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Tips to Help Manage Social Anxiety

Thursday, April 20, 2017 6:50 AM

Social anxiety is anxiety anticipating a social situation or experienced during one. For some it is pretty persistent in everyday life whereas others can experience it in specific situations such as public speaking, making small talk or using public restrooms.


Social anxiety is inherently part of being human - it helps us perform at our best. Anxiety doesn't necessarily speak to the events that are unfolding and it’s important to look closely at this. When feeling overwhelmed with social anxiety, it is helpful to focus on the concrete details and evidence that are linked to the situation. Anxiety can most certainly let our imagination run wild!

To help manage social anxiety for specific situations, Neely Benn, LCSW, Individual & Relational Psychotherapy at NorthShore, shares some tips:

  • Work with a therapist if social anxiety is stopping you from doing social events.
  • Invest in a self-help book that can either supplement therapy or help get you started with tackling your anxiety.
  • Practice breathing techniques every day. Deep or controlled breathing can help calm you before or during an anxious event so it is important to practice it every day. This allows us to center ourselves and connect in a deeper way.
  • Create goals to help you get through anxious social situations. For example when making small talk in a group, try to make at least two comments. Do not focus on what the comments are themselves, but rather the fact that you have a goal of two comments.
  • Change your focus. Instead of focusing on how your heart rate is increasing or your palms feel increasingly sweaty, focus on the other person or your task at hand. If that does not work, focus on something neutral such as the color of a chair or the fabric of the shirt of whom you’re speaking with. It will help you become more present for yourself and for them and you’re granting yourself permission to distract yourself.
  • Have a positive outlook. Thinking is a habit and one that can be changed.Stop yourself from thinking, “I’m going to bomb this presentation.” Change your thinking to, “I am prepared and I am going to do my best.”
  • Re-label your anxiety. Feeling physical symptoms of anxiety is the body trying to communicate with us. It's our duty to pay attention and try to interpret the information as gently and nurturing as possible. Practice radically accepting statements such as "I've gotten through this before and I'll get through it again" "This too shall pass."
  • Back to the human being aspect. Anxiety is a good thing and it's important to feel it. This means that you are in transformative times that need attention and care.  Believe it or not, this could be a situation that calls for feelings of pride! Be proud of the fact that you are feeling anxious. It could mean that you are facing a challenge, following intuition or taking a chance.
  • Be your own best friend! Practice self-affirmations. Talk to yourself in the third person: "Neely, you are gifted at your work and you're going to give a great presentation." It's important to do this in the third person as if you were speaking to somebody else. It activates different parts of your brain. It's soothing.

Neely Benn recognizes that not every trick will work for everyone. Attending therapy or reading self-help books can further help each person find his or her own coping tricks.

Do you experience social anxiety? How do you manage it?