Talking With Strangers And Getting Over Social Phobia

By Stephanie Kirby|Updated April 5, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Cessel Boyd-Lewis, LCMHC

Some people make phone calls, send text messages, go to class, order food, or talk to coworkers with ease. While everyone with social phobia is different, these things may be incredibly difficult and scary for a person who lives with the disorder.

Social Phobia: More Than Occasional Butterflies

We Understand Being In Social Situations Can Be Overwhelming

Social phobia, also known as social anxiety or social anxiety disorder, is the third most common mental disorder in the United States. Although it’s said that about 7.1% of adults and 9.1% of adolescents per year are diagnosed with the disorder in the U.S., we don’t know the exact numbers, and some people go undiagnosed. Social anxiety can result in physical, emotional, and behavioral symptoms that can hinder your ability to go through daily life and make it more difficult to have relationships.

Though a person may know and understand that their fear is irrational, or, in other words, that there’s no real danger in opening a text message, saying “hi” to your neighbor, scheduling a doctor’s appointment, or picking up a cup of coffee, symptoms of social anxiety may cause a significant challenge when it comes to activities like this. It’s not the same as getting nervous or having butterflies here and there; to be diagnosed, symptoms must impact an individual’s functioning or cause significant distress. Additionally, although social phobia can certainly make it challenging to talk with strangers, it can also affect established interpersonal relationships.

Social Phobia: Impact And Diagnosis

Social phobia can range in symptom severity, but in any case, it’s not synonymous with or equivalent to shyness. Social phobia is identified by ongoing, marked fear or worry regarding one or multiple social situations. The fear or worry, alongside other potential symptoms, can cause significant distress or impede functioning and activities.

Many people who live with social anxiety find that symptoms take notable time out of their day, and there are ways it can impact your health as well as your relationships, your work, and other areas of life that might be more expected. For example, you might find that excessive worry surrounding social situations keeps you up at night or causes you to experience distraction from what you would prefer to focus on. The good news is that anxiety disorders are typically highly treatable conditions.

While there are some things that you can do yourself to help minimize the impact of social anxiety in your life, working with a professional counselor can help give you the tools needed to cope with and overcome it. As for diagnosis, a qualified provider, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist, will be able to evaluate an individual based on their symptoms. You don’t have to get a diagnosis to start talk therapy or medication, but for some, it’s the first step.

Ways To Overcome Social Phobia

Social anxiety can hinder your ability to fully enjoy your life. This may make it challenging to have a job, to build relationships – including work relationships or friendships – and to experience the things you otherwise might enjoy. While it may seem like a daunting task, there are things that you can do that can help you start the journey toward overcoming your anxiety.

Challenge Irrational Thoughts

If you’re not speaking up in a business meeting, are refraining from attending a party, feel your nerves spike when the phone rings, or are not asking for help in a department store because you don’t want to speak, irrational thoughts could be part of the equation. For example, you might worry that you’ll embarrass yourself or that others will gossip later if you speak up, or you feel anxious about “bothering” other people, and those thoughts might feel so overwhelming and intense that they may hold you back from engaging with others.

When these thoughts come up, challenge them. You might say, for example, “I have no evidence to support that they’ll gossip, and if they do, that’s more reflective of them than it is of me.”

Try Meditation And Other Tools To Self-Soothe

If you have social anxiety, mindfulness meditation can help you in multiple ways. The first is that you will learn deep breathing exercises that can help you to calm yourself when you’re faced with a situation that makes you feel anxious. Learning how to breathe deeply helps you to slow your heart rate and calm a nervous mind. When you become comfortable with the breathing exercises, they are something simple that you can put into practice wherever you are and whenever you feel the anxiety coming on.

You will also likely learn the practice of being mindful. Mindfulness is when you purposely focus your thoughts on the senses of the here and now. So instead of constantly thinking about an upcoming situation that makes you nervous, you choose to think about the way the sun feels on your skin, or the smell of a candle next to you. Some mindfulness exercises can focus on the past, such as remembering a pleasant beach vacation that you had. With mindfulness, you can focus on remembering what the waves sounded like as they lapped around your ankles, what the saltwater smelled like, and how the warm sun felt on your skin. Then you could picture something like the sun setting over the horizon, and with this relaxing image, you may start to settle down. This works because instead of trying to get you not to worry about something, which can actually work to stress you out more, mindfulness gets you to purposefully focus your mind on something that’s more concrete and comforting.

