantly bright red colour
Behaviour patterns for social anxiety disorder
Nobody wants to think or feel this way, so it’s naturally to adopt behavioural strategies to soften or avoid the symptoms of social anxiety altogether. Some of the patterns of behaviour for social phobics include:
- Constantly arriving late to classes or meetings so you dont have to interact with people beforehand
- Avoiding social situations altogether, and missing out on positive experiences that could reduce your social phobia over the long term
- Not speaking or keeping a low profile to avoid the risk of doing anything embarrassing
- Afraid to attend social gatherings unless you can go with a friend
- Relying on alcohol, or even illegal drugs, to help you relax enough to be able to speak to people
While ‘safety behaviours’ can make social situations easier to cope with, they prevent you from overcoming it in the long run. Instead, you’ll be spending your life treading water and missing out on all the positive things that can happen to you when you stop feeling afraid.
When you don’t speak you don’t give people an opportunity to know you better, and will miss out on the friendships that can help you improve and be more socially active.
Avoiding other people also prevents you from doing things you’d like to do or reaching certain goals. You wont be able to play the sports you used to enjoy, to give that presentation that will help you get promotion or be able to go on dates.
So if you want to overcome social anxiety for good, you need to start addressing the safety behaviours and avoidance strategies that are holding you back.
What Causes Social Anxiety?
Just as with its symptoms, the underlying causes of social anxiety can vary. Typically, it’s a combination of a sense of inferiority, lack of self confidence, negative childhood experiences or a specific event which can induce a sense of embarrassment and shame in public. Underneath it all is an unhealthy belief system that makes you feel subconsciously threatened by other people and to feel nervous, uncomfortable and even afraid whenever your negative thoughts are triggered.
As with any learned behaviour, it’s believed social anxiety can become part of your subconscious belief system due to negative experiences as a child. If you were bullied at school, ignored by your parents or made to feel rejected for a prolonged time then the pain can live on in your subconscious mind for many years afterwards. If you’ve perpetually felt embarrassed or ashamed in social situations that forms a part of your belief system, which you can carry with you long into adulthood.
A negative way of thinking
Social anxiety can also be caused by a predisposition to think in a negative way. You may, for whatever reason, have thoughts lodged in your head that situations will always go badly and that embarrassing yourself is only a matter of time. Negative ways of thinking typically drive social anxiety, and negative thinking can afflict anyone, whatever your childhood history.
If your family has a history of anxiety then it could be that you’re genetically predisposed to developing social phobia. Having anxious parents also means you likely grew up in an environment where thinking the worst and worrying excessively was the norm. This in turn causes you to adopt similar ways of thinking and behaving, and forming a negative opinion of the people in the world around you.
The human brain has been evolving for millions of years. But it’s only in the last few thousand that we’ve learned to live in organised societies. We haven’t yet outgrown the ‘fight or flight’ mechanism that kept us alert sabre tooth tigers, coyotes and other threats in the animal kingdom.
Unfortunately, this mechanism, which increases our heart rate, raises our level of alertness and prepares us to escape from danger or face it, can be triggered inappropriately whenever we feel threatened. This explains the heightened awareness of your surroundings and pounding heartbeat you feel in social situations, despite there being no rational reason why.
How can I overcome my social anxiety?
Now that we’ve covered what social anxiety is, its symptoms and what’s driving it, it’s time to shift the focus onto solutions how you can reduce your social anxiety gradually over time.
A lot of research has been done into social anxiety disorder. It’s not some confusing, impossible to diagnose or mysterious condition you have to put up with. It can be treated and reduced so that it just becomes a difficult situation you had to deal with before moving on with the rest of your life.
Overcoming social anxiety involves changing your negative ways of thinking and making lifestyle changes that will make you feel better about yourself, and less threatened by other people as a result. It also involves a lot of practice and patience.
