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How to Help Your Social Anxiety Disorder

Updated on December 31, 2015

Social anxiety disorder is sometimes termed social phobia and falls under the umbrella of the anxiety disorders as listed in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The problem can be limited to a specific situation such as eating in public, talking on the telephone or the classic speaking in public (performance anxiety), which is very common.

Sufferers of social anxiety disorder can experience many triggers within social and performance settings where it would then be classified as generalized social anxiety disorder. It is also commonly linked to other anxiety disorders and in particular panic disorder as the level of suffering can induce panic attacks. Depression can both cause and be a result of social anxiety disorder.

The one thing that unites all people suffering from this disorder is fear of people because the presence of other people is the very catalyst for the problem to exist. There are no pressures or expectations of you as a person if you stay away from social situations, especially amongst strangers, although even family and friends can test you sometimes. Avoidance of certain situations is very common but can have a profound effect on your lifestyle.

Social anxiety can make you feel very isolated
Social anxiety can make you feel very isolated | Source

How Do I Know if I Have Social Anxiety Disorder?

Social anxiety disorder isn’t just a case of simple shyness. Here are some indications that you may have social anxiety disorder.

Behavioural Symptoms:

  • Avoiding social situations because of an excessive amount of apprehension or anticipatory anxiety.
  • Worrying for weeks even months ahead about a social situation you know will make you react fearfully.
  • A feeling of profound self-consciousness in social settings.
  • Fear of being watched, judged or criticized constantly.
  • Fear of humiliation.
  • Finding interaction with people very difficult and staying in the background at all costs.

Physical Symptoms:

  • Shaking
  • Nausea, upset stomach
  • Palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Intense blushing
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Sweating
  • Panic attacks

These are just a few examples but when the fears, worries, apprehension and avoidance severely interrupt your normal day to day activities you will feel a great need to seek help or treatment. There are of course some ways you can try to help yourself.

A good visual guide to correct a bad breathing habit

Self Help for Social Anxiety Disorder

Good Breathing Exercise:

Usually most breathing exercises will request that you sit in a comfortable chair and indeed if you can begin practice in that way it is ideal but a breathing exercise is something you can practice anywhere at any time. When we are anxious we tend to rapid and shallow breathe into our chest only and stop making full use of our diaphragm. This bad breathing habit can help create such sensations as dizziness, increased tension and actually the feeling that you cannot breathe! Try the following breathing exercise and practice it if only for a couple of minutes twice day. As your diaphragm gets more exercise it will become easier and easier with time. Don’t force more than is comfortable at first and be patient because practice makes perfect.

  • Drop your shoulders, flop your hands and arms.
  • Be aware of the tightness in other areas of your body and loosen this tension.
  • Place your hand on you tummy just underneath the ribcage.
  • Breathe in through your nose for as long as is comfortable feeling your tummy rise beneath your hand.
  • Hold your breath for as long as you can and without straining- three or four seconds is enough.
  • Release your breath through your mouth gently and slowly. Your tummy should fall back into place beneath your hand.

Facing the Situations You Fear:

Avoidance intensifies and maintains social anxiety disorder. Although it will seem like a huge challenge the avoidance issue should be addressed by facing the social situations you find distressing. List the situations you have problems with in order of the severity encountered. Start with the least stressful and practice being in that situation as in exposure therapy. Practice staying with any feelings or sensations that crop up and use the breathing exercise (without the hand if not convenient). Gradually work up to the more stressful situations. The ‘doing’ will be the ‘undoing’.

Keep a little book for negative and positive thoughts.
Keep a little book for negative and positive thoughts. | Source

Changing the Way You Think:

Be aware that apprehension creates a lot of negative and fearful scenario thoughts. The anticipatory anxiety long before an event or situation is very persuasive and will have a strong bearing on the outcome you experience. This is almost a case of ‘think something long enough and you will believe it’. An example may be that of the person who feels he will fail at a job interview. He may be convinced he will be lost for words and the interviewer will think him an idiot and unworthy of the job. Look at the self analysis in this example. He has no clear way of knowing how easy it may be to answer the questions but he assumes he will mess up. The interviewer will probably expect all interviewees to be nervous and will make allowances for this. Try to see the bigger picture in terms of reality. Write down your negative thoughts and replace them with more open, optimistic, positive thoughts. Keep reading these positive scenario thoughts over and over to replace the negative ones.

