Social anxiety is a serious problem. Some people experience shyness - this is social anxiety that isn't severe enough to be considered an anxiety disorder, but still can lower your quality of life. Others experience severe anxiety where the very idea of social situations fills them with dread.
No matter what you're living with, social anxiety can make it much harder to enjoy the activities that lead to happiness and contentment, and that's why it's important that you learn how to cure social anxiety.
The Most Effective Social Anxiety Cure
In order to discover the best way to cure social anxiety, you need to make sure that you're targeting your symptoms directly. I have a free 7 minute anxiety symptoms test that will help you learn more about the right treatment for your social anxiety.
What is the Difference Between Shyness and Social Anxiety Disorder?
As far as most psychologists are aware, there is no difference between shyness and social anxiety disorder beyond severity. Shyness may be distressing to those that want to have an easier time in public, but it can otherwise be managed fairly easily. Social anxiety disorder is often stressful enough that the person cannot live a quality life while still suffering.
If you want to get an idea how severe your social symptoms are compared to others like you, I created a free 7 minute anxiety test that will compare your results to the rest of the population.
Social Anxiety Disorder Treatment Strategies
Cognitive behavioral therapy is an effective tool for combatting social anxiety disorder (SAD). However, for many it is simply too expensive, or not something they're ready to commit to right away.
That's why many people want to find techniques to help them cure their social anxiety without a therapist, and without the use of unnecessary medications.
Don't Start Anything Unless You Can Commit
Social anxiety disorder can also be a bit tricky, because one of the main tenants of the disorder is avoidance. Those with SAD have a tendency to do whatever it takes to avoid the social events, or leave the social events once they get there.
These behaviors cause what's known as negative reinforcement - by avoiding social situations (or leaving if they get too stressful), it essentially tells your brain that you're staying away from something frightening, and that staying away keeps you safe. Thus you're more likely to stay away in the future, and you're more likely to continue to find social situations frightening.
That's why, while it's crucial to living a quality life that you respond to your social anxiety disorder, it's equally as important to make sure that you can commit to it. If for any reason you try to avoid making the necessary changes or behaviors, you may end up reinforcing the fear further. The following represent some of the more interesting and effective ways to combat social anxiety.
It starts with mindfulness. Mindfulness is not a treatment per se. But mindfulness is an awareness of oneself. You need to make sure that you're training yourself to be more aware of your own anxiety, so that you can effectively prevent it from continuing to affect you.
Anxiety causes negative thinking, and often contributes to its own development. You need to notice what it does to you and learn how to place the blame for how that feels on your anxiety and not yourself. The more you recognize anxiety symptoms as they occur, while also acknowledging that it's the anxiety causing those symptoms and not you, the easier it will be to continue treatment.
Challenge Thought Processes
One of the things you would do with a therapist that you can try on your own is challenging the thought processes that lead to further anxiety. When you find yourself having an anxious thought, ask yourself why you think that, what the other alternatives are, what the outcome is likely to be, and how important the outcome really is to you.
You can try doing this in your head, or write it out in a journal so that you can see your thoughts on paper. For example:
- Thought: I made a joke and that person didn't laugh. They think I'm stupid.
- Why: I don't know why I think that. They didn't laugh. It's my anxiety taking.
- Alternatives: Maybe they didn't find it funny and don't think any differently of me. Maybe they didn't get the joke or heard it before. Maybe they didn't hear it or they're not the type of people that laugh out loud. Maybe they're shy too.
- Likely Outcome: It's unlikely the single joke has caused someone to change their opinion of me. At worst, they may not find me funny, but most likely it's related to the specific joke or their sense of humor.
- Importance: Even if they did think less of me because of the joke, I am not sure why I care. I don't even know this person and I'll probably never see them again. Their opinion of me doesn't matter. I am not sure why I am upset about it but their opinion of me doesn't reflect how I should feel about myself.
This is an example of how those thought processes can go. The specifics are up to you, but the key is to simply not let yourself get caught up in worst case scenario thinking, and instead learn to understand why your thoughts are probably wrong and why even in worst case scenarios it doesn't really matter.
Need Extra Help?
Take my anxiety test now to find out more about how to truly fight your social anxiety symptoms.
Desensitization to Fears
Social anxiety can cause many specific fears. One of the most common is the fear of embarrassment, while others include the fear of being judged, or the fear of losing a potential social partner. In some cases you may also have a fear of the anxiety - worrying that your social phobia will prevent you from reaching out to others.
In some cases, you can actually take these specific fears and get used to them in parts. This is known as desensitization. Desensitization is when you face a fear for so long without consequence that you stop fearing it altogether.
An example would be combatting your fear of embarrassment by purposely embarrassing yourself under your control until it no longer worries you. For example, you can walk outside in a clown costume and stand in a semi-public place for hours upon hours on end, not leaving until the embarrassment stops bothering you. You can also consider singing in a public place, or doing some type of silly dance.
Whatever you choose to do, you need to keep doing it until you stop experiencing any distress. That can be hard, so make sure that you're up to this before starting. Some people do get panic attacks under extreme fear, and those can be incredibly debilitating. But by doing some type of activity like this, you'll fear the specific problems less and should be able to decrease some of your anxiety symptoms.
Perhaps the first thing you should be doing with social anxiety disorder is trying to make friends or get closer to the friends you have. Find people that make you feel supported and have a positive attitude, and those that you can talk to your anxiety about.
Studies have shown that those with strong perceived social support are far more confident than their peers. While social anxiety disorder is not technically a confidence issue, confidence does help your ability to take risks that will help you overcome that disorder, and possibly reduce the effects of a failed effort at socializing with others.
The word distraction has been given a negative connotation. But when it comes to curing anxiety, it is actually shockingly valuable. A huge part of overcoming anxiety is reducing the amount of negative thoughts that you have before, during, and after anxiety. Distractions overwhelm the senses, making it much harder to be stuck inside your own thoughts.
Distractions should always be healthy. Positive distractions include:
- Time with Family or Friends
- Funny/Upbeat Shows, Podcasts
- Fun/Upbeat Music
Distractions should never contribute to sadness or anxiety. People like to listen to sad music when they're sad, or watch dramas on TV, but these distractions put the mind in the same negative mood you're trying to avoid.
Distractions are an amazingly valuable tool for overcoming anxiety - one that does not receive nearly enough credit for its ability to reduce negative thinking.
Overcoming Social Anxiety is a Process
There are no quick fixes for overcoming social anxiety. Much of it involves slowly breaking down each individual fear, and turning negative thoughts into neutral thoughts so that you're not finding social events to be overwhelmingly negative. It does take some bravery to overcome social anxiety as well, which implies that you need to be able to commit before you should begin. If you let yourself fall back into your old habits, you make dealing with social anxiety much more difficult.
I've worked with many people suffering from social anxiety. Take my free 7 minute anxiety test to find out more about how your social anxiety compares to others, whether or not you may have another disorder, and how you can go about treating it.
Beidel, Deborah C., and Samuel M. Turner. Shy children, phobic adults: Nature and treatment of social anxiety disorder. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2007.
Heimberg, Richard G., et al. Cognitive behavioral group treatment for social phobia: Comparison with a credible placebo control. Cognitive Therapy and Research 14.1 (1990): 1-23.
Gould, Robert A., et al. Cognitive-Behavioral and Pharmacological Treatment for Social Phobia: A Meta-Analysis. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice 4.4 (1997): 291-306.
Mattick, Richard P., and Lorna Peters. Treatment of severe social phobia: effects of guided exposure with and without cognitive restructuring. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 56.2 (1988): 251.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.