Rewiring your brain and changing your mindset won’t happen overnight. But so long as you commit yourself to making small improvements from now until the rest of your life, you can evolve into a more confident and happier person. Your social anxiety will naturally recede as a result.
The fact that you’re reading this guide is already a positive sign. It shows that you want to change your unhelpful ways of thinking and you recognise a better world exists.
In this guide I outline all the tactics and strategies I used to overcome my social anxiety, and enabled me to discover that changing the way you think will change the way you feel.
1. Cognitive behavioural therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy that has grown to become one of the most popular and effective ways of treating depression, negative ways of thinking and, consequently, social phobia.
You can practice it on your own, in a group setting or with a therapist. However you choose to practice, cognitive behavioural therapy enables you to identify negative thoughts when they occur and gives you a framework for replacing them with more positive and objective ways of thinking.
If done on your own, initially you’ll need to practice its exercises on paper. But over time you’ll be able to start performing them in your head until thinking in a positive, objective way becomes a natural part of how your brain works.
I can’t recommend cognitive behavioural therapy enough as a powerful, medication free way of developing a happier, more positive outlook that will reduce your social phobia as a result.
These are the books I recommend for learning more about cognitive behavioural therapy:
2. Create a ladder of situations that make you feel anxious and start climbing it
The best way to conquer your fears is to face them. I’m not suggesting you should immediately go sit on a bus all day or force yourself to take up public speaking. If you take stressful situations on too quickly, it can backfire.
Instead, exposing yourself gradually is the best way to acclimatise to the situations that make you feel awkward and then tackle them in a way that’s comfortable for you.
A recommended strategy is to write down all the situations that make you feel uncomfortable or anxious and then arrange them in ascending order. Place the least challenging situations at the bottom and then progressively more challenging scenarios until you reach your worst nightmare at the top.
You could start with a walk around your neighbourhood, talking to the checkout assistant at the supermarket or forcing yourself to sit in your local shopping centre/mall for 30 minutes. You can then step up to catching a bus or eating on your own in a restaurant. If you’re feeling really determined, you could set your final goal as joining Toastmasters (a public speaking organisation) or singing karaoke sober.
As you work through all the suggestions in this guide, and you feel your self confidence rising, try to tackle the situations that make you feel nervous one step at a time.
Remember that this is a long-term strategy. Don’t try to rush it. Take your time and allow yourself to occasionally slip. Every attempt to reach the next rung will make the next attempt easier, and help you reach your goal of climbing out of social anxiety’s clutches altogether.
3. Say ‘no’ to unfair request
One of the worst side effects of social anxiety is the ‘disease to please’. Rooted in low self esteem, this is where you find yourself agreeing to do favours for people even though it may be inconvenient or unfair. This could include lending people money you think wont pay you back, agreeing to do one your colleagues tasks at work despite having a long list of tasks already or simply changing your plans to suit them.
When you do something to please other people at the expense of your own priorities it just leads to resentment and feeling angry yourself for agreeing to it. These feelings can then bottle up until they eventually explode in an unhealthy way.
The healthy way to handle unfair requests is to weigh up whether what they are asking is fair or unreasonable. If it makes you feel uncomfortable agreeing to it then you need to practice saying ‘no’ instead. You can’t spend your life pleasing other people. You priorities are important too. And if you’re reason agreeing to do it is because you think it means they wont like you then they arent very good friends anyway.
4. Learn how to negotiate to get what you want in life
Throughout your life you’re going to need to negotiate to get what you want. But when you have social anxiety you may find yourself giving up on pursuing your objectives if they put you in conflict with someone else. This could be deciding on the best place to meet or resolving a dispute with a work colleague on whose responsibility a task is.
The key to getting what you want is not to think in absolutes and that it’s a win or lose situation. Instead, treat negotiation like a dance where you both have to move around your objectives to get a resolution where you both win.
