How To Overcome Social Anxiety, According To Experts – Forbes Health

Whether your goal is to overcome social anxiety about certain events, like presentations or parties, or you’re seeking help for social anxiety disorder, there are several strategies to consider. If your social anxiety is persistent or preventing you from living the life you want to live, Dr. Chapman to work with a therapist.

Here, experts share common strategies for overcoming social anxiety.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of treatment that examines one’s thoughts, feelings, and actions and focuses on changing patterns that lead to dysfunction. All three experts say this is a particularly effective way to overcome both social anxiety and social anxiety disorder. “The therapist will peel away the layers of anxiety related to the thoughts and behaviors that are causing it. We connect the thought process to the behaviors and incorporate new behaviors to change the thinking behind the fear,” explains Chestnut.

“With CBT, you teach the client what social anxiety is and [help pinpoint] where their fears come from,” says Dr. Chapman. For example, if someone is afraid of embarrassment, “the therapist helps the person replace those thoughts with evidence-based thoughts,” he explains. “What is the evidence that you will make a fool of yourself?” Normally, he says, the evidence isn’t there. Even if something embarrassing has happened in the past, says Dr. Chapman that the person will see that they are still fine; it wasn’t the end of the world.

Experts agree that part of CBT is actually engaging in social situations and overcoming the anxiety that comes with them. This part of CBT is called exposure therapy — an example of how it’s done, according to Dr. Chapman is outlined below:

CBT Exposure Therapy for Social Anxiety:

  • Imaginary exposure: Before actually engaging in a social setting, the therapist will talk to the client about what it will be like. You can ask the client to visualize the social environment and acknowledge any anxious feelings that arise. Together they can discuss how the client will behave in the social environment and deal with anxious feelings.
  • Low-risk fear exposure: The therapist will ask the client to be in a social environment in which they are only slightly uncomfortable. This can include a visit to the grocery store or to the cinema. In some cases, the therapist may go with the client to seek social support and see how the client is behaving in the social environment.
  • Medium risk exposure to fear: Once the client has been successful in low-risk fear exposure, the therapist will ask them to be in a social setting that makes them slightly less comfortable. The therapist is likely to have the client do this several times in different situations before moving up the anxiety hierarchy to a new environment.
  • High Risk Anxiety Exposure: Once the client has moved through the moderate-anxiety-risk social environment without feeling overly anxious, the therapist will ask them to engage in a social environment that would have made them highly uncomfortable at the beginning of their treatment. But since the client was successful in the low- and medium-risk social settings, these settings should now cause him only mild discomfort.

Psychodynamic Therapy

Psychodynamic therapy is another treatment that has been shown to be effective for social anxiety disorder. This type of therapy focuses on the psychological roots of emotional distress, according to the American Psychological Association.

Psychodynamic therapy uses self-reflection and self-examination as it is characterized by the idea that a person’s unconscious thoughts and perceptions are developed during childhood and later influence their behavior. The goal of this type of therapy is to help you identify and understand these deep-rooted feelings.

Studies have shown that psychodynamic therapy is effective for treating social anxiety disorder in both the short and long term, and some research has found it to be comparable to CBT in terms of effectiveness.

Establishment of a support system

“Having a support system is important for any type of mental illness someone suffers from, including social anxiety,” says Halstead. She explains that experiencing social anxiety can feel isolating and it can be difficult to open up to people you trust, but ultimately it can be beneficial to see firsthand that your loved ones want to support you.

dr Chapman adds that he often has patients with the condition who attend support groups with other people with social anxiety disorder. “It actually works as part of exposure therapy because a support group is inherently a social setting,” he says. “It’s an extremely safe place to open up about your experience because you know that others are experiencing it too.”

The best way to find a support group in your area is to ask a local therapist or search for social anxiety support groups in your area. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America also has a search tool for finding support groups, including those that meet virtually.

Mindfulness-based stress reduction

A very small study in the journal emotion found that mindfulness-based stress reduction can help people with social anxiety disorder, as those who engaged in a breath-focused attention task showed improvement in anxiety and depression symptoms and self-esteem. Slow, deep breathing—which is often done during mindfulness-based stress reduction—helps lower levels of cortisol (known as the “stress hormone”), leading to a calmer feeling. Because of this, simply inhaling and exhaling before an anxiety-provoking social situation can help someone feel less anxious.

Have healthy habits

Regular exercise, eating nutrient-dense foods, and getting a steady, good night’s sleep can play a supportive role in reducing social anxiety. “Exercise has a profound effect on managing anxiety in general because during exercise the body experiences the same arousal response as it does when it is in anxiety [an increase in heart rate]” says Dr. Chapman. “That’s what experiencing this arousal response does [in social situations] less threatening.” Studies have shown that regular exercise is an effective clinical treatment for people with anxiety, he says.

In terms of nutrition, Dr. Chapman that the mind and gut are closely related. Eating a diet full of nutrient-dense foods and minimizing your consumption of processed foods has been scientifically linked to reducing anxiety.

Finally, as anyone who’s ever missed a good night’s sleep knows, fatigue makes everything worse — including anxiety. “When you’re not getting enough sleep, cortisol levels rise, which can make you more anxious,” says Dr. Chapman. Aim for between seven and nine hours of sleep a night.


There are times when someone with social anxiety disorder may want to consider prescription drugs, Halstead says — for example, if you’ve tried CBT and are still having problems, talking about a prescription drug with your doctor can be something. “The most common type of medications prescribed for social anxiety disorder are [selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors] SSRIs,” she says.

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