Overcoming Social Anxiety

If you’re needing mental health assistance please call BeyondBlue on 1300 224 636. Or if social anxiety has got you good, you can always message for help at lifeline.org.au/get-help/onlineservices/crisischat/ or text White Wreath at 0410 526 562


Social anxiety is an extreme, debilitating version of shyness. Most people get nervous about public speaking or a job interview. But when you have social anxiety you are likely to avoid anything that makes you nervous completely. This can have a negative impact on your professional or personal life and hold you back from realising your ambitions.



Social anxiety is an extreme, debilitating version of shyness. Most people get nervous about public speaking or a job interview. But when you have social anxiety you are likely to avoid anything that makes you nervous completely. This can have a negative impact on your professional or personal life and hold you back from realising your ambitions.


Common sources of anxiety include speaking in front of large groups, making small talk, eating in front of others and using public toilets. Someone with social anxiety might fear bumping into someone they know while walking to the shops because they’d feel uncomfortable greeting them. They might become stressed waiting at a bus stop because they fear that others might look at them and judge them negatively. They might receive a promotion at work but fear the jealousy of colleagues too much to accept it. However they behave: positively or negatively, a person with social anxiety is likely to judge themselves poorly and worry they’ve done or said the wrong thing.


Social anxiety is a bit of a bitch. If you have it you can find it extremely difficult and upsetting to face certain situations. Severe social anxiety can become unbearable and if it has got to the point that it is inhibiting you at work or in your personal life, you should try to see a mental health professional. This is not always immediately possible and in the meantime there are several ways you can try to help yourself.


Dispute any negative thoughts

The most useful thing you can do for yourself is to challenge any thoughts of insufficiency or self-doubt. For example. if you are worried you will perform badly in a job interview, think back to any previous job interviews that went well or any preparation you have done that would all contribute to a successful job interview. Then reason with yourself that it could go well. If you are at a party trying to have a conversation with somebody and scared you are humiliating yourself, remind yourself that if they are still talking to you or smiling it’s a sign they are probably enjoying the conversation.


Avoid destructive thinking patterns

When we become anxious it is easy to slip into unhelpful channels of thought. To fight this requires a similar process of taking a step back and rationalising what you’re thinking. You might become convinced that you know what somebody is thinking about you. But if they haven’t said anything remember you can’t read minds. It is also easy to assume that a future event will go horribly wrong for you. But if it hasn’t happened yet it isn’t set in stone and nobody can predict the future. Also, if anything does go slightly awry, keep things in proportion. It isn’t disastrous, and others will probably forget about it long before you.

Perhaps most importantly, remember that what people say or do is not necessarily a reflection on you. Others have their own worries or insecurities.that are completely unrelated to their opinion of you. They might say something that seems like they are judging your behaviour but in fact they weren’t thinking about you at all.


Set objective goals

People with social anxiety often over-analyse their own behaviour to the point that they lose any rational perspective of themselves. To avoid blowing things out of proportion, it might be helpful to plan in advance of a nerve-racking situation. Think of, or research, several people skills you consider indisputably effective. Smiling, for example, is a very simple sign that you are a friendly person. Listening to others and showing that you understand or empathise with them by nodding or reacting to what they say. Try to come up with a list and use these as a basis for some objective goals to meet when you are in any situation you fear. At a work party, you might smile and ask three people a question. These goals will distract you and give you some objective milestones to judge your behaviour by and stop you questioning yourself.


Create a hierarchy of fears

Any one person with social anxiety will feel nervous about different situations to another person with the same condition. Some people might be most scared of giving a speech, others terrified of eating in a restaurant. By ranking your social fears from the least to the most nerve-racking you can identify which would be the easiest for you to confront first. Try to conquer the smallest fear, then once you have ticked that move up the hierarchy to tackle the next. This should help you to grow in confidence and ease your anxiety. But be gentle on yourself if it takes a while. These things take time.


Read a self-help book

A book that gives you advice for how to tackle your anxiety can help you acquire skills to combat anxiety. Books are useful because you can work through them at your own pace. For example, you might try reading ‘Overcome Anxiety: A self help toolkit for anxiety and panic attacks.’ This guide by university professor and mental health teacher, Dr Matt Lewis, provides science-based methods for tackling anxiety. It includes a programme of exercises to practice besides advice for implementing them in everyday life. It also provides access to audio clips and online resources. Otherwise you might want to try Dr. Susan Jeffers’s book ‘Feel the Fear & Do It Anyway,’ which explains various other exercises and techniques to help.


Seek professional help

Finally, remember that you are not on your own. There are many people who experience or understand anxiety who are willing to help and support you. Find a mental health professional who can give you more personalised therapy or counsel. Anxiety is incredibly difficult to face alone and it will take a while to build up the skills to cope with it.


Along the way - please remember that being patient and kind to yourself is crucial.


Big hugs!

Ellen xx

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