5. Try to avoid mind reading. Unless you’re Charles Xavier
If you’re affected by social phobia it can cause you to start assuming you know what other people are thinking, when you really have no way of knowing. You may find yourself automatically assuming that people in the room are thinking or saying negative things about you when, in reality, they’re probably too busy talking about themselves and their own lives to be concerned about other people all the time.
6. Predicting the future
Unless you believe in star signs or predetermined destinies, it’s wise not to spend too much time predicting what’s going to happen before you arrive.
Assuming the worst and that you just ‘know’ things will go wrong can instead become a self fulfilling prophecy. Getting worried and anxious will only put you in the wrong frame of mind which only hold you back from attaining positive outcomes.
Instead, stay and calm and relaxed. If you are going to dwell on the future, try imagining what a great time you’ll have instead.
Just as with thinking in extremes, social phobia can cause you to blow things out of proportion. You may immediately jump to thinking that a social interaction was “awful” or “terrible,” or an event was “disastrous.” In reality, it probably wasn’t all that bad.
Practicing cognitive behavioural therapy will help you to reel back from thinking about situations in catastrophic terms as it always helps to objectively assess whether your thoughts are rational and switch to more helpful ways of thinking instead.
8. Recognize that you’re not the focus of everyone’s attention
When your heart is pounding and your awareness of people in the room is on overdrive, it’s easy to put yourself as the centre of attention and imagine that everyone is talking about you. As you’ll learn with time, this simply isn’t the case. People are too absorbed with what’s going on in their lives to make you their topic of conversation all the time.
Instead, focus on distracting your mind and getting involved in conversations. This will help to relax and be more focused on your immediate surroundings, and less concerned with what’s going on in the background.
9. Avoid focusing on the negatives. Focus on positives instead
After an event you may find yourself analysing everything you said and did and projecting it in a negative light. The problem is this prevents you from recognising the positives and what went well. So if a conversation went badly or you said the wrong thing, remember that it was just one interaction in the entire evening. There would have been times when you mingled with others in a positive way too.
10. You’re not a label. You’re too complicated for that
The negative thinking that social phobia can saddle you with can lead you to giving yourself bad labels. Maybe you think you’re ‘boring’, ‘weird’ or ‘unlovable’. The fact is that you’re too complicated for that. You have multiple facets to your character and many ways of thinking and behaving. You are also always evolving, and through following some of the strategies in this guide you can pull off the negative labels and embrace your newfound complexity instead.
11. Let go of the past. Look to the future
Deciding to overcome social anxiety means deciding not to be a victim. It means deciding to be a participant in life and not an observer. It also means recognising that what happened in the past shouldn’t define your future.
While it’s important to recognise the reasons why you your social anxiety developed, you shouldn’t expend time and energy dwelling on the past. This will only keep you locked within a mental prison where you continue to allow the negative thoughts and emotions of your childhood to darken your present.
Instead, recognise that these are thoughts and emotions you intend to change. Start imagining what your life will be like in the future, free from feeling nervous all the time or worrying what other people think. Picture how overcoming social anxiety will, one day, provide you with an inner strength and a success driven mindset that allows you to power beyond social phobia’s clutches and onto a much more fulfilling future.
12. Practice deep breathing
It can be amazing how something as simple as breathing deeply can alleviate anxiety. When you are feeling anxious, you’re prone to take short, sharp breaths. This prevents your brain from getting the oxygen it needs to think clearly. It can also worsen the physical symptoms, such as feeling dizzy, as though you’re suffocating and an increased heart rate.
But when you breathe deeply you allow more oxygen to reach your brain. You can then think more clearly about situations, and realise they aren’t as threatening as you may think. Your anxiety will reduce as result.
So the next time you feel as the world is closing in on you, pause and take in a deep breath. This will help you get the physical symptoms under control and to calm the storm clouds gathering in your mind.
Deep breathing and meditation go hand in hand as powerful ways to help your mind and body to relax. Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years because of its emotionally healing benefits. In fact, some studies suggest that it can literally expand the grey matter in your brain.
