How To Overcome Social Anxiety Using These Five Tips

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated April 19, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Social anxiety can be difficult to live with, but it can be possible to overcome it, particularly with the help of a professional like a licensed therapist. If you have a social anxiety disorder, it may be beneficial to challenge and counter negative thoughts, focus on others rather than yourself, give yourself small challenges in social situations, limit unhealthy foods and habits, and try yoga or meditation. Seeking the guidance of a mental health professional is often beneficial, and online therapy can be an option if you find it challenging to attend therapy sessions in person.

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Learn to manage social anxiety

What is social anxiety?

While it can be normal to feel nervous in certain situations, such as a job interview or a public speaking engagement, it is generally not typical to experience intense anxiety during everyday situations. Social anxiety disorder, also called social phobia, usually involves severe fear or distress regarding social situations. A person may be extremely self-conscious and worry that people will harshly judge or reject them. These symptoms may be so severe that they hinder a person’s daily life.

The APA generally defines social anxiety as “an anxiety disorder that is characterized by extreme and persistent social anxiety or performance anxiety that causes significant distress or prevents participation in social activities. The feared situation is most often avoided altogether, or else it is endured with marked discomfort or dread.”

While there may be no simple cure for social anxiety disorder, there are usually proven treatment options that can alleviate symptoms. Symptoms may include a persistent fear of being judged or humiliated in specific social interactions and excessive anxiety that does not appropriately match the tone of the situation. People living with social anxiety sometimes enroll in social anxiety online therapy or obtain medication to manage the symptoms of their anxiety disorder.

Various situations may trigger symptoms of social anxiety, such as:

  • Using public restrooms
  • Entering a room filled with people
  • Eating in front of someone else
  • Attending class
  • Going to work
  • Starting a conversation
  • Dating
  • Going to a party
  • Using recreational drugs
  • Making eye contact with someone
  • Speaking in public or giving a speech to a large group of people
  • Talking to strangers

While these situations may not seem significant to some people, they can still cause anxiety and apprehension in people living with social phobia.

Common causes of social anxiety

Like other mental health disorders, social anxiety disorder may be caused by a combination of biological and environmental factors. Common causes and risk factors typically include inherited traits, an overactive amygdala, learned behavior, as well as other factors such as childhood experiences and exposure to stressful life events.

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Genetic predisposition

Mental health conditions, such as social anxiety, can run in families. However, researchers aren’t entirely sure whether this occurs due to genetics or learned behavior. The presence of social anxiety in several family members suggests that both inherited traits and shared life experiences might contribute to the disorder.

Overactive amygdala

The amygdala, a structure in the brain that is normally involved with controlling the fear response, is sometimes overactive in individuals with a social anxiety disorder. Patients with an overactive amygdala tend to experience a heightened fear response, often resulting in increased levels of anxiety during social situations.

Past events

Past social situations that ended in embarrassment may cause people to develop a social anxiety disorder. In addition, when these embarrassing past events lead to increased self-consciousness and extreme shyness, they can intensify the fear of social situations, contributing to the development of social anxiety disorder.

Environmental factors

Parents with anxieties and phobias toward specific social situations may unintentionally pass these behaviors to their children. Children of overprotective or over-controlling parents may also develop social anxiety.

Symptoms of social anxiety

Social anxiety can present itself through emotional, behavioral, and physical symptoms. Common symptoms of a social anxiety disorder often include the following:

  • Avoiding social situations that might place you at the center of attention
  • Feelings of intense fear and anxiety regarding talking to strangers
  • Fear of placing oneself in situations where one might be judged
  • Sweating and trembling
  • Inability to catch one’s breath
  • Fear of feeling anxious in social situations
  • Blanking during a stressful or anxiety-including social situation
  • Clinginess or tantrums in children
  • Body shaking and tremors
  • Feelings of low self-esteem

Treatments for social anxiety

If you, a family member, or other loved ones find that anxiety symptoms become persistent, you may want to seek treatment. A mental health specialist, such as a therapist or psychiatrist, can diagnose social anxiety disorder if certain criteria are met. 

To make a diagnosis for social anxiety disorder, patients must generally experience persistent fear or apprehension toward specific social situations, avoidance of anxiety-inducing situations, and excessive anxiety that interferes with their lives. After a diagnosis, your mental healthcare provider can recommend an effective treatment plan for social anxiety disorder.

Prescription medications

A mental health professional may prescribe medication as part of the treatment plan for social anxiety disorder. The main anti-anxiety medications include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), which may help balance certain chemicals in the brain. Beta-blockers are medications typically prescribed to manage the physical symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks, such as rapid heartbeat, shaking, and sweating. For many people, medications gradually work to reduce symptoms, sometimes taking a few weeks to provide benefits. 

