How to Get Control When You Have Social Anxiety

Practice healhier responses to feelings of social anxiety.. Getty / Thomas Northcutt

People with social anxiety tend to think too much, let their emotions rule their thoughts, and have difficulty managing stress in the moment. Use these tips to cope when your mind is your worst enemy.

Stop Over-Thinking

Over-thinking, also known as rumination, refers to those repetitive thoughts that keep playing in your head, such as "Everyone thinks I am an idiot," or "People must see how anxious I am." Use the tips below to help manage this type of thinking.

  • Write it down: Keep a journal to keep track of when, where, why, and how you ruminate. This means writing down and keeping a record of any time you have negative thoughts or self-talk about the present, past, or future. Are you a late-night worrier? Keeping track will help you identify patterns, which is the first step to getting thoughts under control.
  • Watch for triggers: Your ruminative thoughts are almost certainly triggered by cues in your environment, whether that means slipping into worrisome thoughts once your head hits the pillow or first thing in the morning as you start contemplating your day. Instead, try changing things up in ways that break those associations. For example, read an engaging book before bed or plan to get up as soon as your alarm goes off. Doing so will help to break the worry habit you have developed
  • Develop new habits: Have an arsenal of tools at your fingertips that you can draw on when socially anxious thoughts start. These might include going for a walk, watching a favorite television show, practicing meditation, or using aromatherapy to relax. Do these things consistently over a period of a month, and they will soon become your new, healthier responses to feelings of social anxiety.
  • See a professional: Sometimes rumination is so severe that it requires the help of a professional to get it under control. If you've tried many of the strategies outlined above without success, it may be that you need the help of a therapist or counselor to put things in perspective and develop action plans to get at the root cause of your social anxiety. It may even be that the use of medication could be helpful with ruminations that don't improve with other approaches.

    Control Emotions

    People with social anxiety tend to have runaway emotions, in addition to runaway thoughts. Feelings of anxiety tend to feed on themselves, leaving you feeling even more anxious. Below are some tips to get those cycles of emotions under control.

    • Identify what you are feeling: You can't fix the way you are feeling if you don't know what you feel! Think about the last time you had severe anxiety in a social or performance situation. What triggers were present? What feelings did you have? How did you feel about those emotions?  For example, you might have had a panic attack right before a presentation at work, and those feelings of panic made you feel even more anxious and incompetent at your job. Don't judge those feelings or you risk making them worse. Rather, own them and pay attention to them.
    • Distract yourself: Sometimes you just need to calm down. In those situations, it's best to redirect your attention. Try moving your attention to other things. If a work presentation later in the day is eating away at you, try doing something that requires mental engagement, such as tackling a difficult project—that is totally unrelated. Moving your focus away from the trigger of your anxious feelings will help to get your negative emotions under control.
    • Reappraise the situation: If you find yourself in a less intense situation in which you have time to work with your thoughts, try employing the tactic of reappraisal. This method involves thinking about situations in new ways that help to reduce your negative emotions. For example, if you stumbled through your work presentation, instead of feeling incompetent, you could congratulate yourself for simply having the courage to get it done despite your fears. Doing so will help to manage your negative emotions.
    • Stop and slow down: When you do have extreme feelings of social anxiety, don't react. Instead, try doing some relaxation exercises, write in your journal (as described above), or practice meditation. Engaging in these adaptive behaviors will break the cycle between anxious thoughts and runaway emotions. Just like reading a book right before bed or jumping up with the alarm clock, having new positive activities to respond in healthier ways to old triggers will get you on the right path to managing anxious feelings.



    Sometimes you just need a way to de-stress quickly when you find yourself in a challenging social or performance situations. Below are tips to stop stress in its tracks when you find yourself in a panic.

    • Have a chat: "But I can't! What about my social anxiety?" These types of thoughts might run through your head as you think about reaching out to a friend or family member to cope with your stress. Don't let that stand in your way. Think of the person who makes you feel the least anxious and choose the easiest method of communication (think text, chat, or social media). Ideally, that person should have an upbeat attitude, the ability to laugh at life's problems, and a good dose of empathy. Choose someone who will be able to understand the stress you are going through—a fellow member from a social anxiety support group would be a great choice! If you can't find anyone in the moment, try sending off an email just to vent your feelings and alleviate tension you are feeling.
    • Use relaxation strategies: You know them all—deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery—whatever you choose, just do it! If you've never actually tried any relaxation strategies, now is the time.
    • Step back: You don't have to focus on your social anxiety! Give yourself permission to take a 20-minute time out to get perspective on what you are feeling. Go for a walk, don't fight your feelings, but rather accept them for what they are but don't focus on them. Tell yourself, "Yes I am feeling anxious, but it will pass." Taking time out may help you reframe the situation as less threatening.
    • Focus your senses outward: When social anxiety takes hold, you may find yourself focusing inward. Instead, shift your focus outward to your senses. Listen to music, inhale a lovely scent, or savor some good food. Touch and sight can also be engaged by stroking a pet or taking in beautiful artwork. Bring your awareness to the present to help detach yourself from your stress.


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