Meditation is particularly powerful for treating social anxiety because it enables you to see how thoughts are constantly rushing around your mind. Some are worth holding onto, while others are best left to pass like traffic on the street.
To get started, there are lots of meditation apps and podcasts you can download for free. These will provide you with guidance to help you direct your thoughts. Some also feature binaural beats that help to slow your brain waves down to a calmer, more relaxed state.
The best results come from practicing meditation daily. This will help to reshape your thoughts into more helpful and positive ways of thinking and assist you on your journey.
14. Reduce your self conscious by focusing on the world around you
When your social anxiety is peaking it can make you painfully aware of your own body. You can acutely feel every sensation, like your racing heart, sweating palms or throbbing brain. This naturally makes you assume everyone else can see your physical discomfort too, making you feel even worse.
To stop your self consciousness going into overdrive, one trick is to focus on the world around you. Try listening to people’s conversations, practice CBT by challenging your negative thoughts or make silent observations of the decorations in the room. Diverting your attention helps to move it away from focusing on yourself, helping to calm your self consciousness as a result.
15. Count to 10
Another simple yet powerful mind trick is to simply count to ten in your head whenever you feel anxious. This is particularly useful when walking through an open room and you think people are watching you. Counting to ten is a simple way of keeping your frantic mind occupied for long enough to complete certain tasks without feeling overpowered by anxiety.
Yoga is no longer just for ladies in spandex. It’s now used by athletes, golfers, rugby players and even professional wrestlers to improve their mobility and reduce the risk of injury.
Along with its physical health benefits of improving muscle and joint strength, yoga is also practiced by millions all over the world for its mind cleansing benefits. Moving through its positions and breathing deeply has a calming effect on the mind. Its final meditation at the end, known as ‘shavasana’, also provides a five or ten minute window for your mind and body to feel completely relaxed.
Whether you practice it at home (there are classes on YouTube) or in a gym class, yoga can be a powerful way of helping your mind to relax and your anxious thoughts to be ushered away.
The beauty of running is that it allows you to explore your local parks or neighbourhood without having to worry so much about other people along the way. By the time someone has a chance to focus on you, you simply pass them by, leaving their perceived negative stares and opinions behind.
Like all forms of exercise, running will release the body’s natural feel good chemicals, known as endorphins. Getting a daily dose of these will naturally help to lift your mood and think in a happier, positive manner that’s vital for banishing the low moods of social anxiety for good.
18. Weight training
A healthy body means a healthy mind. Daily visits to the ‘iron palace’ can be a great way of boosting your self confidence. Getting in shape will also give you positive goals to pursue and to visually experience the satisfaction that comes from progress.
As with every tactic, you can start small with a basic weight set at home and progress to joining your local gym when you feel ready. You’ll be surprised to find that today’s gym’s arent filled with meat heads all competing on how much they lift and comparing biceps in the mirror. Getting in shape is a habit people from all walks of life now enjoy and use to better themselves and feel in control of their life’s direction.
19. Social hobbies
Binge watching House of Cards or marathon video game sessions may be wonderful escapism. But locking yourself in your room is only going to delay your entry to a more fulfilling life.
Instead, consider taking up new hobbies or interests which involve some interaction with other people. Joining a local hiking group is a personal favourite of mine. You can talk to other people as little or as much as you want to. It also gets you outdoors enjoying mother nature and releasing those feel good endorphins. You may surprise yourself with how much more you are engaging with people by the end of the hike, as the sense of camaraderie seeps in.
Other options include volunteering for a local charity (particularly if you love animals), joining a book club or cycling. Meetup and Facebook can be great places to look for local groups to join and fun activities to lift your mindset and mood.
20. Improve your confidence at speaking with video chats
Right now you may only been comfortable speaking to people you know well and will avoid speaking to strangers. The only way to change this is to build your confidence having conversations, one chat at a time.
