5 tips to overcome social anxiety

In general, we Brits believe Americans are filled with confidence. But, did you know that (on average) about 15 million of those wonderful spearheading folk suffer from social anxiety? And apparently, city life is encouraging this number to grow. Research has found that those who live in rural settings have more confidence than those who live in the cities.


Social anxiety is something that has been found to have a negative effect on your life. Whether you live in the city of London or on a farm in the middle of Worcestershire, social anxiety disorder affects self-esteem and our interaction with others.

If you are able to conquer social anxiety and find yourself in a party-type scenario, then take a look around the room. At least one person in every 13 present at that party will probably be suffering with social anxiety. Unfortunately, you might be that one.

A social situation doesn't have to mean a wild party, it could be a networking event, a company meeting, getting up and speaking to a crowd. Social situations can also have an impact on your dating and relationships, too.

Thankfully, you can learn to control the effect that social anxiety disorder has on your life and I've collected five tips to get your social anxiety down to a manageable level so you can at least be at ease, if not as confident as an American cowboy!

1. Appearance

How you think people see you can have an impact on those uncontrollable thoughts racing around your head. You might believe that if you’re dressed inappropriately, folk will look down on you. Also, those anxious pangs tickle your tummy (not in a good way), when you think about telling them about what you do for a living. You possibly think folk won’t understand you or, worse, that they won’t be interested. You'll have this nagging sensation inside you that's screaming at you... "You have nothing of value to offer!" 

Thoughts might be doing a hundred-meter run around your mind - thoughts like:

  • "They'll talk to someone more interesting than me!"
  • "They'll think I'm ugly!"
  • "My breath smells!"
  • "My teeth are crooked!"

The key to conquering social anxiety in this instance is to build your confidence. You do this by getting involved in activities that make you feel good - about you. This can be done in a number of different ways:

  • By acting as though you're a different person.
  • Speaking with a favourite accent.
  • Wearing a blouse in a colour that makes you shine.

This can be done by practising in the quiet comfort of your own home, in front of the mirror. The secret is to 'play' at making your confidence come to the surface - before you meet others.

You can kick social anxiety into touch this way because you'll already know where confidence comes from. Inside you.

2. Start small

Before you throw yourself into one of the biggest parties on the planet, you can start small. You do this by making a commitment to yourself, to do at least one act of confidence boosting every day. Something that creates a tingle in your tummy and a flutter in your heart or, to put it another way, something that makes you feel uncomfortable.

Trust me, it won't be the end of the world if you don't succeed when you're on your own, no one is going to know but you. 

When you feel more confident inside, you can begin to stretch the boundaries a bit each day by putting yourself into a slightly larger, more exposed, situation. Something like, when you're at the shops, see another customer trying to choose something from the chiller and make a throw-away comment about the products on display, smile, then walk away. Or, say "Hello" to someone as you pass them by on the street. There's no need to stay for their reaction. Just say it and walk away.

As you do something a little more scary every day, eventually, they won't seem so scary at all. Of course, it's going to be scary. But to borrow a well-worn phrase: "Practice makes perfect."

3. Practice! Practice! Practice!

Once you have it in your mind to practice something new every day, you'll find that opportunities to practice will come to you naturally. Initially, it may feel forced, but carry on making yourself feel vulnerable, you'll start thinking less about how you feel and more comfortable in social situations. 

You can practice by figuring out what types of activities you like to do and what interests you - and then joining a group that does that on a regular basis.

You might start by volunteering your skills and abilities to a charity. Something like Crisis At Christmas, or even the local dogs/cats shelter. If you feel shy talking to people, you can bet your bottom dollar (or £) that the animals will love you.

At first, it might not appeal to you to join 'Toastmasters International' straight away. But, if improving your public speaking abilities is your goal, this might be something to get involved in. Basically, it's the continual experience of people around you that can help to increase your confidence. 

4. Leave your home

It's the uncomfortable situations that can help improve your confidence in social situations. One of the keys is to force yourself to do things that cause those butterflies in your stomach to flutter.

