How to get over social anxiety

Naomi Carr
Author: Naomi Carr Medical Reviewer: Morgan Blair Last updated:

Social anxiety disorder is a common condition that can cause feelings of intense anxiety in certain social situations. There are various medications and therapies available to treat social anxiety disorder, as well as several tips and techniques that you can practice by yourself to improve your symptoms.

What is social anxiety disorder?

Social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia, is a specific type of anxiety disorder that causes intense fear and sometimes panic attacks when faced with certain social situations. These social situations can include interactions with others, being looked at, or performing [1].

Social anxiety disorder can cause significant impairments in social, professional, and academic functioning and a reduced quality of life. Impairments are caused by the extreme fear that is experienced and potentially avoidant behaviors [2].

Symptoms of social anxiety disorder can include [3][4]:

  • Feeling very worried or anxious about upcoming social events
  • Worrying about interacting with people in public, such as in the supermarket or on public transport
  • Avoiding situations and activities because of anxiety
  • A constant fear of being judged or critiqued
  • Being unable to make or maintain eye contact with others during a conversation
  • Feeling too afraid to speak in front of others, such as presenting a project at work or school
  • Physical sensations such as shaking, sweating, dry mouth, difficulty concentrating or speaking, and fast heart rate
  • Panic attacks before or during social situations

How to overcome social anxiety: Top Tips

Social anxiety disorder can cause significant difficulties in everyday life, so you might find it useful to practice some techniques to help you manage your symptoms and fears.

Improve self-esteem

In some cases, social anxiety stems from low self-esteem, so increasing your confidence and belief in yourself can help to reduce the severity of your social anxiety [2].

You could try starting the day with positive affirmations, such as telling yourself ‘I am smart’, ‘I am strong’, ‘I am fun and kind’. It might feel silly at first but by repeating phrases like this to yourself, your emotions will begin to respond to them. Over time you may begin to feel more confident, thus helping to reduce your symptoms of anxiety.

Similarly, you could try ending the day by complimenting yourself. For example, you could say, ‘It was kind of me to help my colleague with her work today’, ‘I did really well on my science quiz today’, or ‘I told a funny joke today’. By practicing saying positive things to yourself, you can increase your confidence and positive thinking in anxiety-provoking situations [5].

Set reasonable expectations for yourself

It is common for people with social anxiety disorder to fear making mistakes in social situations and, thereby, making a fool of themselves. However, it is important to remember that nobody is perfect and everyone makes mistakes. Mistakes don’t mean that you have failed or done a bad job.

Telling yourself that everything you do must be perfect will only set you up for further anxiety, because it is impossible to be perfect all the time. Success means trying your best. By setting reasonable expectations for yourself you can reduce the pressure and anxiety you feel [6][7].

Focus on the situation

With social anxiety, it is common to focus on internal feelings and sensations when feeling anxious, such as thinking about how fast your heart is beating or worrying about blushing. However, by thinking about these things, it is likely that they will actually get worse [6].

Instead, try focusing on the external situation, by concentrating on the things that are happening in front of you. By being engaged in the situation, you distract your thoughts from your internal sensations. This can reduce the symptoms of your anxiety and make it easier to cope with the situation.

Gradually increase exposure

Social anxiety can result in regularly avoiding anxiety-provoking situations. However, this can reinforce feelings of anxiety. Never facing your fear and maintaining a ‘safe’ environment will prevent exposure to situations in which you can practice social skills and grow in confidence [6].

Instead, try to gradually increase your exposure to the feared situation. Try making a list of all the situations you usually avoid and order them from the least scary to the scariest. Start with the least scary situation, and gradually work your way down.

This way, you can practice your coping strategies in situations that don’t cause a great deal of anxiety, thereby building your confidence and tolerance until you are able to face your most-feared situation with confidence [8].

Question your thoughts

Social anxiety disorder might cause you to believe that others are judging you, thinking that you look foolish, or that you are incapable. Try questioning these negative thoughts when they arise and consider if they are actually true. Remind yourself that you don’t know what people are thinking and there is probably no evidence to support these thoughts [3].

If negative thoughts arise, try instead thinking of positive aspects of yourself. Maybe people are thinking that you are very kind, funny, smart, or interesting. Try to consider these ideas instead to form new beliefs and ways of thinking about yourself [7].