Building healthy relationships requires the ability to communicate clearly and intelligently. These are skills you will need to work on if you want to connect better with others and to grow out of social phobia for good.
If you’re into online gaming, you could start by switching the mic on your headset. Then when you’re ready to go up a level, there are plenty of video chat services you can use, such as omegle.com or randomstrangervideochat.com, which allow you to have casual conversations with strangers. These are people you will never meet in real life, and you can always pull the plug whenever you want. So there really is no drawback to using them to build your speaking skills.
21. Consider deleting your Facebook profile
Facebook is a great tool for keeping in touch with old school friends and new acquaintances. But it does have its negative side.
People tend to cultivate online personas that project their lives in the most favourable light. Many project the impression that their lives as a succession of parties, holidays and laughter, which can feel like looking through a window onto a world that looks alien to you.
If the bombardment of images and updates from someone’s profile is getting you down, consider unfollowing them. Or take a break from Facebook altogether. Allow yourself some time to focus on moving your own life forward, and then rejoin when you feel ready to share it with the world.
22. Follow positive and inspiring people in social media
As you disengage with negative influences in your life, find positive people to motivate you instead. The beauty of social media is that it enables you to find out how successful think and motivate themselves. Following them on Twitter or Facebook allows you to tap into their mindset and use it to influence your own.
Along with following famous people in topics that interest you, consider adding people like Tony Robbins, Brian Tracy and The Rock to your newsfeeds to raise your sense of positivity and to develop your own success driven mindset.
23. Read books and watch videos about positive thinking
Along with learning as much as you can about social phobia and cognitive behavioural therapy, to address low moods and negative thoughts it helps to fill your mind with positive ways of thinking.
It’s often said that we get what we think we deserve in life. Our mindset goes a long way to defining how we experience the world, how we process information and our ways of thinking. This then helps to dictate the quality of our lives and our relationships with others.
As a human being you are always evolving. You can choose what sort of person you want to evolve into. Learning how to think in a more positive, proactive manner can go a long way to taking your thoughts and behaviour in the right direction.
24. Read books or watch videos about successful people who overcame adversity
People who are successful or overcame great challenges often didn’t do it by accident or an extraordinary run of good luck. Success in any form nearly always occurs as a result of their mindset and determination to succeed against the odds.
Reading how Richard Branson became a billionaire despite coming close to bankruptcy, how survived, how Louis Zamperini was driven to the limits of human endurance in WW2 or how Stephen Hawking continues to write books, give lectures and push the frontiers of how we perceive the universe despite being a paraplegic are all life stories that can provide you with the inspiration to overcome your own adversity in life.
25. Take an online course in self improvement
Online learning has the potential to revolutionise education and spread literacy levels to disadvantaged communities around the world. It can also help you to develop your social skills from the comfort of your bedroom.
There are lots of free and paid courses that can help you to improve your assertiveness, anger management or positive thinking. Or you can advance your knowledge in a subject that interests you. The key here is that taking an online course will keep you active and doing something productive, and working towards your goal of self improving so your social anxiety reduces.
Self improvement courses worth checking out:
26. Learn to cook
If you want to raise your self esteem and self confidence, it helps to start setting higher standards for yourself. Brushing up your culinary skills can improve both the quality of meals and develop many other skills beyond chopping vegetables..
Being able to cook well requires attention to detail, doing things properly instead of taking short cuts and experiencing the satisfaction that comes from progress. These are skills and mindsets you can apply to other areas of your life to become a better version of you.
27. Get more sleep
Not getting enough shut eye makes you feel tired and irritable. It can also make you more prone to the physical and mental symptoms of social anxiety.
Getting to sleep can be easier said than done when you’re battling with low moods. You can, however, take proactive steps to help your mind and body relax so that it’s easier to drift off to sleep. This can include listening to white noise, meditation, observing good sleep hygiene and avoiding stimulants, like alcohol of coffee, late at night.
