3 Steps to Crush Social Anxiety

By Stephanie Vaughn, PsyD

Life with social anxiety can feel like a constant exposure to one's greatest fears. If one's threat system is constantly being activated, options for coping may seem limited...it's either "GET THE HELL OUT" or "FIGHT LIKE HELL." That doesn't seem fun--does it?! While the issue of social anxiety may seem complicated, the solutions are simple but require constant practice. Check out these three tips to jumpstart coping for social anxiety. 


1. Practice teaching your body to relax every day—not just when you are anxious.


Just like learning a sport or to play a musical instrument, your body and brain need practice, practice, practice to be able to perform. It is important to work every day that you can on reducing your heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension; slowing the mind takes practice.

How? Imagine that someone had you hooked up to a blood pressure cuff and a heart rate monitor and if you were able to slow both of them down, you would win a million bucks. You’d be surprised how much power you have over your “involuntary” body responses!

You can certainly create your own practice, but below are some good resources. Commit to at least 5 minutes a day. Your body will thank you!

  • Meditation, Mindfulness, & Guided Imagery: http://marc.ucla.edu/mindful-meditations

  • Progressive Muscle Relaxation: http://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au/docs/ACFA28F.pdf

  • Self-Care & Self-Soothing: Time management, sleep hygiene, eating regular & healthy meals, planning relaxing activities, minimizing electronics, being kind to yourself, yoga, long baths, and hot tea are just a few of the possibilities.

2. Practice putting yourself in situations that are socially uncomfortable (but not harmful) on a regular basis, and keep challenging yourself...


How? Commit every day to notice when your social anxiety bosses you around just a bit and don’t allow it. For the more difficult ones, you can use fear ladder worksheets online or that you create, or you can just dive right in when the moment naturally comes up. Take the opportunity to sign up for something you would normally never consider because of anxiety.

A quick guide for gauging if the task is anxiety provoking enough:

  • Some every day (SUDS= 30-40)

  • Kick it up a notch monthly (SUDS=45-65)

  • Go for a bigger challenge every 3 months (SUDS= 66-80)

  • Give it all you’ve got at least once a year (SUDS=81-100)

3. Identify the thoughts that fuel your social anxiety (and talk you out of doing #2!), find the thinking errors, and challenge them.


Thoughts, not events, fuel our emotions. We can even have thoughts about the emotions—round and round we go! Change the thoughts, change the feelings. It is important to recognize what thoughts are helpful and which ones are “brain garbage.” Take what is useful and kick the rest to the curb!

How? Keep a list of thinking errors on your phone or in a notebook that you can access any time. When you’re feeling anxious, jot all of your thoughts down individually on a sheet of paper, then go back and label the thinking errors. Then, re-write the thoughts in a way that is more realistic. Be brutal with the thoughts—give them a real challenge!

  • Thinking error worksheet: http://genesisoutreach.org/documents/common_thinking_errors.pdf