Written by Claire Imber,
6 Minute Read
Medically reviewed by:
Conor O’Neill, PHD
Assoc. Director of Therapy
10 Minute Read
- An intense, persistent fear of being observed and judged by others in social situations may be social anxiety disorder.
- About 12% of Americans deal with social anxiety disorder in their lifetimes.
- With treatment, you can overcome your symptoms.
Social Anxiety Disorder & Tips for Coping With It
If you experience an intense, persistent fear of being observed and judged by others in social situations, you may be experiencing social anxiety disorder. And you aren’t alone: research suggests that about 12% of Americans suffer from social anxiety disorder at some point in their lifetime.
This is a complex mental health condition, but there are a number of things you can do to help yourself to get over social anxiety and feel more comfortable and confident in social interactions. Remember that only a mental health provider can accurately diagnose anxiety disorder. If you think what we’ve described sounds like you, take our free assessment today.
So let’s take a closer look at what social anxiety is and what you can do about it.
What is Social Anxiety Disorder?
Social anxiety disorder is a common and treatable mental health condition. As we explain on our website, “People with social anxiety disorder often expect the worst possible consequences from a negative experience during a social situation, and avoid doing things or speaking to people out of fear of embarrassment.”
The DSM-V-TR says that a diagnosis of Social anxiety disorder requires:
- “Marked fear or anxiety about one or more social situations in which the individual is exposed to possible scrutiny by others.”
- “The individual fears that he or she will act in a way or show anxiety symptoms that will be negatively evaluated (i.e., will be humiliating or embarrassing; will lead to rejection or offend others).”
- “The social situations almost always provoke fear or anxiety.”
- “The social situations are avoided or endured with intense fear or anxiety.”
- “The fear or anxiety is out of proportion to the actual threat posed by the social situation and to the sociocultural context.”
- “Cause “clinically significant distress”
- “And be persistent (lasting 6 months or more).
Most simply, someone with social anxiety disorder will generally feel that they can’t get rid of social anxiety.
What are the symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder?
Key symptoms of social anxiety disorder include:
- Fear of situations in which you may be judged by others
- Worrying about embarrassing or humiliating yourself, even in front of complete strangers
- Anxiety in anticipation of a feared activity or event
There are a number of physical symptoms which may include:
- Upset stomach
- Having a shaky or soft spoken voice when in a social situation
People with social anxiety disorder often expect the worst possible consequences from a negative experience during a social situation, and avoid doing things or speaking to people out of fear of embarrassment.
Tips to overcome social anxiety
In many cases, a person can learn to overcome their anxiety. It may be challenging, and it may require specialized social anxiety disorder treatment with a mental health provider (we’ll discuss this more in a moment). Here are some things you can do right away if you experience social anxiety, or if you suspect you may have social anxiety disorder.
Challenging Your Thoughts
There are a number of useful thought challenges you can use to help you feel less anxious. One of these involves actively challenging your anxious thoughts. That fear of being judged can be really pervasive, so ask yourself: What are others doing to show they don’t approve of you? How do you really know what others are thinking? What is your evidence?
To calm down in a hurry, try a breathing or relaxation technique. Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose, and exhale slowly through your mouth. Think of your chest like a big balloon and fill it as full as you possibly can. Then let the air out as slowly as you are able.
If you are feeling anxious in a social situation, take a moment to remind yourself how strong you are. Keep in mind that you have been in similar situations before, and come out just fine. Try commenting on something you about yourself when you look in the mirror, such as your hair or your sweater. Positive self-talk may feel awkward at first, but it can be very helpful in boosting your self-confidence and quitting those negative thoughts.
Grounding techniques can be great for calming anxiety in social situations. One of our favorites is to find
- 5 things you can see
- 4 things you can hear
- 3 things you can touch and feel
- 2 things you can smell
- 1 (safe) thing you can taste
If you are feeling the signs and symptoms of social anxiety disorder, take a moment to understand the world that’s actually around you. It may not be so scary after all.
Having a support system of friends or family members who understand and support you, and who know that you feel anxious in social interactions, can be a big help. Reflect on who you feel comfortable with. Who can you ask for support?
Once a diagnosis has been established, social anxiety disorder can generally be treated with therapy, medication, or both. Talk with your provider about the best treatment option for you. We tend to avoid the things that make us anxious, and this makes anxiety worse in the long run. In treatment, you learn to safely and effectively engage in the very things that make you anxious. This approach is highly effective and backed by science.
With social anxiety, it means creating a hierarchy of anxiety-provoking social situations that you gradually experience while practicing coping skills to manage anxiety from becoming overwhelming.
Exposure therapy is a therapy technique that helps people confront their fears. It can take many forms, including situational exposure — confronting anxiety by volunteering to speak at a company meeting, for instance. Exposure therapy is used to treat a range of mental health problems and can be done under the guidance of a trained mental health professional. People can also practice being assertive by asking for special toppings at a restaurant or a special cut at the grocery store or help in a library. It’s just about getting in lots of reps of social interaction so you can practice various responses to how conversations naturally flow.
The Bottom Line
The most important thing about social anxiety disorder is that it doesn’t have to stop you from reaching your full potential. With treatment, you can overcome your symptoms. Brightside Health is here to help you to reclaim your life.
Want to speak 1:1 with an expert about your anxiety & depression?