Plenty more tips on getting more sleep on this site:
28. Have a healthy morning routine
Having a set routine every morning can be a great way to set yourself up for the rest of the day. This can include setting your alarm clock 30 minutes earlier so you have time to go for a work or to go to the gym before work, to meditate or any other positive activity that is going to help you advance in life.
Having a healthy morning routine can put you in the right frame of mind to make the rest of your day a happier, more relaxed experience.
29. Improve your diet
Eating a balanced diet with more fruit and veg and less chips and fizzy drinks will not only prolong your life but also provide a gradual releases of energy throughout the day. Food packed with sugar and preservatives can give you bursts of energy, but you’ll then find yourself flagging later on. This then leaves you vulnerable to feeling low and more prone to raised levels of social phobia.
Eating healthy food will also give you the energy to exercise every day, and run that extra 10 minutes or lift that extra 5kg. In fact, eating healthily can be a magic ingredient to feeling good about yourself and the world around you.
30. Give up or reduce how much you drink
Drinking before meeting friends or attending any sort of social gathering is common among people who suffer from social anxiety. But relying on alcohol as a way to relax is a just a coping mechanism. It’s a band aid rather than a solution. It can also lead to an unhealthy dependence and a more severe drinking problem.
Much like giving up smoking, try to gradually reduce how much you drink before going out. Better yet, aspire for a time when you’re happy to socialise supping on a fruit juice instead.
31. Give up smoking
You may think smoking helps you feel relaxed. But it can actually make you more anxious and cause your social phobia to peak at the worst moment. Despite what some say about their grandparent who smoked all his life and died at the ripe old age of 82, smoking is more likely to cause cancer, deteriorating health and decades taken off your life.
So make a decision that’s going to reduce your social anxiety, improve your life expectancy and save you a lot of money. Buy some inhalators and stub out for good.
32. Change your career if it isn’t making you happy
We spend more time at work than we do with our friends and family. While it’s true that work is often a necessary evil to pay the bills, having a job you enjoy and find satisfying can have a massive impact of your enjoyment of life and your happiness.
If you find your job boring and uninspiring, it’s because you’re not challenging yourself enough. Consider what your personal strengths are and what you enjoy doing, and then find a job that will fulfill those interests. Work out what steps you’ll need to take to get that job, whether it’s getting some qualifications, studying an online course or improving your interview skills, and make it a future goal to work towards.
Clearly, overcoming or at least reducing your social anxiety may be part of the puzzle you need to solve to get the job you want. But that doesn’t mean you have to put your career aspirations on the backburner. Instead pursue progress in both chasing the job of your dreams and addressing your anxiety at the same time.
33. Develop new interests or expand on your existing ones
Living a rich life doesn’t have to revolve around what’s in the bank account. Instead it can be built around the pastimes and interests you fill it with. Having lots of hobbies and interests keeps you motivated and occupied with pursuing fulfilling goals, instead of whiling away the hours in front of the TV.
What’s more, it will help shape you into a more interesting person and present opportunities to form new friendships with people that share your interests.
34. Join social anxiety forums and interact with members
Discovering that social anxiety was a diagnosable condition was a light switching on moment for me. It meant that I wasn’t the only person to feel like this. There wasn’t something wrong with my brain and I wasn’t doomed to be like this forever.
Joining social anxiety forums will help you to realise that you’re not alone, and that thousands, if not millions, of people are affected by social phobia all over the world. It will also connect you with people that understand what you’re dealing with provide you with a source of support as you strive to self improve.
Social anxiety forums:
35. Attend a Meetup or Couchsurfing event
If you’ve been suffering from social anxiety for a long time you may have lost contact with previous friends and found it difficult to find new ones.
Walking into a room of people you don’t know can seem very daunting. But the advantage of attending a Meetup or Couchsurfing event is that everyone else is in the same position. The likelihood is that most people at the event will be meeting for the first time, and may also be feeling nervous. Everyone is there to meet new people. Not to form cliques or to criticise those in attendance.
