Self-Help Strategies for Social Anxiety Disorder

Use deep breathing for self-help.
Deep breathing is a self-help strategy.. Getty / Cultura / Sean Malyon

Self-help strategies for social anxiety disorder can be used at home to overcome your symptoms.

Part of the problem with having social anxiety in the first place is that you haven’t had enough positive experiences of being in the right frame of mind socially—a place where your body is relaxed, your breathing is slow and natural, and your mind is free of negative thoughts.

You can’t be anxiety-free in feared situations without first training your mind and body to behave in a non-anxious way.

Although these behaviors may seem awkward and unnatural at first, over time they will become automatic.

The Clinical Research Unit for Anxiety and Depression at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia offers some basic self-help strategies to aid those with social anxiety disorder (SAD) to reduce anxiety in social situations. Although treatment is available and effective for SAD, only 25% of people with the disorder ever receive treatment.

While not a substitute for professional treatment, for those that may otherwise receive no help, self-help is a good starting point.

Below are three areas that you can work on through self-help strategies.


You probably breathe too quickly in anxiety-provoking situations, which in turn makes your other anxiety symptoms worse. This is part of the “fight-or-flight response.” Below are some steps to get control of your breathing.

  1. Count the number of breaths that you take in one minute (count an inhale and exhale as one). Make a note of this number. The average person will take 10 to 12 breaths per minute.
  1. Focus on your breathing. Inhale and exhale through your nose. Take deep breaths from your diaphragm instead of shallow breaths in your chest. Inhale for 3 seconds and exhale for 3 seconds (use a watch or clock with a second hand). As you exhale think “relax” and release tension in your muscles. Continue breathing this way for 5 minutes.
  1. Count your breaths per minute again and see if the number has gone down.
  2. Practice this breathing technique 4 times per day when you are already relaxed.

When in social situations, make sure that you are breathing the way that you practiced. In time, this way of breathing will become automatic.

Read: How to Practice Deep Breathing

Negative Automatic Thoughts

You probably misinterpret comments or facial expressions made by other people. In particular, there are two common thought patterns that contribute to your anxiety.

  • Mindreading. You assume that you know what other people are thinking about you (such as "Everyone can see how anxious I am").
  • Personalizing. You assume that the behaviors of others are related to you (such as "He looks bored, I shouldn’t have invited him to this movie").

Read: 10 Thought Patterns to Avoid if You Have Social Anxiety

The thoughts that you have are so automatic that you probably don’t even realize you are thinking them. Below are some steps to getting a handle on your negative thoughts.

  1. Think back to a recent social situation in which you felt anxious. Write down what your negative thoughts were before, during and after the situation.
  2. Ask yourself questions to challenge your negative thoughts. For example, if your negative automatic thought is "People are yawning, they must think that I am boring," ask yourself "Could there be a different explanation?" In this case, your alternative thought may be "It probably has nothing to do with me, they are just tired."
  3. Try to notice the automatic negative thoughts that you have before, during, and after feared social situations, and challenge them with alternatives.

Read: How to Stop Thinking Negatively

Facing Your Fears

Although in the short term, avoiding feared situations may reduce your anxiety, in the long term it severely limits your life.

In addition, the number of situations that you fear grows as your fear becomes more general. You need gradual exposure to social situations as part of reducing the anxiety associated with them.

Below are some steps to overcoming avoidance.

  • Identify the top 10 situations that you avoid.
  • For each situation on the list, break the goal down into a series of steps, increasing in difficulty. For example, if you are afraid of being the center of attention, your steps might look like this:
    1. Tell a funny story about yourself to a group of people that you know well.
    2. Tell a funny story about yourself to a group of people that you don’t know well.
    3. Voice your true opinion to a group of friends.
    4. Voice your true opinion to a group of strangers.
    5. Make a toast at dinner with people that you know well.
    6. Make a toast at dinner with people that you don't know well.
  • Practice each step as much as you need before moving on to the next. If you notice anxiety, challenge your negative thinking and use the slow breathing technique to relax.

Over time, as you practice relaxation, challenge negative thoughts, and face feared situations, you will find it easier to stay anxiety-free in stressful situations.

Read Next: How to Practice Exposure Therapy for Social Anxiety Disorder


Andrews, G. (Ed.). (2007). Clinical Research Unit for Anxiety and Depression, UNSW. Self Help for Social Phobia. Accessed February 23, 2016.

Lewis C, Pearce J, Bisson JI. Efficacy, cost-effectiveness and acceptability of self-help interventions for anxiety disorders: systematic review. Br J Psychiatry. 2012;200(1):15-21.

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