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Mental Health

10 Effective Tips for Managing Social Anxiety — From Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts

Be at peace in public.


Human interaction is fraught with potential faux pas. Differences in culture, beliefs, background, and personalities can make conversation feel like a minefield — with awkward moments just waiting for their chance to burst forth. At our core, we all want to be liked, which is probably why we put so much pressure on ourselves to do and say the right things.

While uncomfortable, a little nervousness at the class reunion or the office holiday party is normal. But what happens when the pressure we put on ourselves gets so big that it turns into actual fear — of what could go wrong — and prevents us from interacting at all?

In fact, there’s a name for this. It’s called social anxiety, and it’s a disorder that affects people of all ages, and ranges from mild to debilitating. If you suffer from this condition, getting the right tools and support is vital. The below tips for managing social anxiety come courtesy of mental health professionals, and they’ve proven helpful in building confidence and feeling calmer before, during, and after social events.

What is social anxiety disorder?

Social anxiety disorder (SAD) is more than butterflies in your stomach. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “Social anxiety disorder is an intense, persistent fear of being watched and judged by others. This fear can affect work, school, and other daily activities. It can even make it hard to make and keep friends.” If you think this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Studies show that women suffer disproportionately from SAD compared to men, and it can be made worse with hormonal imbalances during perimenopause and menopause. 

Dr. Julie Landry, PsyD, of Halycon Therapy Group, notes that some of the symptoms of SAD include: 

  • Blushing, sweating, or trembling
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Feeling like your mind has gone blank, or feeling sick to your stomach
  • Having a rigid body posture or speaking with an overly soft voice
  • Finding it difficult to make eye contact, be around people you don’t know, or talk to people in social situations even when you want to
  • Feeling self-conscious or fearing that people will judge you negatively
  • Avoiding places where there are other people

Psychiatrist Faisal Tai, MD adds that other symptoms include “a lack of focus [and] rapid breathing,” and notes that symptoms “can lead to feelings of exhaustion and depression.”

If you feel like you may suffer from SAD, there’s some good news: therapy and medication can provide long-term solutions. But there are also many ways to cope and feel better in the short-term. 

Tips for Managing Social Anxiety in Social Situations

You may have heard that taking a nap or a shower can help soothe your anxiety in the moment — but you can’t exactly do those things when you’re at a party that’s causing your symptoms to flare. Here, mental health professionals provide some tips (that don’t involve sleeping or getting wet) for coping with your social anxiety before, during, and after you’re in social situations.

(Please keep in mind that these tips are not a substitute for medical intervention. If your social anxiety is impacting your quality of life, consider seeking professional help. You deserve to feel like your best self.)

Before You Leave

Do some exercises. “It may be helpful to engage in intensive exercise to reduce levels of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol in the body before attending [events],” says clinical psychologist Dr. Corrie Goldberg. Try something like High Intensity Interval Exercise (HIIT), which has other health benefits to boot (like reducing your blood pressure).

Listen to your favorite happy song while you get ready. “Uplifting music can stimulate positive emotions to comfort the nervous system before social events,” Goldberg explains. You probably didn’t need another excuse to jam to your Dolly Parton playlist, but knowing it can make you feel more confident in social settings is a pretty good one. 

Prepare talking points and establish a code word with a trusted friend in attendance. Landry, who recommends these strategies, calls them “problem solving coping.” If you know you’ll have questions to ask that anyone can answer, like “How was your day before this?” or “What’s your favorite book/movie/TV show?” you will feel more prepared. Additionally, if you know and trust someone else in attendance who can help you escape if need be, you can establish a code word that will alert them to you needing help or wanting to leave. This will keep you from feeling trapped. 

While You’re There

Ground yourself. Grounding is a self-soothing technique that helps keep you connected to the present reality, reminding yourself that you are not in any danger, even if your anxiety is telling you otherwise. Goldberg recommends the following technique: “Look around and notice five things that you can see; four things that you can touch; three things that you can hear; two things that you can smell; and one thing that you can taste. These actions can help to pull you out of the anxious thoughts in your head and help you feel connected and calm in the present.”

There are other actions you can take to help ground yourself. Nurse practitioner Katie Fry recommends sucking on a sour candy and focusing on the resulting sensation. “It’s quick, it’s discreet, and my clients tell me it really works to stop anxiety before it starts,” she says. Therapist Lori Bewsher advises you “notice the pressure between your feet on the ground, gently tug on your skin or hair, and use your tongue to count your teeth” to help feel present and connected. You can also stick a small item in your purse or your pocket, like “a smooth stone or a soft fabric swatch that you can feel if you need reassurance,” says therapist Michelle Croyle

Help out. Offer to wash dishes, take guests’ coats, or pass appetizers, recommends Landry. “Studies show performing acts of kindness eases social anxiety.”

Take deep breaths. “Breathing patterns with an extended exhale through slightly pursed lips help to slow your heart rate and give your nervous system a cue to calm down,” says Goldberg. She also suggests you “try a few cycles of breath inhaling for a count of four, and exhaling for a count of eight to help reduce feelings of anxiety.”

Have a mental safe space. Think of a place in which you feel comfortable and safe: it could be your living room, your favorite vacation spot, or just somewhere beautiful that makes you happy, to which you can mentally escape when your symptoms peak. “It is a planned dissociation that gives an option for finding comforting feelings when you are in uncomfortable circumstances,” says Croyle. “If you toggle back and forth as needed, you realize you can be safe in the present and take action to care for yourself.”

After the Event

Journal. Write down your feelings and thoughts. This can help you determine your triggers and potential pathways for treatment. “Consistent journaling is beneficial to identify emotions and to really explore underlying causes of anxiety,” says Fry. “Should you choose to pursue counseling, journals can be very beneficial in pinpointing areas of healing and self-reflection to help move forward.” 

Lean into future social events. Social situations can be scary, but the more you engage and survive, the more confident you’ll become. “The more often someone has a good experience, the less intense the fear becomes,” says Landry. “Avoiding situations makes the anxiety grow.”

Know when to get extra help. Landry notes that while these tips are helpful, they’re not a solution. “If anxiety starts to cause problems in everyday life — such as avoiding social situations at school, at work, or with friends and family — it is imperative to seek professional help,” she concludes. There are many qualified practitioners who can give you the exact help you need. 

No matter what you’re feeling — fear, loneliness, or uncertainty — remember that you’re not the only person feeling it. Take good care of yourself, consider these tricks to mitigate your anxiety, and live the life of joy and peace that you deserve.

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