Living With Social Anxiety Disorder: A Guide To Coping

Medically reviewed by Arianna Williams, LPC, CCTP
Updated May 7, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Over 15 million Americans live with social anxiety disorder, which involves moderate to severe anxiety and fear in social situations. Social anxiety can impact various areas of life, including romantic relationships, career opportunities, and education. In some cases, the symptoms of this condition might cause difficulty speaking to others, remembering your thoughts, or communicating as you’d like to.

If you’re living with social anxiety disorder, there are a few tips you can keep in mind to manage your symptoms and receive adequate support.

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What is social anxiety disorder? 

Social anxiety disorder is the third most common mental illness in the United States. Although it’s approximated that about 7.1% of adults and 9.1% of adolescents per year are diagnosed with the condition in the US, some people may go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed, which could indicate a higher overall number of those living with social anxiety. 

Social anxiety can result in physical, emotional, and behavioral symptoms that hinder one’s ability to function efficiently in daily life and relationships. Though a person may understand a low risk in opening a text message, scheduling a doctor’s appointment, or picking up a cup of coffee, social anxiety can make these tasks feel insurmountable.  

Understanding the impact and range of social anxiety disorder symptoms can lead to a more empathetic and supportive societal experience for those living with the condition or experiencing manifestations. 

Social anxiety disorder: Impact and possible effects

Social anxiety disorder manifests in unique ways for each person. However, it is a severe mental illness, not synonymous with minor feelings of nervousness or shyness.

The DSM-5 defines social anxiety as involving ongoing, marked fear or anxiety regarding one or multiple social situations or the perception of a social situation. Alongside other potential symptoms, this fear may cause significant distress or impede functioning and quality of life. 

Additional symptoms of social anxiety disorder can include: 

  • Analysis of or rumination about past social events 
  • Feelings of impending doom 
  • Intense feelings of fear about interactions or social embarrassment 
  • Gastrointestinal upset 
  • Feelings of dizziness, disorientation, or tunnel vision
  • Difficulty remembering what you want to say to others
  • Difficulty making eye contact 
  • A desire to run away from social situations 

Those living with social anxiety disorder may find that symptoms can take time out of their day, and may also impact health, relationships, work, and other areas of life. 

Living with social anxiety disorder: Supportive strategies

Social anxiety can make it challenging for some to have a job, build relationships, and experience enjoyable activities. While it may feel overwhelming to address these symptoms, there are supportive strategies to try that could help you start the journey toward a higher quality of life as you live with the effects of social anxiety disorder.

Challenging unwanted thoughts 

Social anxiety often accompanies worrying or repeating thoughts about social situations. For example, you might worry that you’ll embarrass yourself by engaging with a group or that others will gossip about you or bully you if you talk in front of them. Additionally, you might feel anxious about bothering other people by vocalizing your needs.  

Identifying these thoughts as “unwanted” can be a helpful first step in challenging them later. For some, these thoughts might feel so overwhelming and intense that they can hold them back from engaging with others. In these situations, you might try cognitive restructuring, a technique from cognitive-behavioral therapy that aims to change unwanted thoughts into positive thoughts. The following are a few examples of cognitive restructuring exercises: 

  • “I have no proven evidence that my friends want to gossip about me,” instead of “My friends are going to gossip about me.” 
  • “Last time we hung out, we had fun. I’m excited to see them again,” instead of, “They must have hated me last time we spent time together.” 
  • “I’m capable of communicating and repairing if I make a mistake,” instead of, “I am going to make a mistake and ruin my friendships.”

Practicing mindfulness meditation 

If you have social anxiety disorder, mindfulness meditation may effectively reduce some symptoms of your condition. Deep breathing exercises can slow your heart rate and effectively oxygenate your body to allow you to control your nervous system. Physical forms of mindfulness, like yoga, might allow you to simultaneously receive the benefits of exercise and mindfulness. 

Many learn the concept of mindfulness as they practice meditation. Mindfulness can involve focusing your thoughts on the senses of the present moment. Instead of thinking about an upcoming situation that makes you nervous, you may think about how 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 the sensory experiences of a pleasant beach vacation that you had or another positive memory. You may also leverage mindfulness in combination with other peaceful concepts or imaginative settings, such as the sun setting over the horizon.  

Practicing social skills 

Challenging yourself to seek social interaction can be an effective way to feel confident in your engagement skills over time. Some people may find certain situations more nerve-wracking than others, so they might start by practicing more convenient social situations before moving on to the scarier situations. 

If you choose to try this strategy, start by communicating to yourself where and with whom you feel most comfortable. This activity can look different for everyone. For example, you might start by emailing a work request or completing a follow-up for an appointment via the phone. The more you engage in or practice an activity, the easier it might feel. 

Some may also find it helpful to write down social activities that are challenging for them, ranking or rating them based on which is easiest or most difficult. Once you rate them, you may work up the scale and address each one intentionally. 

You can start with the activities that cause more moderate amounts of anxiety. Once you expose yourself to those fears, or you notice the feelings of nervousness start to deplete, you can start to see that your fears may be more intense than the reality of the situation. In turn, this practice may empower you to feel more comfortable in similar social situations in daily life.  

Tracking success 

Tracking your success in working through your social anxiety may be one way to build confidence. For example, each time you successfully attend a social situation you want to avoid, add it to your list of successes. This accomplishment can be added to a journal, a note, or a phone’s notes app. When you are struggling in the future, look back on these for strength and a visual reminder of what you’ve accomplished. 


Keeping a journal may help you visualize your thoughts, identify patterns, track your successes, and recognize when you fall into old habits. In addition, studies show that journaling has many mental health benefits.


When anxious, you might get caught up in nervousness and hyper-focus rather than ensuring you are healthy. To combat this, consider practicing self-care, such as eating healthy, taking a warm bath, exercising, or partaking in a hobby. If you’re out with friends, you might squeeze a stress ball, take breaks when needed, or ensure you go home when you’re done socializing. Try not to push yourself too much initially, and respect your well-being. 

Attending a support group

Joining a support group that connects you with other individuals struggling with similar challenges can give you a safe space to start working through symptoms of social anxiety disorder. In addition, the other participants may also have social anxiety, so you may feel more comfortable relating to each other due to less social pressure. 

Ensuring positive self-talk

One self-supporting strategy that you may find effective is intentional self-kindness and positive self-talk. For example, if you had a difficult day, you may kindly recite affirmations to yourself. These can vary but may include thoughts that align with resiliency. An example could be, “Social challenges don’t mean I’m a failure. I’m learning and growing and am so proud of how far I’ve come.”

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Counseling options for social anxiety

Social anxiety disorder can pose a possible barrier to therapy. Some people might struggle to leave home or put themselves in new or unfamiliar social situations, even if they aim to find support and symptomatic relief. 

In these cases, online therapy through a platform like BetterHelp may be effective, offering the potential to speak to a licensed therapist from the comfort of your home or another familiar space. It may also be more comfortable than in-person therapeutic models, as you can choose to connect with your therapist via in-app messaging rather than exclusively video or phone sessions.  

Current scientific literature also suggests that the use of internet-based CBT can reduce social anxiety disorder symptoms. A therapist can help you use tools or engage in practices like exposure to fears while providing you with additional emotional support and understanding as you walk through the process of addressing your anxiety. 


Social anxiety disorder can have many possible manifestations and significantly disrupt one’s quality of life. Employing strategic supportive measures and seeking support via online therapy can be helpful ways to address the impact that social anxiety disorder can have on your life. Consider reaching out to a therapist to get started.
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