How to Overcome a Social Phobia
Some people can have serious problems trying to communicate with peers that are associated with feelings of anxiety or fear. If this is something you deal with, you may have a social phobia, also called social anxiety disorder. There are many steps you can take to help you deal more effectively with day to day interactions.
Confronting Social Anxiety Disorder
Confront your negative thoughts.Social anxiety disorder can cause you to think negative thoughts about yourself when faced with a social situation. You may think "I'll look like a fool" or "I'm going to humiliate myself." The first step to overcoming them is to identify the thoughts when they pop into you head.Knowing what is causing social phobia can help you overcome it.
- Stop yourself when you think these thoughts and say, "No, I will not look like a fool. I am strong and competent and I'm going to get through this."
Test the reality of your fear.After you have confronted and identified the thoughts, analyze the fear. Try to overwrite the negative thoughts in your brain with positive, realistic ones.
- Ask yourself questions about your negative thoughts. For example, ask "Do I know I'm going to humiliate myself" or "How do I know I'm going to blow my presentation?" Then ask yourself, "Will it be the end of the world if I mess up?" The logical answers to the questions are: more than likely, you will not humiliate yourself or mess up. Even if you do mess up, you are human, as is everyone watching you. Even professionals mess up.
Stop unrealistic predictions.One unhelpful thing people do when dealing with social fears is make false, unrealistic predictions about the social situation. You can't predict what will happen. If you try, you will only come up with the worst case scenario, which will not be close to a realistic reflection of the actual event. This only causes unnecessary anxiety.
- Remember that you have the power to change your exaggerated thoughts. For example, if you're going to a wedding, focus on the fact that you won't be the center of attention.
- Visualize being at the wedding and speaking confidently to others and enjoying yourself.
Realize that not everyone is judging you.Often times social fears can be a result of thinking that everyone around you is passing judgment on you. If so, take a step back, and realize that most people aren't focused on you. If they are focused on you, they are not thinking the same negative thoughts as you are.
- Don't try to read people's minds. You can't know what people are thinking. Plus, they do not see the same negative self that you see in your mind.
- Use social situations to practice changing negative thoughts about yourself, and practice stopping and altering your thoughts about judgement from others.
Understand that everyone feels anxiety.You are not the only person that feels anxiety in social situations. Over 12% of the population has it, and that number is increasing.
- Understanding this can help put you on the same level as everyone around you. You are not alone in your fears. Also, since everyone feels anxiety from time to time, remembering this can help you realize people won't criticize or judge you if they realize you are anxious.
Understand overcoming this will take practice.Overcoming your social anxiety won't happen overnight. It takes commitment and lots of practice. You are learning new behaviors, new patterns of thinking, and new social skills. This all takes practice. However, little by little, you will learn these new skills and start being able to overcome or manage your phobia.
Change your focus.One of the ways to help reduce your anxiety is to take the focus off of yourself in social situations. Try to pay attention to your surroundings, the conversation, and connecting with the people around you.
- Begin to understand that although you are focused with how others will think of you, everyone else is not as focused on you. If you say or do something embarrassing, others may not even notice. Or if they do, they will quickly forget it.
- Try to focus on other things when you notice your physical symptoms in social situations. You are not being as obvious as you think. It is very rare that others can notice physical symptoms of anxiety or even panic attacks. Instead notice your experience of the event, such as music you hear, how each bite of food tastes, or other entertainment such as art or dancing.
- Most people are just as nervous in social situations as you are. They are too busy focused on themselves.
Working on Your Fears
Take gradual steps.Make a list of 10 situations that cause you anxiety. Rank them, placing the most stressful at the top. Starting at the bottom, try to gradually face each anxiety-inducing situation.
- Wait until you feel moderately comfortable with the previous situation before moving to the more stressful one. You want to overcome your anxiety, not increase it.
- This list may take awhile to get through, and that's okay. You may never reach number 10. But if you have conquered 1-7, you have made your social phobia significantly more manageable.
- If you feel you are struggling through this, contact a mental health professional who can offer you support while you attempt to face each fear on your list.
Make observable goals for yourself.Getting over your social anxiety may seem like a nebulous process. How do you know if you are getting better? Just putting yourself in social situations isn't enough. That might be step 1, but after that, you need to work on interacting more. Make goals for yourself for each social outing. As you accomplish your goals, you can start to see progress and improvement in yourself.
