How to Accept Social Anxiety

Why You Should Not Try to Control Your Social Anxiety

If you suffer with social anxiety disorder (SAD), you might be looking for a quick fix that will completely eliminate anxious feelings. If your goal is never to feel anxious again, you will probably leave treatment, feeling as though things haven't been fixed. The truth is that most people feel a little anxious in some social and performance situations, and those with SAD will probably always experience some anxiety in those settings.

One of the goals of treatment for social anxiety disorder is to understand that anxious feelings are not the end of the world. Treatments such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), mindfulness-based approaches and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) teach that your ultimate goal should be to develop a more accepting attitude toward anxiety. Instead of trying to control and eliminate anxious feelings, you should learn how to tolerate them.

Imagine that you are giving a speech and feel as though you can't catch your breath. As you overreact to this initial anxious feeling, your mind starts to race and negative thoughts spiral out of control. Your thoughts cause further anxious reactions, such as a rapidly beating heart, and you soon become overwhelmed.

Learning to accept feelings of anxiety helps prevent them from spiraling out of control. Instead of thinking, "I need to stop this anxiety, I can't deal with it," focus instead on such thoughts as, "I know I feel a little bit anxious, but that happens sometimes and it will soon pass." It is the fear of fear that starts the cycle of panic.

When you let go of the fear, the anxiety gradually lessens.

You might still be worried that people will notice your anxious symptoms even if they don't spiral into a full-blown panic attack. Although this is possible, they probably notice a lot less than you expect. In most cases even if they do notice, they will probably react with feelings of sympathy.

If you practice being more accepting of your anxious feelings, over time you will notice that they become less objectionable and that fighting against them seems like an effort. Instead of trying to control your anxious feelings, you will learn to ride the wave of anxiety until it gradually diminishes. Although the process takes time and effort, it is worth the reduction that you will see in your symptoms of social anxiety.


MM, Roth Ledley D, Heimberg RG. (2005). Improving outcomes and preventing relapse in cognitive-behavioral therapy. New York: Guilford.

Antony, MM, Stein, MB. Oxford handbook of anxiety and related disorders. New York: Oxford University Press; 2008.

Clark DA, Beck AT. (2011). Cognitive therapy of anxiety disorders: Science and practice. New York: Guilford.

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