Talk therapy

Talk therapy is a type of psychological treatment that may be considered one of the best treatments for social anxiety disorder. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a common approach that helps patients identify and challenge negative thought patterns while also providing exposure to anxiety-inducing situations in a controlled manner. This type of therapy aims to improve social skills and reduce avoidance behaviors, which may help tackle the root causes of social anxiety. Other therapy techniques may include exposure, cognitive restructuring, and social skills training.

A licensed mental health professional will likely recommend a specific treatment for social anxiety disorder based on your circumstances, health history, and the type of symptoms you have. Never start or stop any form of medication without the guidance of a licensed medical professional.

Other ways to manage social anxiety disorder

Therapists often provide recommendations for strategies and lifestyle changes to manage symptoms that people with social anxiety disorder can implement in their daily lives. A few common recommendations may include:  

Challenge and counter your negative thoughts

People with social anxiety tend to experience negative and intrusive thoughts. They may fear that a certain social situation could make them look stupid or that they will embarrass themselves in front of a large group of people. Challenging or countering these thoughts can be an effective method for managing social anxiety.

Many patients with social anxiety also fall into the trap of engaging in unhelpful thinking styles. They might catastrophize an event or take others’ behavior personally. 

To disengage from these thoughts, patients with social anxiety must usually identify any underlying negative thoughts they may be holding. They should then analyze and challenge them. By logically evaluating their thoughts and emotions, those with social anxiety may eventually stop these negative thoughts and replace them with more realistic, positive ones.

Keep your focus on others instead of yourself

People with social anxiety tend to get “caught up” in their own discomfort. As a result, they may struggle to focus on the people around them instead of themselves. When they focus too much on their fear and apprehension, people with social anxiety can induce extra anxiety and stress on themselves.

To minimize this, try to focus your attention on those around you. Try to focus on what the other person is saying rather than tune into the negative thoughts that may be nagging you. Social anxiety can be difficult to cope with but try to focus on the present moment. As you continue to practice this, your social anxiety may eventually become easier to manage.

Give yourself small challenges

While it may seem counterintuitive, seeking out new relationships and finding supportive social environments may help. If you keep it simple, like saying “hello” to your co-workers or asking them what they did over the weekend, engaging others in a “safe” environment may help you manage social anxiety. 

As your efforts become easier, try to continue cultivating your new relationships. Some patients who struggle with social anxiety may even take social skills classes or volunteer with small groups of people for social contact.

Limit unhealthy foods and habits

Your diet may have a significant impact on your mental health, as well as your ability to manage your social anxiety. Try to avoid consuming excessive amounts of caffeine from coffee or soda, as it can increase your symptoms of anxiety. Try to drink only in moderation, and avoid smoking if possible. Alcohol, nicotine, and substance abuse may worsen social anxiety and its accompanying symptoms.

Try alternative treatments, such as meditation and yoga

Meditation and yoga can also be extremely helpful for people with social anxiety. To help manage social anxiety, try pairing these practices with at least 30 minutes of exercise per day. Other relaxation exercises might include deep breathing and guided imagery, which can calm the mind and promote a sense of peace and safety.

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Learn to manage social anxiety

Finding support from a mental health professional 

It can be essential for people experiencing social anxiety disorder to speak to a mental health professional. Attempting to treat oneself may not only be difficult, but it can also be ineffective in some cases. While the idea of social anxiety group therapy may sound intimidating to some with social anxiety, it may be one way to face fear in a non-judgmental environment. A therapist might use role-playing as a technique to help a person manage anxiety by simulating social interactions in a safe and controlled manner. 

However, by nature, social anxiety disorder usually makes it difficult to be around others, and for some, a social anxiety disorder may even make it difficult to leave the house. One of the best solutions for this barrier to treatment may be to engage in therapy online instead of in person. 

If you believe you’d benefit from professional help but don’t feel comfortable meeting with a therapist in person, online therapy may be a potential solution. You can speak to a licensed mental health professional via phone, online chat, or video chat from the comfort of your home or anywhere you feel safe, as long as you have an internet connection. 

Online therapy can be as effective as in-person therapy for treating conditions such as social anxiety disorders, and many prefer online therapy for convenience. A 2022 study found that online therapy was generally equally effective as in-person therapy for treating social anxiety disorder.


The following strategies may be helpful in alleviating the symptoms of social anxiety disorder:

  • Challenge and counter your negative thoughts
  • Focus on others instead of yourself
  • Give yourself small challenges in social situations
  • Limit unhealthy foods and habits that can worsen anxiety
  • Practice yoga, meditation, and regular exercise
  • Attend therapy sessions in person or online

Please don’t hesitate to reach out for the professional insight and guidance you deserve.

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