Managing Social Anxiety

Managing Social Anxiety

Social Anxiety

In a world that often feels like a stage, managing social anxiety can feel overwhelming and create unnecessary self-doubt and distress. Although it might seem as though everyone else handles social interactions with ease and confidence, dealing with social anxiety symptoms is not an uncommon issue. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), social anxiety disorder (also known as social phobia) is defined as a marked and persistent fear of one or more social or performance situations in which an individual is exposed to unfamiliar people or to possible scrutiny by others. The individual fears that he or she will act in a way (or show anxiety symptoms) that will be embarrassing and humiliating.

Key characteristics of social anxiety disorder as outlined in the DSM-5 include:

  • Marked fear or anxiety about one or more social situations where the individual is exposed to possible scrutiny by others. This could include social interactions (like having a conversation or meeting unfamiliar people), being observed (like eating or drinking), and performing in front of others (like giving a speech).
  • Fear of acting in a way that will show anxiety symptoms that will be negatively evaluated (i.e., will be humiliating or embarrassing; will lead to rejection or offend others).
  • The social situations almost always provoke fear or anxiety.
  • The social situations are avoided or endured with intense fear or anxiety.
  • The fear or anxiety is not attributable to a medical condition, medication, or substance abuse.
  • The fear, anxiety, or avoidance is persistent, typically lasting for 6 months or more.

Research into social anxiety began in the 60’s and 70’s and was ultimately recognized as a separate disorder in 1980. I say all of this to point to the fact that social anxiety has been studied for a while now and is surprisingly not the result of social media. This blog post takes a look at some of the common characteristics and fears associated with social anxiety symptoms as well as social anxiety strategies and how therapy can help.

Fearing Judgment 

According to researcher Dr. David Moscovitch, the fear of judgment from others that is seen in social anxiety manifests in four primary categories: concerns about social skills, appearance, character, and the visible symptoms of social anxiety itself. 

Below are the four categories of fear he identifies as well as reframing statements for each:

Social Skills: The fear that others perceive us as awkward or uninteresting can be paralyzing. However, it’s essential to remember that conversation is a two-way street, and you are not solely responsible for its success. Reframe your thoughts to: “I have unique perspectives to offer, and it’s okay to have quiet moments in a conversation.”

Appearance: In a society obsessed with looks, it’s easy to fear judgment based on appearance. Counter this by reminding yourself: “I am more than my appearance, and my worth is not determined by how I look.”

Character: Worrying about being perceived as uncool, boring, or unfunny can be draining. Instead, think: “I am enough as I am at this moment,” or “I have evidence that I am interesting and fun to be around.” 

Anxiety Symptoms: The fear that others will notice our anxiety can be self-perpetuating. To combat this, tell yourself: “It’s okay to feel anxious. Most people are focused on themselves and may not notice my anxiety.” It’s important to remember that even if someone notices you are a little anxious, you are probably not being judged. 

Strategies to Overcome Social Anxiety

Mindful Self-Talk: Incorporate mantras such as “I am present in the moment, not performing” and “No one is waiting for me to make a mistake” to ground yourself during social interactions.

Engaging with Your Environment: Focus on the details around you to redirect attention and calm your nervous system. Utilize ‘somatic resources,’ like deep breathing, to soothe anxiety.

Reframing Common Thoughts: Challenge and reframe negative beliefs with thoughts like “I can take a break if needed” and “Not everyone is having fun; many people experience anxiety.”


In the journey to manage and alleviate the symptoms of social anxiety, two therapeutic approaches stand out as particularly effective: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

ACT encourages individuals to embrace their thoughts and feelings rather than fighting against them or feeling invalidated by them. This form of therapy fosters psychological flexibility, allowing individuals to open up to unpleasant feelings and learn not to overreact to them, thereby reducing their impact.

On the other hand, CBT operates on the premise that changing negative thought patterns can alter feelings and behaviors. It offers clients practical skills to manage anxiety by helping them identify and challenge their fears and avoidant behaviors. Incorporating these therapies into your treatment plan is a very important step in managing social anxiety as well as working with generalized negative thoughts.

Additional Insights and Final Thoughts 

Drawing from a lot of the research, we understand that individuals with social anxiety often possess heightened empathy and sensitivity to others’ emotions. Recognizing and harnessing these strengths can be a useful step towards overcoming social anxiety. Shifting from your internal thoughts, fears, and beliefs to a more external approach is extremely helpful. This can look like being an active listener during conversations, asking questions, and reflecting. 

Furthermore, mindfulness and meditation have been found to be effective in reducing symptoms of social anxiety. Engaging in mindfulness practices can help you stay grounded and present during social interactions, reducing anxiety levels significantly. 

Seeking out psychotherapy is a most helpful way to learn how to manage symptoms of social anxiety through the use of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) as well as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

Social anxiety, characterized by fears of judgment and negative self-perception, can often feel like an insurmountable barrier. However, by understanding its roots and using strategies to reframe our thoughts, we can begin to feel better about social interactions.