Couchsurfing, in particular, is attended by backpackers and travellers who are some of the least judgemental and the friendliest people you’ll meet. No matter how nervous or self conscious you feel, they’ll be happy to engage you in conversation and meet you halfway.
After attending a few Couchsurfing or Meetup events you’ll be amazed what a confidence boost it provides.
36. Create a Meetup or a Couchsurfing event
Once you’ve attended a few Meetups and Couchsurfing events, consider taking another step up the ladder and create your own. This could be something simple like hiking through a local forest, going to the cinema or meeting for dinner. The benefit of putting on an event is that it puts you in charge and gives you a chance to further develop your communication skills and build a new social circle of friends.
37. Start internet dating
I can appreciate romance might seem like a pipedream right now. Like something that happens in movies and for people who’ve never had to stuggle with social problems in their life. But finding people to go on dates with has never been easier. You dont have to go to bars, think of clever lines in clubs or face the humiliation of trying to approach the girl who gets the same bus as you every day.
Internet dating has opened up a world of new possibilities. It allows people who may be timid or shy to connect with other people on their wavelength without having to do battle in the jungle of weekend nightlife.
When creating your profile make sure you choose appealing photos, ideally smiling naturally and outdoors doing some sort of activity. Your profile will get the best response if you can can project yourself in a positive light and focus on your strengths and interests. There’s no point in being fake or exaggerating. This will won’t match you with people you’ll get on well with in real life.
Be prepared to send plenty of emails and try a few different apps and sites. When you do connect with someone you think is a good match, spend some time getting to know them by email, instant messenger or even on the phone. This will enable you to build rapport and a sense of connection so that when you meet it doesn’t feel like meeting a stranger but someone you’ve already started getting to know. You’ll also have a list of topics of conversation ready to go in advance.
If you think your dating skills need some brushing up, add this to the list of areas where you want to improve. There’s no shortage of books and videos that can help you in adding some romance to your life and making the world a more pleasurable place to be.
38. Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP)
NLP has its cynics (myself included until recently). But if you are experiencing success with cognitive behavioural therapy and want to take rewiring your brain to another level, NLP is worth investigating.
NLP focuses on identifying the reasons why you behave in a certain way and then provides a structure for learning more helpful ways of thinking and behaving. Just like with cognitive behavioural therapy, NLP has been proven to be very effective for treating phobias, trauma and removing mental blocks through anchoring more positive thoughts and emotions to the things you fear.
You can study NLP on your own or with a NLP practitioner to identify the cause of your social anxiety and to give you new mental tools for overcoming it.
How to Eliminate Unwanted Thoughts
39. Allow other people to do the talking
You arent the only person in a conversation. It involves two or more people. When talking to people you’re not giving a speech for them to listen and nod in agreement. Try not to feel pressured to do all the talking, allow others to share the responsibility.
If you’re ever stuck for things to say, remember that most people’s favourite topic is themselves. Ask questions about their day was, how work is going or what their plans are for the weekend. Then all you need to do is nod politely and wait for them to return the gesture.
40. Enjoy the process and the results will come
Overcoming social anxiety is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s a long-term strategy that requires patience and persistence before you can expect results. For this reason, it’s best to plan where you want to be in a few years time, rather than months.
Success in improving your self esteem and reducing your social phobia comes from making small, incremental steps. It’s like building a wall, with every improvement adding another layer until social phobia has been locked away in a place where it can no longer affect you.
While overcoming social anxiety, take satisfaction in the progress you’re making and enjoy the sense of achievement that comes from making small improvements in different areas of your life. Whether it’s in your exercise routine, your culinary skills or your growing self confidence talking to people, feed off your accomplishments, no matter how small, and be patient on your journey.
Rome wasn’t built in a day. But it was built.