What are you most afraid of?

See results

Changing Your Focus:

A person suffering with social anxiety disorder assumes he is under scrutiny by others and that his anxious behaviors and feelings will be noticed by everyone thus compounding the situation. This is rarely true. Other people are often too busy thinking about what they are doing and other mundane everyday thoughts to be scrutinizing you. If a group situation or any performance issue holds great fear for you, practice thinking outwardly instead of internalizing your thoughts. Self analysis in these situations produces a rapidly growing sense of fear and the physical sensations described above become more intense. Observe everything outside of you. Look at the style of a person’s hair, the wallpaper, focus on what someone is saying, anything and everything outside of you. This takes practice but will help stop the inward, self analysis thinking.

Bananas are a good anti anxiety food.
Bananas are a good anti anxiety food. | Source

Changing Some Lifestyle Habits:

  • Reduce or stop caffeine intake
  • Get more exercise
  • Eat a healthier diet with fresh fruit and vegetables
  • Be sure to get a good amount of sleep every day
  • Cut down or stop smoking
  • Take up meditation or a relaxation technique
  • Drink two cups of chamomile tea every day
  • Take a B-Complex vitamin every day
  • Allow yourself only 20 minutes of worry time each day

None of this is easy but with determination and constant practice things can improve.

Other Treatments for Social Anxiety Disorder

  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
  • Classes in improving self-esteem or self assertiveness
  • Medications such as benzodiazepines (avoided if possible or used on an as needed basis only) or antidepressants.

Remember medications are often only a sticking plaster solution. To address the problem head on is the way forward to true recovery.


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    • letstalkabouteduc profile image

      McKenna Meyers 

      5 years ago

      This is great advice. I took medication for years for social anxiety. How I wish the doctor had encouraged me to do these things as well. When I finally went off the medication, I realized I was right back where I was and had wasted a lot of time.

    • meloncauli profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from UK

      Thanks for your comments Simone. Yes, teen years can be a tough time socially speaking. Glad things improved for you.

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      9 years ago from San Francisco

      Iiiiiinteresting- looks like I had social anxiety disorder for many of my teen years! Glad those days are slowly moving behind me.

      The coping methods you've outlined are fabulous. Thanks for helping folks out! Social anxiety disorder is not fun. At all.

    • meloncauli profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from UK

      Thank you Robert. Your comment is much appreciated.

    • Robert Erich profile image

      Robert Erich 

      9 years ago from California

      Meloncauli! This is a fantastic hub describing the symptoms and solutions. I especially liked the "Changing Your Focus" topic. It is so true - most people have problems because they over-think how critical others will be of them. Making observations to distract you is a great idea. Look forward to reading more!

    • meloncauli profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from UK

      Thanks gsidley for your comments. When I suffered quite a few years ago now, I pushed myself into Samaritan training knowing it would be a group setting ( about 10 of us). It was terrifying to begin with but I used the focusing outside of myself each week in the training. It really did help and by week 4 or so I was much calmer....and frankly amazed what some determined application can do!

    • meloncauli profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from UK

      Thanks Richawriter. Well done you for taking that lead's amazing what we can do when the chips are down and its brilliant practice at addressing stuff head on.

      Peace to you too :)

    • gsidley profile image

      Dr. Gary L. Sidley 

      9 years ago from Lancashire, England

      A superb hub, meloncauli, packed with accurate and constructive information about how to manage a common and typically disabling anxiety disorder.

      I would echo the importance of shifting attention away from self-focus; the image sufferers dwell on (how they think they appear to others) is typically distorted and bears little resemblance to actuality, as well as having the effects of increasing anxiety and impairing social performance (as the sufferer pays little attention to what others are saying).

      Best wishes

    • Richawriter profile image

      Richard J ONeill 

      9 years ago from Bangkok, Thailand

      Useful and Up meloncauli.

