Four Tips for Social Anxiety Disorder

Are you struggling with Social Anxiety Disorder? Do you feel panicked when you’re going to a social event? Do you opt out of doing things because because you have social anxiety disorder? Do you want more friends and romance, but you’re so held back by your anxiety that you end up alone?

social anxiety girl in house alone

Social anxiety disorder can be a debilitating. You probably already know that it’s more than being “shy”, and difficult to overcome.  Having Social Social Anxiety Disorder can affect your work, school, friendships, romantic relationships, and hobbies. Sometimes the costs of Social Anxiety Disorder aren’t obvious to people struggling with it. Sadly, for some people, Social Anxiety Disorder can be a lifelong struggle.

Fortunately, Social Anxiety Disorder is a treatable issue. One of the best ways to become less socially anxious is to learn and use some real skills. Try these out and see if any of them work for you.

1. Turn Your Attention Inside-Out

One of the biggest causes of Social Anxiety Disorder is that people pay more attention to themselves and their own thoughts instead of who they’re talking to. Common thoughts are: “What should I do with my hands?”, “These jeans look terrible on me!”, or “They must be able to tell that I am weird and freaking out right now!”

Paying attention to almost anything else will turn down this self-oriented viewpoint that drives the anxiety. Try to really look and listen to the person you’re talking to. Some background with mindfulness practice can be helpful here as you will be able to sustain your attention on them instead of your own thoughts. When you notice you’re spending more time thinking about yourself, return your attention to what the other person is saying and really listen to them. Ask some questions about them, or just give them non-verbal cues that you’re listening. Take it from me as a therapist, people love to talk about themselves! It is important for you to share some things about yourself as well so they feel a genuine, two-way connection.

Additionally, make an intention that you’re going to let go of your need to make a good impression. Instead, focus on spontaneity and presence when you’re with the other person. This might actually make them like you more!

2. Drop Safety Behaviors

Many people with Social Anxiety Disorder adopt what are called “Safety Behaviors” that they think make them less anxious. One example would be peppering others with lots of questions while disclosing nothing about yourself. 

Another is talking fast. It can be a way to exit the situation more quickly. Sometimes the socially anxious get into nervous chatter, becoming repetitive, excessively wordy, and even a little incoherent.

A third commonly used safety behavior is to only engage in conversations when a friend or partner is nearby. Or to exclusively have one-on-one conversations. Or paradoxically, only entering group conversations where the lack of participation might be overlooked

If you do some of these things, find a social situation that you are more comfortable in and try to do the opposite. Slow down your speech, mindfully notice when you’re beginning to make nervous chatter and focus instead on substantive dialogue. Strike up a conversation when your partner isn’t there. Talk to both groups and individuals. Doing all of this will challenge your assumptions that these tactics are necessary to manage your anxiety.

3. Expose Yourself

One of the gold standards in any kind of anxiety treatment is something called exposure therapy. For Social Anxiety Disorder, the process is simple: do something that creates a little anxiety and gradually increase your “exposure” to a situation that creates more social anxiety. The more time you’re around the thing you’re frightened of, the more you will become used to it. Eventually, your mind will learn on a deep level that the social event it’s scared of isn’t as threatening as it thinks, and you’ll naturally have less anxiety. 

For example, if you’re too socially anxious to go to the gym because you’re worried about what others will think of you, just stop by, shove your head in the door, and leave. Try this several times, and when you do so, try a little mindful relaxation activity to decrease the anxiety you’re experiencing.  Next, go in, look around at some of the equipment in the gym and leave several times. Try going to the front desk and asking an arbitrary question. Eventually, get on some exercise equipment but with no required time for you to stay on it, even if it is only three minutes. Try longer over time. Eventually, you’ll be able to do a full workout only a slight bit of anxiety. And the workout will help your anxiety, too!

4. Learn and Use Icebreakers 

Being able to start a conversation with a stranger is anxiety provoking for most people, and no-go for many people with Social Anxiety Disorder. Try learning some “icebreaker” questions that are open ended and encourage the other person to begin talking about themselves. These questions give you a subject for conversation that both of you can work with. It’s great if you already have a few things to share about the question when the other person’s done.

Many people with Social Anxiety Disorder are excellent in conversation once they get past the “small talk”, which they often disdain. Think of small talk as an appetizer that leads to a more satisfying full course.

By the way, the question “What you do for a living?” is a terrible cliché. It can be embarrassing for somebody who’s not currently working or is raising children, sick, etc. Notice that it’s not an open-ended question, allowing somebody to answer it without giving more detail. You want to get them talking!

Here are Some Great Starting Points for a Conversation:

  • Why/how did you get into your profession?
  • What brings you here? (This is especially good if you are in a professional gathering.)
  • How do you know _______? (The host, the mutual friend.)
  • What keeps you busy?
  • What upcoming plans are you looking forward to?

Put These Social Anxiety Disorder Techniques Into Action!

Hopefully, you’ll find a few of these tips useful. Of course, if you’re struggling with Social Anxiety Disorder and it’s really getting in the way of your life, it’s worth considering therapy. Counseling is highly effective for this issue.

I personally like to use ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) which uses practical tips such as the ones above and supports them further by increasing your mindfulness and ability to tolerate anxiety. It’s also great for working with those pesky thoughts that pop up in social situations that hold you back, as well as the physical and emotional discomfort that accompanies it. 

Give these tips a try and let me know how they work!