Overcoming Social Anxiety

Updated March 28, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

While it is typical to feel nervous in certain situations, such as a job interview or a public speaking engagement, it is not typical to experience social phobia and intense anxiety toward everyday situations. What is social phobia? A social anxiety disorder is often manifested in severe fear or distress toward these social situations. A person may worry that people will harshly judge them or reject them. These symptoms may be so severe that they hinder a person’s daily life.

The APA 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’s no simple cure for social anxiety disorder, there are proven treatment options that can help diminish and eventually eliminate symptoms. Symptoms may include the persistent fear of being judged or humiliated in specific social situations and excessive anxiety that does not appropriately match the tone of the situation. Patients dealing with social anxiety sometimes enroll in social anxiety online therapy or obtain medication to manage the symptoms of their anxiety disorder.

Learn To Manage Social Anxiety

Social anxiety can be triggered in a variety of situations, such as:

  • Using public restrooms

  • Entering a room filled with people

  • Eating in front of someone else

  • Attending class

  • Going to work

  • Starting a new conversation

  • Dating

  • Going to a party

  • 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 most mental health disorders, social anxiety disorder is caused by interactions among a variety of biological and environmental factors. Common causes stem from inherited traits, an overactive amygdala, and learned behavior. Let’s explore each common cause of social anxiety together.

  • Genetic Predisposition: Mental health issues such as social anxiety can run in families. However, researchers aren’t entirely sure whether this occurs due to genetics or learned behavior.

  • Amygdala: The amygdala, a structure in the brain that could be involved in 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, 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.

  • Environment: Parents who display anxieties and phobias toward specific social situations may pass these tendencies onto 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 include:

  • Avoiding social situations that might place you at the center of attention

  • Feelings of intense fear and anxiety toward 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, which can end up increasing one’s anxiety

  • Blanking during a stressful or anxiety-including social situation

  • Clinginess or tantrums in children

  • Body shaking and tremors

  • Feelings of low self-esteem

What To Do If You Have Social Anxiety Disorder

If you think you have a social anxiety disorder, reach out to your primary care physician for an appointment. Your doctor will likely try to rule out other conditions that could be causing your anxiety. During your appointment, your physician will perform a physical exam, discuss your symptoms, and review social situations that could be causing your anxiety. 

To make a diagnosis for social anxiety disorder, patients must experience persistent fear or apprehension toward specific social situations, avoidance of anxiety-inducing situations, and excessive anxiety that interferes with their life.

Therapists often provide recommendations for steps and lifestyle changes to manage symptoms that people with social anxiety disorder can implement in daily life. 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 is 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 personalize someone’s behavior toward them. 

To start disengaging from these thoughts, patients with social anxiety must identify any underlying negative thoughts they may be holding. They should then analyze and challenge them. By logically evaluating their thoughts and emotions, patients with social anxiety can 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, patients with social anxiety can accidentally 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 those negative thoughts that are nagging you. Social anxiety can be difficult to deal with but try to focus on the present moment. As you continue to practice this, your social anxiety may eventually become easier to manage.

Try To Challenge Your Feelings

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 can help you manage your social anxiety. 

As your efforts become easier, make sure you continue to cultivate 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 could have a significant impact on your mental health as well as your ability to manage your social anxiety. 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. Both alcohol and nicotine can worsen your 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. Try pairing these practices with at least 30 minutes of exercise a day to help manage your social anxiety.

Learn To Manage Social Anxiety

Therapeutic Treatments For Social Anxiety

Patients can choose from a wide variety of treatments for their social anxiety disorder.

  • Prescription medications such as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) and Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs)

  • Psychoanalysis

  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) — including exposure, cognitive restructuring, and social skills training

Your mental healthcare physician will likely recommend a specific treatment for your social anxiety disorder based on your circumstances, health history, and the type of symptoms you have. 


It’s essential for people experiencing social anxiety disorder to speak to a mental health professional. Attempting to treat oneself is not only difficult but may be ineffective without guidance. In worst-case scenarios, it may even be detrimental to one’s progress. While the idea of social anxiety group therapy may sound intimidating to some with social anxiety, it is one way to face fear in a non-judgemental environment.

But by its nature, the disorder 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 is to engage in therapy online instead of in person. Online therapy has been proven to be as effective as in-person therapy for treating conditions such as social anxiety disorders, and many prefer online therapy for its accessibility and convenience. 

If you need help but don’t feel comfortable meeting with a therapist in person, online therapy may be a good solution for you, too. You can speak to a professional at BetterHelp any time via text, phone, online chat, and video chat from the comfort of your home or anywhere you feel safe. 

If you or a loved one are currently struggling with a social anxiety disorder, reach out to the online mental health professionals at BetterHelp. With the right treatment, you can cope with social anxiety disorder and live a normal day-to-day life.

For additional help & support with your concerns

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet Started