Social anxiety(previously referred to as social phobia) is one of the most common anxiety disorders so if you are struggling with symptoms of it, you’re definitely not alone.1
The good news is that with some help from a mental health professional, you can learn to manage social anxiety and—in some cases—even overcome social anxiety. Before we look at how to manage social anxiety, let’s first clarify what it is.
What is social anxiety disorder?
The term social anxiety can be used incorrectly to describe feelings of shyness or self-consciousness in social situations. However, for those who suffer from social anxiety disorder, it is an intense fear which can get in the way of daily life and significantly impact their emotional well-being.
Those with social anxiety disorder struggle with social events and worry that they will be scrutinised, ridiculed, and even judged by others. From one-on-one social interactions such as dates to situations where they have to stand up and talk in front of others and be the centre of attention, the fear and anxiety can be crippling.
Some situations that can be difficult for those struggling with social anxiety disorder include:
- Public speaking
- Eating in public
- Meeting new people
- Job interviews
- Talking to staff at shops or restaurants
- Answering questions in a classroom setting2
What are the symptoms of social anxiety?
There are both emotional and physical symptoms of social anxiety that can include3:
- Consistent worry about daily activities
- Avoidance of social situations
- Panic attacks
- Physical symptoms like feeling sick, sweating, blushing, shaking or palpitations
- Difficulty completing tasks in front of others
- Difficulty maintaining eye contact and other social skills
- Low self-esteem
It’s important to speak to a GP if you think you have social anxiety. They can talk to you about your symptoms and refer you to the best people to help.
Treatment options and coping strategies for social anxiety disorder
If you, a family member, or a friend are struggling with symptoms of social anxiety disorder, it’s important to reach out to your healthcare provider. Self-help can be great in the right circumstances, but it’s also important to seek professional help to make sure that you are getting the right treatment. Everybody is different and a mental health expert will be able to help you navigate the various treatment options, medication, and coping techniques to find the right strategy for you.
Cognitive behavioural therapy for social anxiety
The most common treatment for social anxiety disorder is a type of psychotherapy called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). There are a few different forms of this, including one which has been specifically designed to treat social anxiety.
This technique teaches different ways of thinking, behaving, and reacting to difficult situations. This kind of therapy also helps patients to practise various social skills and can be delivered in a group setting or on a one-to-one basis.4
Medication for social anxiety disorder
As we’ve already mentioned, everybody is a little bit different. Some people who suffer from social anxiety disorder may respond well to therapy whereas others might need a combination of therapy and medication. Again, a mental health professional will be able to help you to understand the best course of action for you, so it’s important to reach out to your healthcare provider before trying any new medication for anxiety.
Antidepressants can be used for social anxiety disorder. These can include:3
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
- Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
Your doctor can guide you through the latest information and advise you on the best type of medication for you.
Coping techniques for social anxiety
The best way to overcome social anxiety is by getting professional help. However, there are also a number of other things you can do by yourself to manage and minimise your social anxiety symptoms.
Some useful coping strategies and relaxation techniques for social anxiety include:3
- Breathing exercises
- Meditation and mindfulness
- Light exercise (even walking around the block or stretching for 5 minutes can help)
- Muscle relaxation exercises
- Writing your thoughts down
- Challenging negative thoughts (try thinking, “What advice would I give a friend if they felt this way?”)
Not everyone will find every single one of these techniques useful. Some might find deep breathing to be effective whereas others might prefer to write down their thoughts and fears. Some might find that a combination of a few things is best for them.
The important thing is to try different techniques and find what works for you. Don’t overwhelm yourself by doing everything all at once—take small steps and find the right solution for you.
How to make friends with social anxiety?
Whether you’re starting a new job, moving to a new city, or starting at a new school, it can be hard to make new friends when you’re struggling with social anxiety. There’s no magic fix for this, unfortunately. In order to meet new people, you will have to face your fears on some level.
However, there are some things you can do to make the journey a little bit easier. Some top tips for making new friends include:
- Start small (even if it’s just waving at a neighbour) and work up to bigger social events
- Practise your social skills (even if it’s in front of a mirror, or with family and friends)
- Memorise a handy list of small talk topics to put your mind at ease
- Prioritise settings where you have things in common with others (join a sports team or book club etc)
- Join local support groups for social anxiety
Being open about your social anxiety could also prove helpful. When people know that you struggle with certain situations, they might be a bit more understanding and try to accommodate you wherever possible.
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- NICE, Social anxiety disorder: recognition, assessment and treatment, https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg159/chapter/Introduction, published May 2013
- Anxiety UK, Social Phobia/ Social Anxiety, https://www.anxietyuk.org.uk/anxiety-type/social-anxiety/, reviewed January 2023
- NHS, Social Anxiety, https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/social-anxiety/, published March 2020
- NICE, Initial treatment options for adults with social anxiety disorder, https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg159/chapter/recommendations#delivering-psychological-interventions-for-adults, published May 2013