10 Things You Should Never Say to Someone with Social Anxiety Disorder

You May Be Inadvertently Worsening Someone's Social Anxiety Symptoms

man and woman having serious talk
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People with social anxiety disorder (SAD) are sometimes put on the spot in one-on-one or group conversations. Usually this comes in the form of a comment or question that somehow embarrasses, singles out or worsens the anxiety of the person being addressed.

Below are 10 of the worst things that you can say to someone with social anxiety. You may recognize using some of these in the past. While you may have meant it innocently, be aware that these comments and questions can make someone with social anxiety very uncomfortable:  

  1. "Why are you so quiet?" Although the question might seem innocent enough to you, it is one of the most unhelpful things that can be said to a person with SAD. Not only are you singling out someone who doesn't want to be the center of attention, but you are bringing attention to that person's anxiety; there really is no good way to respond to this question.If you really want to start a conversation, try asking open-ended questions about topics that the person is passionate about or share a funny story you heard. He or she will be grateful you took the lead.
  2. "You just need to think positive." You would never tell people with a physical disability that they'd get over it if they thought positively; it's just as silly to say it to someone with a mental illness. A person with SAD has problematic thought patterns outside his control, and these patterns are not easily changed without outside intervention. Although you may think that your advice is helpful, it trivializes the problem and places the blame on the person for not being able to "out-think" the disorder.
  1. "You just need to face your fears." This comment goes hand-in-hand with thinking positive. Although a person with SAD does need to face his fears, it needs to be done in a gradual way with professional supervision. Otherwise, anxiety can become so intense that the fear is increased rather than lessened.
  1. "I know how you feel -- I'm shy too." There is nothing worse than hearing that someone knows how you feel when they clearly don't. If you feel a little nervous before giving speeches, don't tell a person with SAD that you know how he feels. Also, don't tell him that you used to be shy but you got over it and he can too. It minimizes his feelings by comparing it to yours. Unless you have been diagnosed with SAD, you can't understand how a person with SAD feels.
  2. "I need you to make a presentation in our meeting tomorrow." If you have an employee with SAD, be sure to give that person plenty of notice about social or performance job-related expectations such as presentations, employee luncheons or even casual discussions in meetings. A person with SAD does not react well to being put on the spot. If you truly value your employee, respect his need for advance notice and give it.
  3. "Why don't you have a drink to loosen up?" Although most mean well when they advise that a person with SAD have a drink to relieve anxiety, it is a dangerous suggestion. People with SAD are at an increased risk for substance abuse disorders and it is never good idea to rely on a substance as a crutch. Drinking as a way of coping with social anxiety can lead to the development of alcoholism.
  1. "Wow, your face just turned really red." Chances are, the person whose face just turned red knows that it happened. And, you pointing it out probably made it turn three shades brighter. People who blush easily, whether they have SAD or not, generally don't like being made the center of attention when it happens. It's not something they can control and it will only embarrass them more. 
  2. "Let me order for you." Although it can be tempting to talk for a person with SAD, doing so both undermines that person's confidence and takes away an opportunity for him to practice social skills. If you know someone with the disorder, be patient and supportive, but do not speak on his behalf.
  3. "Your hands were shaking during your speech." Again, chances are the person giving the speech knows that her hands shook the whole time. Finding out that other people noticed as well is only going to make things worse. Instead, find something positive to say about the speech and congratulate her on a job well done.
  4. "SAD isn't a real disorder. You're just shy." The attitude that people with the disorder are simply shy is part of the reason why most sufferers never seek help or receive treatment. SAD is more than shyness. It is a disorder that affects every aspect of daily life. It is irresponsible to debate the legitimacy of something if you know little about it and have not experienced it firsthand.

When speaking with someone with SAD, remember that the person wants to feel like you are listening and interested in what he has to say. Above all else, don't be critical, overbearing or try to get too personal. Find common interests and take it slow; you may just end up making a new friend.


Anxiety and Depression Association of America. "Tips to Manage Anxiety and Stress". 2015. 

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