Start With More Comfortable Activities

While you may not feel 100% comfortable, some people find that certain situations are more or less nerve-wracking than others. You don’t have to start with the things that are at the top of your list as far as what’s most challenging for you; you can start by communicating where and with whom you feel most comfortable. Email a work request. If you don’t receive an answer, then follow up in person or via phone. Repeated exposure to social situations can aid you in boosting confidence, and the more you engage in or practice an activity, it may, in time, start to feel much easier.

Some even find it helpful to write down social activities that are challenging for them and rank or rate them based on which is easiest or most difficult. Once you rate them, work your way up the scale and address each one. You’ll start with the things that only bring you smaller, more moderate amounts of anxiety. Once you push yourself to do that activity a few times, you will hopefully see that it doesn’t put you in danger, and can start to become more comfortable with that activity.

You can then move your way up to the next item. As you slowly become more at ease with each action, you will work your way up the ladder.

Track Your Successes

Tracking the success that you’re having is a good way to build confidence and encourage you to keep trying new things. Every time you’re able to do something in a social situation that you had wanted to avoid, add it to your list of successes. You can even journal about the activity. When you are struggling in the future, you can look back on these for strength and a visual reminder of what you’ve accomplished.

Journal

Keeping a journal can help you visually sort through your thoughts, help you identify patterns, track your successes, and allow you to recognize when you start to fall into old habits. All of this can be quite helpful in overcoming social phobia or anxiety.

Practice Self-Care

It’s easy to get caught up in anxiety and focus on how you are feeling rather than making sure you are staying healthy. Practice a bit of self-care, such as eating healthy, taking a warm bath, exercising regularly, and other activities that nurture and promote your physical and mental health. If you enjoy painting or going for walks, for example, but don’t often find the time for them, prioritize them as part of your self-care.

Join A Support Group

We Understand Being In Social Situations Can Be Overwhelming

Join a support group that connects you with other individuals who are struggling with similar challenges and gives you a safe space to start working through your phobia and anxiety. One example is Toastmasters International, which is a well-known support group for public speaking and can be a good place to meet new people and make new friends.

Be Kind To Yourself

One of the most self-supporting things you can do throughout this entire process is often to be kind to yourself. If you had a bad day, it doesn’t mean that you’re a failure. It’s a very natural part of the process, and sometimes, the hard days can even be a learning experience. Self-compassion and positive, kind, adaptive self-talk can make the tough moments less distressing and help provide you with a greater sense of comfort and strength.

See A Therapist

Various types of therapy, like internet-based CBT, can help reduce social phobia symptoms. A therapist can help you use tools or engage in practices like those above, and they can provide you with emotional support and understanding while you do so. Social phobia is treatable, so it is important to reach out to a professional if needed.

Online Therapy

Want to start therapy but aren’t sure where to begin? Alternatively, are you having trouble finding someone who works with social phobia in your area? The independent providers who offer services through BetterHelp all have different areas of expertise, including social phobia or social anxiety, and provide a convenient, affordable mental health care option. With BetterHelp, you can talk to a licensed counselor via messaging, chat, phone, or video; whichever is most convenient and comfortable for you. Additionally, you can do this all from the comfort and privacy of your own home. You can work with a counselor or therapist no matter where you’re at in your journey, and they can help you take steps toward where you want to be.

Below are some reviews of BetterHelp counselors from people experiencing social phobia and related concerns.

Therapist Reviews

“Dr. Boring-Bray has been instrumental in my recovery from avoidance and social anxiety. She is both supportive and informative. She has helped me navigate my emotions to have a better understanding and control of them. Anything is possible with a strong therapist and hard work.”

“It’s amazing how beneficial therapy is. The EMDR sessions with Keith have enabled me to reclaim my power and control over my own life. As a result of my work with Keith I went from too scared and anxious to leave the house with crippling panic, to being able to enjoy walks with my husband in the park, garden and we have even traveled by plane, and train. I’ve been able to leave some toxic relationships that weren’t serving me, and now feel equipped to not only face life but to enjoy the richness and fullness of it. I highly recommend Keith as a counselor and the EMDR sessions.”

Moving Forward

The sustained, overwhelming fear of social situations, judgment from others, and embarrassment can influence or affect a person’s life seriously, but the care of a professional can aid you in moving forward. Take the first step today.

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