• Social anxiety, left unchecked, can get worse, making it harder to keep up relationships and a healthy social life

  • Kamran Bedi, author of The Anxiety Antidote, offers his tips

  • We have therapists and counsellors who are available to support you with social anxiety here

For some people, social situations can trigger panic, overwhelm and anxiety. Having to meet new people, talk to people that you know in small or large groups, asking for assistance in retail spaces, socialising at work or even at the school gates can lead to various levels of anxiety. 

One of the most common elements of social anxiety that people experience is a lack of confidence. You may feel unconfident to speak up, fear you won’t be heard or that you may be misunderstood or feel anxious from being around a group of people. Avoiding social situations and having time alone may be your preference; however, your social anxiety may over time become stronger the more you shut yourself off from being social, which can become a factor that limits some individuals for the amount of time they have in leaving the house.

Justin's story

Justin found himself in quite a dilemma, as he wanted to start a relationship but thought he was incredibly shy. He had a small, close circle of friends who he saw less of over the years. He lived behind his computer screen, working for himself and by himself. His time interacting with people decreased as time went on, and he was happy in the world that he lived in.

The trigger for his anxiety came when some of his small circle of friends had started relationships, some even getting engaged. The prospect of now spending time with the boys also meant there would be female company in his small circle. He also wanted a relationship, but the idea of dating filled him with dread. Justin had cancelled dates, which had all started through online communication. He had also stopped seeing his friends as much in person due to the added plus-ones to the small circle he used to feel at home in. As a result, his social anxiety had only become worse.

Social anxiety mindset

With social anxiety, your most common companion will be your inner voice, and the world that you spend most of your time in is on the inside, as the outside can seem like a fearful place. You may find yourself overthinking situations where you may not find the right words to say or may come across in a way that embarrasses you. You might worry about stuttering or stumbling over your words, believing that you will be laughed at or mocked, or being concerned that you may sweat, blush, hyperventilate or look stupid. You may avoid social situations, but often feel regretful or even guilty when you think of the events or socialising that you miss out on.

How to heal from social anxiety

Avoid jumping in at the deep end. People who are socially anxious tend to feel more anxiety in larger groups and in busier surroundings. The key is to build up your confidence slowly, so consider starting with smaller numbers for company. Perhaps try one person or possibly two and notice the positive feelings you experience while being out with company. Consider your communication. Talk about your week, your day, what you’re watching and ask those you’re with questions to keep the conversation flowing. Then in time you can build up to more people in the group. Take yourself out of your comfort zone and meet someone or some people at least once a week to override and work through the anxiety experience.

Also work on your mindset and your thought patterns in relation to feeling anxious. Work with your inner voice to have a more reassuring and confident inner voice that can overpower the voice of anxiety when it comes on. Through your awareness of being in your mind watching the mental movies of your anxious thoughts, switch the channel and watch the best possible outcomes that could happen or thoughts from previous positive social meet-ups that remind you that you do not need to worry as you access feelings of comfort from past positive memories.

Kamran Bedi is the author of The Anxiety Antidote

Further reading

The anxiety loop and how to escape it

Try this 1-minute grounding exercise

Are you guilty of catastrophising? 9 tips to regain control of your thoughts

As a counsellor, here are my 4 anxiety tips

Running helps me manage anxiety – could it help you too?