- Make small talk with people you see often, such as employees, schoolmates, or other people that you come in contact with. This may be just a comment on the weather, your homework or work project, or the meeting you had earlier. Start by giving yourself a goal of speaking to one person once a week. Then increase it to every day, or speaking to multiple people in one day.
- Make a goal to make one comment in class or in your meeting. Don't worry about what everyone else thinks. Focus on the fact thatyou did it.That is progress.
- If you are in a group setting, make a pact with yourself to say at least 3 comments in the conversation.
- Ask someone to dinner. It can be as a friend or as a date. Don't focus on the response - only focus on the fact that you were assertive and asked.
- This helps you focus on the task and the goal, not the nerves. The idea here is to get control of the situation. You know you can control what you do, what you say, and what you ask. You can't control the other person, so don't worry about them.
- You can even try practicing with a friend at home what you’ll do or say in social situations.
Relax.Try to program yourself to stop worrying about social situations. Instead, relax. Worrying and stressing about the event causes you to have anxiety when you finally get to the situation.
- Try thinking about the event while you are relaxed. Take a warm bath, curl up in a cozy blanket, or listen to your favorite song. Think about the upcoming event. Since you are in a good, relaxed head space, this can help you feel better about the upcoming event.
- Imagine that you are in the situation. Imagine yourself relaxed and confident. Thinking about the situation in a positive, relaxed way can help you overcome negative thoughts.
Practice deep breathing.Deep breathing can be a great way to manage anxiety during or before social situations. Deep breathing can help reduce the physical symptoms of your anxiety, many of which are a result of breathing too quickly. Do breathing exercises everyday so it becomes second nature and comes naturally when you're in a stressful situation.
- Breathe through your abdomen, not your chest. To do this, lay on the floor or sit straight in a chair. Place a hand on your chest, the other on your abdomen. As you inhale, the hand on your abdomen should move while the one on your chest stays mostly at the same place.
- Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose. Hold for a count of 7. Exhale slowly through your mouth for a count of 8. Gently contract your abdominal muscles to get all the air from the lungs. This is extremely important.
- Complete 5 deep breaths. Try 1 deep breath per 10 seconds.
Find support from friends and family.Talking to family and friends about your problems is extremely important. A good friend or family member will help to motivate you and help you overcome your fear. Ask these people to help support you as you gain the courage to try something new.
- Ask your family or friends to go places with you that cause anxiety. Sometimes going to new places with someone you trust can help reduce your anxiety.
- Make sure you lean on supportive, positive, and encouraging friends and family members. If they are negative, put you down, lecture you, or criticize you, find someone else to support you.
Interacting in Social Situations
Socialize more.Although you may be terrified of putting yourself in social situations, you should seek out social situations. The more you avoid something, the more control it has over your mind. The anxiety around it will grow until it becomes something you fear. The more you get used to something, the less fear and control it has over you.
- Try making spaces yours. Anything is nerve-wracking when it's unfamiliar. Go to a restaurant, a part of town, or your gym. Walk around. Become familiar with it. Once you start to become familiar with a place, it can feel more comfortable. Plus, you start to put your focus on your surroundings. Then you can start socializing with people.
- Take someone with you. You don't have to do this alone. Take a friend or family member to an event. Start small. Take a free class at a community center, go to a group class at the gym, volunteer, or join a meet up group and attend a gathering.
Find a club, team, or a group that relates to one of your interests and skills.Finding people with similar interests can help you interact with people. Clubs and groups may give you a smaller environment to socialize in, which may help your anxiety. This makes it easier to force yourself to talk, because you can't just get lost in the crowd.
Concentrate on the conversation.When you are in a social situation, try concentrating on the conversation instead of your own anxieties. This helps you connect with the other people, which is a good thing, and offers you opportunities to talk. When you start to worry about how you look to everyone else, pause and refocus on the present moment. Add comments and talk when it seems natural.
- Focus on the present, instead of replaying things that have already happened.
Try to tough it out.When you are in a situation that causes you anxiety, try to hang in there. At first, the anxiety may feel unbearable, but anxiety gradually lessens the longer you are in a situation. Try to stay in the situation until your anxiety reduces by half. This may take up to half an hour, but oftentimes it lessens quickly.
- Some social situations are quick, like saying hello or making small talk. Although that may cause anxiety that you can't wait through, you can feel good about speaking to the person and making small talk.
