How to Overcome Debilitating Social Anxiety

According to the Wikipedia article on Social Anxiety, some 13.3% of the population will suffer from it at some point in their lives. Obviously, there are degrees along this continuum, from shyness to debilitating panic at the mere thought of a social situation. This article will be primarily focused on the latter.


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    Understand the menace that you're facing: anxiety. What causes it? Is it social situations of a particular sort, such as conversing with the opposite sex or giving a public speech, or is it everything that puts you in the eyesight of another human being? Be clear about what specific events trigger anxiety.
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    Understand what responses you have become habituated to doing when you become anxious in a social situation. Many people sweat, feel nauseous, and/or shut down. This can lead to a vicious circle in settings like a cocktail party, where you feel anxious, so you shut down, and then you feel more anxious because you're standing there alone.
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    To synthesize the first two steps, you know what causes your anxiety, and how you react to escape those situations. This is when you create a plan for attacking your anxiety head on! What many advocate is a routine of exposure therapy that doesn't let up until you're anxiety free. With each experience, the situation you face becomes broader, to gradually change you from being anxious in social situations to being calm, collected, and having fun in them.Write down a plan of ten or so difficult social situations for you to be in.
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    Once you've got your list of tasks to challenge your anxiety, then you should try to rank them from least to most intimidating. Perhaps, if you're most afraid of trying to converse with a stranger, that should be towards the end. Going out for a walk and saying "hi" to passers by (and maybe, if you're ambitious, making conversation) might be an example of something slightly lower.
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    How exposure therapy works is that you should start slowly with the situation that you expect won't give you very much trouble at all. A casual walk around the block might do it. Now, get to it, and start walking!
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    While you're completing the first task, make a mental note of how you're doing in terms of social anxiety, and take a periodical measure of your anxiety on a one to ten scale. Stay out in the situation, "exposing" yourself for about forty-five minutes or so. By the conclusion of this exposure, you should recognize a significant drop in your anxiety levels. Keep up the good work!
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    How did you feel with the first exposure? Did you feel highly anxious, somewhat anxious, or completely calm? Unless you said "completely calm," it's recommended that you do the same exercise again, until you feel completely at ease in the situation. Then, and only then, progress to the next rungs.
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    Follow this plan of exposures with progressively higher anxiety-provoking situations until become calm and collected. Hopefully, with enough time and practice, you will achieve the success that many individuals have felt from using this simple technique. Good luck, and never forget that you aren't the only one that's dealing with these issues.


  • Meditation and/or deep breathing relaxation practices may help you with exposure therapy.
  • The whole point of exposure therapy is to expose oneself to an anxiety-provoking situation, and then stay in that situation until the defensive mechanisms and anxiety subside. The technical reasoning behind this is that socially anxious people have paired social situations-->anxiety. This is broken by this practice...after you do it frequently enough, the new pair is formed whereby social situations-->calmness and fun.
  • When you get into the higher steps of exposure therapy, it isn't uncommon for there to be significant anxiety that hinders your ability to want to stay in the situation. Regardless of these feelings, try to maintain control with deep breathing and relax for a brief moment. Stay in the social situation, and the anxiety will gradually dissipate.
  • Try to approach any anxiety provoking situation as an experiment rather than doing your best to control your anxiety.
  • Cognitive and Behavioral Therapies have a tremendous wealth of information on helping to solve dysfunctional thoughts and behaviors.
  • Forums such as may help you in this battle.

Article Info

Categories: Social Anxiety | Overcoming Shyness & Insecurities