When self-help for social anxiety isn’t enough
The severity and symptoms of social anxiety vary a lot. So if the self help suggestions in this guide aren’t enough, and social anxiety is continuing to hold you back in life, you may need to adopt a different strategy.
Visit your doctor
As always when suffering from a condition that’s adversely affecting your life, your doctor is your first port of call. A lot more is understood about depression and anxiety these days, and your doctor will be able to recommend a sensible course of action. This could include putting you in touch with a therapist who specializes in anxiety disorders to address the negative thought processes combined with medication to sooth the physical symptoms.
Another option may be group therapy for social skills training. Sessions for social anxiety disorder can entail playacting, mock interviews and other exercises that allow you to practice social engagement in more controlled and reassuring settings. This will then help you feel less anxious when encountering strangers in the real world. The more you practice the easier socialising will become and the less afraid you’ll be.
I’d love to be able to tell you there’s a magic pill that makes your social anxiety vanish in minutes. But none exists. Medication on its own can’t cure your deep rooted beliefs that are driving your social anxiety. All it can do is relieve its symptoms.
Medication is most effective when used in combination with cognitive behavioural therapy and the other strategies in this guide. It will allow you to climb your ladder of anxious situations, to exercise in public and to feel more relaxed in job interviews without the pounding heartbeat and hyper awareness of social phobia.
But ultimately you must address the unhelpful thought processes if you are to overcome social anxiety disorder for good.
Two common types of medication used for treating social anxiety disorder:
Antidepressants – These should only ever be taken after consulting with a doctor and are only advised for when social anxiety disorder is severe and debilitating. The problem with antidepressants is that you can form a dependency on them to improve your mood. Even worse, if you stop taking them suddenly in can cause your depression to return like a crashing tsunami. Always make sure you consult with your doctor on changes in your progress at all times.
Beta blockers – Beta blockers are normally taken to reduce high blood pressure. They also help to treat social anxiety by blocking the flow of adrenaline that’s released when you’re anxious. Beta blockers won’t improve your mood but they can reduce the physical symptoms, such as shakiness, sweating, and slow down your heartbeat.
Finding your own path to overcoming social anxiety disorder
I hope you find the advice in this guide has encouraged you to adopt a strategic approach to overcoming social anxiety. Through taking steps to improve your thought processes, to raise your self esteem and to live a more active life you can find your way to feeling better about yourself and the world around you.
The strategies in this guide all helped me on my own path towards reducing my social anxiety to an extent where it no longer holds me back in life. They are also lifestyle habits that I continue to practice to be a better version of myself.
Overcoming social anxiety isnt easy and requires a lot of practice, patience and persistence. But it’s not something you have to live with. It can be just a difficult phase you’ve had to get through before being able to live a more fulfilling life filled with positive interactions with other people.
The final thought I’ll leave you with is that the mindset and skills you’ll develop through overcoming social anxiety can help you for the rest of your life. Setting higher standards for yourself, experiencing the satisfaction that comes from progress and knowing that you have the ability to triumph over adversity will help you overcome any more problems or struggles that come your way. You’ll be better equipped to get what you want out of life and realising that changing the way you think can change the way you feel.
I wish you luck in your journey and if you’ve found the advice in this guide useful you’ll consider sharing it with other people you think it will help.
All the best,
I am not a psychologist, behavioural therapist or medical professional of any kind. This guide offers advice only and is not a replacement for professional help. If social anxiety disorder is adversely affecting your life and causing you serious discomfort then you should always consult a trained medical professional.
All the suggestions in this guide are purely that – suggestions. I accept no liability for any injury or psychological discomfort that should arise in practicing any of them and all suggestions are carried out at your own risk.
Legal speak aside, all the strategies in this guide have helped me to reduce my social phobia to an extent where it doesn’t hold me back in life. Taking steps to feel about yourself and the world around you can only help you to eventually leave social anxiety behind, no matter how small the steps.