Observe and listen when in large groups.Large group situations are great places to practice. You can socialize and be around other people without being the center of attention. There are a bunch of people contributing into the conversation, so don't feel like you're pressured to say something. Try to be comfortable. Look around at the other people in the room. Are they all focused on you? Or are they enjoying everyone's company?
- When you get a chance to contribute something meaningful that you think the others will appreciate, throw it in there. You'll do just fine.
- This is a great place to make goals for yourself. Start by saying you'll say one thing in the conversation, and increase as you get more comfortable.
Remember that most people don't focus on your flaws.Most people don't pay attention to people's flaws. Most people make an effort to pay attention to the good things people do and say. Feel confident in this knowledge and express your good qualities. Be yourself. Most people will enjoy your company.
- Those who pick at your flaws usually do so because of a lack of self-esteem on their part. If they are judging you, you don't want to be around them in the first place.
Be friendly and kind.People like to be around people who make them happy, and kindness is a really easy way to make others happy. Give genuine compliments, make eye contact, show interest, and smile. Whatever you can do to brighten someone's day is a point in your favor.
See your doctor.If you believe you have social anxiety, go see your doctor. Many doctors will work with you to make your visit as easy and anxiety-free as possible. Some may discuss your condition with you over the phone, while others may give you an appointment time before or after business hours. Speak with your doctor so you can start taking steps to helping your phobia.
Try therapy.If your social anxiety is too bad to manage on your own, consult a professional. Therapy may be key to overcoming social anxiety. A therapist can help you with Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), which teaches you a different way of thinking, behaving, and reacting to social situations. It can help you feel less anxious and fearful.
- CBT helps you learn how to manage physical symptoms through relaxation and breathing, replace negative thoughts with more balanced ones, and gradually face social situations.
Take part in group therapy.In group therapy situations, you undergo CBT in a group setting. This includes role-playing, social skills training, acting, video taping, and mock interviews. These exercises are supposed to help you face situations that would make you anxious in the real world and prepare for them.
Join a support group.A support group is different than group therapy because it's aimed at helping you gain support you need during your recovery. Support groups can help you not feel isolated with your anxiety. You can look for support groups in your areas.
- Try a CBT based self-help app like Joyable. . This app pairs cognitive techniques, education, and a personal coach to help you through social anxiety.
Use medication.Sometimes medication can be used to help with the symptoms of social anxiety, but medicine will not cure it. As soon as you stop the medication, symptoms such as anxiety will return. Medicine is generally used alongside therapy and self-help techniques.
- Common medications used are Beta blockers for performance anxiety that help the physical symptoms of anxiety, antidepressants, and benzodiazepines.
QuestionHow do I respond when someone insults me?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerSay something witty back, like "thanks for the information!" Show them it doesn't bother you. You can also just ignore them entirely, they'll get the message.Thanks!
QuestionI had a very important dinner engagement set with a new business prospect and when the date arrived, I cancelled, saying I was sick. What should I do?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYou should reschedule and keep your appointment if you want to move forward with the business prospect. Perhaps practicing your talking points with someone or speaking to your doctor about your anxiety could help.Thanks!
QuestionHow can I find local support groups for social phobia?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYou can try searching online for "social phobia support groups in..." and include your city. That should give you a list of existing support groups. If there isn't one, maybe you could consider starting one.Thanks!
How do I overcome my aversion to starting conversations with anyone or make friends?
- Do things one step at a time.
- Be positive.
- Be yourself.
- You will have set backs. This happens to everyone. Don't dwell on failure. Remember, you are learning. Think of ways that you will do better next time.
- Find people who are right for you. Choose those who make you happiest over those who look popular and cool.
- Be comfortable. They're just people, and there are over 7 billion of them in the world.
- There are social phobia groups. If there's one near your area, have the courage to visit. You'll meet some really nice people who are really keen to met you.
- Don't avoid things. Every time you avoid an event, person, or a situation, you let your social anxiety win. You will be proud of yourself later and feel much more confident in social situations. The more you avoid an uncomfortable situation, the worse it can become.
- Don't get all stressed out if some people don't like you. Everybody has people that don't like them.
- Don't get discouraged. Have perseverance and patience because in the end the results will be worth all the work and courage you had to muster up for it.
Sources and Citations
- Barlow, David H (2014). Clinical Handbook of Psychological Disorders: A step-by-step treatment manual. 5th ed. The Guilford Press; New York.
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