If you have social anxiety, it can be a struggle to handle everyday interactions. You might find yourself feeling nervous, on edge, or even go through full-blown panic—and the effects on your self-esteem can be even worse. However, isolating yourself is not the answer. With the eight tips in this article, you can learn to navigate your social anxiety with confidence. Let’s go!
1. Give gradual exposure a try
Start by writing a list of social interactions that make you anxious and stressed. You’ll need to grade them from 1 (least scary) to 10 (most scary).
Your list might look something like this:
- Eating in public (1)
- Buying groceries (3)
- Making small talk with someone at work (4)
- Taking part in group conversations (5)
- Going out with close friends (6)
- Speaking to someone on the phone (7)
- Going on a date (9)
- Going to a party (10)
Once you've done this, work your way through the list! Begin by exposing yourself to the least scary situations before working your way up to the more difficult ones.
This will be a challenging experience, but pushing yourself to confront the source of your anxiety can be life-changing. Plus, once you cross one off your list, you can start to build up momentum and confidence.
Please note that whilst having a close friend on hand can make this experience easier, this can end up reinforcing the idea that you need someone else there as a crutch during social situations. As a result, it may do more harm than good.
2. Challenge negative thoughts
Part and parcel of having social anxiety is dealing with negative thoughts when interacting with people. You may quickly find yourself thinking things like:
- “I bet they think I’m really boring.”
- “I just stumbled over my words—they’re going to laugh about this later!”
- “Everyone’s staring at me. They think my outfit’s ugly.”
These types of thoughts fuel your social anxiety, make you feel even worse about yourself, and can encourage you to avoid socialising altogether.
The trick is to challenge the validity of these thoughts by asking yourself for evidence to support or contradict them. You can then reframe each thought with a more positive and realistic one based on your evidence.
- Negative thought: “No one likes me.”
- Challenge: “Is there any evidence that no one likes you?”
- Reframed thought: “I have plenty of friends who like spending time with me. It’s unrealistic to expect everyone to like me, so it’s silly to get hung up on one or two people not liking me.”
3. Practise relaxation techniques
The build-up to social interactions can often be worse than the actual experience of socialising. You may even find that your worry leads to physical symptoms, such as a pounding heartbeat, nausea, sweating, and trembling.
To calm your nerves and reduce your anxiety, use some relaxation techniques before social interactions.
- Breathing exercises like box breathing and pursed lip breathing can lower your heart rate and relieve stress.
- Grounding techniques like the 5-4-3-2-1 method can distract you from your thoughts by pushing you to focus on your surroundings.
- Progressive muscle relaxation can help to release the tension in your body and make you feel more relaxed.
You might also find it helpful to visualise yourself successfully navigating social situations. This fake scenario can give you a boost of confidence and motivation.
4. Prepare conversation starters
We’re not expecting you to write a fifty-page script before every social interaction, but having a few conversation starters in mind can help alleviate the pressure of initiating conversations.
You could talk about:
- Hobbies and mutual interests
- New TV shows or movies you’ve watched
- Current events
Simple questions are also effective at getting the conversation flowing. If you ask someone how their recent holiday was or how they’re getting on with their latest promotion, the discussion will continue naturally without you having to do too much!
5. Be an active listener
Instead of panicking about what people think about you or focusing on your own negative thoughts, try actively listening to the people you’re talking to.
Everyone wants to feel heard. If you give someone a chance to vent or talk about something they’re passionate about, they’ll be more than happy to take the reins of the conversation. This in turn will take some of the pressure off you.
So, listen to what they’re saying, ask follow-up questions and show genuine interest. This can make the conversation enjoyable for everyone involved and has the added benefit of distracting you from your anxious thoughts!
6. Practise positive self-affirmations
Self-affirmations are a great way to overcome your negative thoughts before and during social events. Think of them as a quick injection of confidence and self-assurance.
- “I am strong, capable and resilient.”
- “I can handle this.”
- “I am trying, and that’s all that matters.”
- “It’s safe for me to be my authentic self.”
- “This anxiety is only temporary.”
Repeat these affirmations as often as you need to manage your anxiety symptoms and face social interactions with a bit more confidence.
7. Set realistic expectations
No matter how many strategies you use, you will never be able to avoid the occasional social blunder, slip up or awkward interaction. You might tell a joke that doesn’t land, feel out of your depth in a discussion, or talk over someone in a group conversation.
What you need to understand is that this is perfectly normal. Everyone feels awkward now and then when they’re socialising. And more often than not, the people around you won’t even notice your ‘mistakes’.
As long as you’re putting yourself out there and building up your confidence bit by bit, that’s all that matters!
8. Seek help from a therapist
Though some people with social anxiety will be able to manage their symptoms by themselves, this is not always possible.
That doesn’t mean, however, that you should suffer in silence. Get the help you deserve by seeking a therapist specialising in social anxiety. With their help, you can identify triggers, reframe your thoughts and discover coping strategies.
If you’d like to take the first step towards tackling your social anxiety, ManageMinds is here to help. Check out our services or give us a call on 0330 390 3960.
The important thing to remember is that progress takes time. Take things at your own pace, be patient and celebrate all of your victories. With persistence and practice, you can build up your confidence and overcome your social anxiety!
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