      This hub will definitely help those sufferers of anxiety out there. I'm up there with the greatest of judges, being that I am a social anxiety sufferer myself. Great tips and techniques here.

      I just cut down on caffeine recently as well as drink camomile tea everyday. Funnily enough, I also forced myself to be the lead actor for a play for my college that was televised and in front of the minister of education!! Normally, something like that would have been utterly impossible but I am sick of sitting in the background as are many in my position.

      Great job here and may you long continue to produce the goods with these supportive and well-written hubs!

      Thank you.

      Peace. :)

    • meloncauli profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from UK

      @krsharp05. Thanks. I have an ADHD son and know how quick professionals are to use medication on kids that exhibit behaviour that is not accepted as 'the norm'. In all instances and especially with children, it should be talk, therapy first and medication only as a very last resort and only if the situation is so very bad it is truly warranted.

    • meloncauli profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from UK

      @krillco. Thanks for your comment, much appreciated.

      @Om Paramapoonya. Thanks. People underestimate what caffeine can do to an already overstimulated anxious body and when you are highly sensitive you tend to react to any strange bodily sensations.

      @tamarawilhite. Trouble is a bad case of social anxiety disorder can involve almost any other person being present (not particularly small or large groups). I consider myself somewhat of an extrovert and very sociable but for years I found places like waiting rooms, group therapy, parties, eating in public, speaking in small groups an absolute nightmare. I even dreaded my family coming round for visits! All of this was about me feeling I would make a fool of myself in front of people - people I knew, people I didn't. ( I am recovered now).

      It could be classed as many things but a total insecurity that makes you fold up or panic as soon as you enter a public situation is hard to knock on the head. However, I don't like the term disorder either, intimating it's an illness. It only is because the DSM tells us so. It is learned and reactionary behaviour. It is also misinterpretation and fear based. I would suggest CBT or self help over medication any day.

    • tamarawilhite profile image

      Tamara Wilhite 

      9 years ago from Fort Worth, Texas

      We need to be careful not to make introvertedness, a personality trait, into a medical disorder. Not liking crowds and preferring small, intimate groups is not a disorder.

      Panic attacks, though, are a problem - which may be resolved through counseling instead of jumping to medication.

    • Om Paramapoonya profile image

      Om Paramapoonya 

      9 years ago

      Totally agree with your advice on limiting caffeine intake. Back in college, I always got nervous every time I had to make a presentation in front of the class, and drinking coffee right before it usually made my nervousness get even worse. Great hub!

    • krillco profile image

      William E Krill Jr 

      9 years ago from Hollidaysburg, PA

      Well written and evergreen Hub!

    • krsharp05 profile image

      Kristi Sharp 

      9 years ago from Born in Missouri. Raised in Minnesota.

      Excellent hub meloncali! Wonderful suggestions -especially for kiddos with who need to learn methods of control. I also like the less intrusive idea of using diet as well. When I worked in youth facilities, it seemed that kids were over medicated and undereducated. -K

    • meloncauli profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from UK

      Thanks Crystna. I have seen this book and it does look pretty good. It's a shame you couldn't stay with it.

    • Crystna1985 profile image


      9 years ago

      Great hub! The self assertiveness classes are a good idea! I have "The Shyness and Social Anxiety Workbook" and Did a few of the activities but it's hard for me to keep focus. anyway voted up! useful and interesting

    • meloncauli profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from UK

      Thanks for your comments leahlefler. The thing about anxiety disorders is they all seem to cross over into each other very often. Thanks again for your input.

    • leahlefler profile image

      Leah Lefler 

      9 years ago from Western New York

      This is a great hub, meloncauli. I don't have social anxiety disorder, but I have struggled with generalized anxiety in the past. Panic attacks are so awful - the nausea and the racing heart are horrible to deal with. I would find a task that took a lot of focus (crossword puzzles, sudoku, etc.) and that sometimes helped. Walking helped the most! Fortunately I haven't dealt with anxiety in quite some time, and I am very grateful for that.


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