Getting the courage to put yourself in situations that make you anxious helps to make you more comfortable eventually. However, the notion that the fear will go away altogether, is a false one. Any stage actor will tell you this. Before performances, I've known actors who have been physically sick before they stepped out onto the stage... but they've had knots in their stomachs, shaking hands, trembling voices - and stepped out into the spotlight anyway.

But you don't have to join the local drama club to get you started. Instead, you can begin with a small act, like stepping onto a bus or, perhaps, stepping into a slightly crowded coffee shop. Gradually, you can step into larger and larger social situations. 

There are a multitude of methods that will get you out of the house - on your own. The key is to not rely heavily on other people for assistance. Sometimes, they may let you down, or can't be where you need them to be when you want them to be there.

Pets are a great ice-breaker. Talk to your dog, and watch their expressions. Tease your cat with a woollen ball. Play is important. Finding enjoyment and the ability to smile at situations, so much so that it becomes natural, is important to lose your self-consciousness and build your self-confidence.

5. Work at it

I'll let you into a little secret - I used to be the shy kid at school. Instead of being part of the crowd, I used to sit on the floor in the playground, suck my thumb and bury my head in a book. But, today, after many years of practice, people wouldn't even think that of me. Many people tell me they want the confidence that I have. 

I'm not dismissing how you feel inside. I'm not negating how terrible those anxiety sensations get a grip on you. All this tells me is that they don't see the trembling hands, they don't hear the shaking voice that I know is there when I'm presenting something. 

I still feel anxiety. But, like those actors before they step out onto the stage, I've realised, it's the ability to get out of your head that matters.

We all experience self-doubt. Insecurity will be a constant sensation in our emotions. Confidence only comes when you do the work. Unfortunately, there's no 'magic pill' for this ill.

Social anxiety cannot last forever if you wish to work at it. If you are persistent and patient, it will come. And, if you still find yourself struggling with it, you can always book a session (online or in person) with me or another psychotherapist who will give you kind guidance and generous teaching to help you increase your confidence.

Action steps

You'll find many books that help to increase your confidence, ones that help you finally rid yourself of social anxiety disorder. However, here's a few basic tips to get you started on your journey:

  • Make a list of 10 positive qualities about yourself. Carry that list with you wherever you go and get it out and read it, when you feel low or anxious.
  • When you get a compliment (from whoever, whenever), notice the sensations inside you. Grab that sensation and say out loud: "Thank you." When you practice self-awareness, you become less critical of yourself. 
  • If something negative pops into your mind (such as "I'm not intelligent enough", or "I look ugly"), grab that thought, or those words and reframe them. Instead, say: "I'm not intelligent enough - yet!" or "I may look ugly - today, but that's only because... (time of the month, or, it was an effort to find something good to wear, or, brushing teeth and hair didn't seem important enough this morning).

At the end of it all, social anxiety can be kicked into touch with small steps forward. Consistently pushing the boundaries, persistence and patience. 

Also, be kind to yourself. Feeling free of your fears can be a new (and scary) sensation after many years of believing someone else's judgement of you. For, basically, that's where a lack of self-confidence and fear of social situations comes from. If you'd like some answers and perhaps, one day, even step into the stirrup of a cowboy's 'bucking bronco' - let's talk.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

Share this article with a friend
Kidderminster, West Midlands, Worcestershire, DY14
Written by Kaye Bewley, MA (Hons). CBT Dip., EFT Dip.
Kidderminster, West Midlands, Worcestershire, DY14

Kaye Bewley MA is a clinical psychotherapist who set-up her private practice in Kidderminster after working with young soldiers for over a decade. She now helps the local community and ex-military personnel identify ways to heal their mind and emotions.
Visit her website today: https://www.WindmillsOfTheMind.com

Show comments

Find a therapist dealing with Social anxiety

All therapists are verified professionals

All therapists are verified professionals