Keep a diary

Each time you face a fear, such as attending an event, performing in front of others, or going into a public space, try writing about it in a diary after.

Write down the situation, how you felt, what you thought, and any techniques you used to cope with negative thoughts and feelings [3].

This can help you to learn what might be triggering for you and which techniques are the most helpful, while also documenting your improvements as you face more challenging situations and reduce your feelings of anxiety [8].

Breathing exercises

Along with various other symptoms, anxiety and panic attacks can cause labored breathing and an increased heart rate. By practicing slow, deep breathing, you can potentially reduce these physical sensations. You may also help to reduce the emotional responses you feel in these situations [3][6].

Try taking a deep breath in for 5 seconds, holding for 2 seconds, and breathing out slowly for 5 seconds. Continue this for a few minutes and you will likely notice a reduction in your anxiety symptoms [9].

Practicing breathing exercises when you don’t feel anxious can also make it easier to remember to utilize this technique in challenging situations when symptoms are at their most severe [3].

Be prepared

If your anxiety is related to a performance, such as playing an instrument in a concert, presenting a project at school or work, or entering a sports competition, ensuring you are prepared can help to ease your anxieties. It may be useful to practice by performing for your family or friends at home to build your confidence [6].

However, it is important not to try and prepare too much when facing a social interaction, such as rehearsing conversation topics beforehand. This can make it harder to manage natural conversations and changes in topic, which may result in an increase in anxiety [10].

When to seek professional help

If you find that your social anxiety is causing you to avoid a lot of school, work, or social events, or you find that your symptoms are becoming worse, you should seek professional help. A doctor or mental health professional can help you manage your condition with appropriate treatment and support [3].

Appropriate treatment might include [1][3][11]:


Your doctor might prescribe you with an antidepressant, antihistamine, benzodiazepine, or beta-blocker, to use as a short-term or long-term treatment for your anxiety symptoms.

Always take medication exactly as prescribed to prevent adverse effects.


Your doctor might advise that you attend therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, as this can help you to change your negative thoughts and behaviors, increase your tolerance of emotional distress, and reduce your anxiety symptoms.

They might also recommend exposure therapy or virtual reality therapy to help you increase your tolerance of certain situations and gradually reduce your social anxiety.

  1. National Institute of Mental Health. (Revised 2022). Social Anxiety Disorder: More Than Just Shyness. NIH. Retrieved from
  2. Anxiety & Depression Association of America. (Updated 2023). Social Anxiety Disorder. ADAA. Retrieved from
  3. National Health Service. (Reviewed 2020). Social Anxiety (Social Phobia). NHS. Retrieved from
  4. American Psychiatric Association. (2013, text revision 2022). Anxiety Disorders – Social Anxiety Disorder. In The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed., text rev.). APA. Retrieved from
  5. Center for Clinical Interventions. (Updated 2019). Self-Esteem. CCI. Retrieved from
  6. NHS Inform. (Updated 2021). Social Anxiety Self-Help Guide. NHS. Retrieved from
  7. Center for Clinical Interventions. (Updated 2019). Social Anxiety. CCI. Retrieved from
  8. Anxiety Canada. (n.d). Exposure. Retrieved from
  9. National Health Service. (Reviewed 2022). Breathing Exercises for Stress. NHS. Retrieved from
  10. Center for Clinical Interventions. (2020). Stepping out of Social Anxiety. CCI. Retrieved from—Module-5—Safety-Behaviours.pdf
  11. Pelissolo, A., Abou Kassm, S., & Delhay, L. (2019). Therapeutic Strategies for Social Anxiety Disorder: Where Are We Now? Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics, 19(12), 1179–1189. Retrieved from
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Naomi Carr
Author Naomi Carr Writer

Naomi Carr is a writer with a background in English Literature from Oxford Brookes University.

Published: May 10th 2023, Last edited: Sep 22nd 2023

Morgan Blair
Medical Reviewer Morgan Blair MA, LPCC

Morgan Blair is a licensed therapist, writer and medical reviewer, holding a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling from Northwestern University.

Content reviewed by a medical professional. Last reviewed: May 10th 2023