3-step plan to overcome your social anxiety

Are you suffering from social anxiety or from a nervous breakdown?

If you suffer from social anxiety you’re in the right place! But, could you be on the verge of a nervous breakdown?

Do you perhaps feel you’re going mad? That something is very wrong with you? That your symptoms are not related to feeling awkward in a social situation?

Maybe life has just thrown too much at you, either repeated seemingly insurmountable problems or a major life event that changed your future forever. Your resources – internal and/or external – are no longer enough to deal with all that’s on your shoulders. You’re constantly stressed and exhausted, your body flushed with stress hormones.

In that case, hop over to my in-depth article: Signs and Symptoms of a Nervous Breakdown.

When you’re facing a big life decision, such as buying a house or quitting your job to start your own company, it’s completely normal to feel stressed and anxious. That’s no surprise as the consequences of something going amiss can be devastating. You may even be suffering from a nervous breakdown due to all that stress. In these cases, your apprehension (feeling on edge) can be helpful. It makes you just that little bit sharper and gives you the added motivation to think through your choices.

But, that’s not what we’re talking about, is it? You’re probably anxious when it comes to ‘just’ facing up to meeting people – you’re suffering from social anxiety. Bumping into someone, having to attend a meeting or even a party is probably causing you a major ‘wobble’. In these cases, that sense of apprehension goes into overdrive and isn’t useful to you… you’re social anxiety causes you to almost be scared of people! And chances are, you’ve done your damnedest to hide it from everyone.

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What is social anxiety disorder?

This difficult condition is characterised by feelings ranging from discomfort in social situations to an absolute terror of being negatively judged and evaluated by other people. It makes you worry that you’ll embarrass yourself in some way, be rejected or publicly humiliated. 

This is not just shyness – however painful. No, it’s more than that… you’re afraid of people and suffer from social anxiety.

Chances are you’re well-practised at finding excuses not to have to attend gatherings or functions, for example:

  • you’re not well
  • you’ve got guests coming
  • you need to tend to an ill family member
  • you’ve got to work
  • you blame your partner
  • your big toe has erupted into the most hideous carbuncle

…or whatever helps you to avoid having to attend that event or social function.

You may well be aware that your fears and feelings are over the top or unreasonable, but you feel inadequate, inferior, depressed and powerless to overcome this social anxiety.

Maybe you have – on occasion – mustered the courage to confront your fears. But feeling sick with fear beforehand and terrified throughout may well have put you off trying again, let alone having to deal with all those worries that flood in afterwards…

What did they think of me, and about me? I know – I was an idiot!

Your imagination is likely to have worked overtime to conjure up the judgements you think people will have made. As a result, you vow not to put yourself in that situation again too quickly. Instead, you stay at home… your home is your castle and your comfort zone.

I want you to take back control though – and I’m going to get you back in the driving seat. I know you can do it! So, read on.

First, I’m going to help you understand the condition better – walking alongside you, as it were – before leading you out of that dark tunnel.

There are two types of social anxiety:

  • Generalised: you experience symptoms in most situations
  • Non-generalised (or specific): you experience symptoms in specific social situations, such as those where you’ve got to perform (e.g. public speaking)

So what might cause all that distress? It’s down to fears about any or all of the following (and consequently wanting to avoid any situation where they might occur)…

  • being teased or criticised, making being a team-player almost unbearable
  • being the focus of attention
  • being watched while doing something; for example, eating in public
  • being introduced to other people when you feel terribly ‘exposed’ and self-conscious
  • meeting other people’s eyes, because my goodness – they may discover the ‘real’ you, so you now avoid eye contact
  • having to say something in public or in a formal situation (any kind of public speaking – whether at work or with friends/family)
  • circulating around the room (or table) and having to talk to people
  • talking or making phone calls, particularly in public
  • meeting “important people” (authority figures)
  • depending on the severity of your suffering – even going to the shops can feel like a nightmare

… because you think you’ll look ridiculous, act ‘stupidly’, be an idiot, lack manners, be incompetent, fluff your words, say something inappropriate, etc – and that people will judge you harshly for it.

It’s hard to build any relationships with all of that going on, let alone an intimate relationship. And if you have a partner it can be hard to trust that he or she will stick around as you increasingly withdraw from the outside world. In addition, it puts you at risk of finding yourself in an abusive relationship as you may so desperately reach out to any ‘knight in shining armour’ or any seemingly warm and open arms.

13 Common signs and symptoms of social anxiety, which could also be signs of a nervous or mental breakdown

All people with social anxiety will experience this horrible condition in their own way.

If you’re a sufferer – feeling stressed, worried and having troubled thoughts – you may experience any or all of the following physical) symptoms of anxiety in social situations:

  1. intense fear
  2. quick heartbeat
  3. difficulty concentrating 
  4. avoidance behaviour 
  5. turning red/blushing
  6. sweating (excessively)
  7. dry throat and mouth
  8. trembling
  9. difficulty swallowing 
  10. feeling lightheaded/faint
  11. nausea (feeling sick)
  12. muscle twitches
  13. panic attacks (panic disorder with physical, mental and emotional symptoms)

The above list is not a complete set of symptoms but it gives a good overview of what you may be going through. And all those symptoms could even lead to a panic attack.

You’re not alone!

Social anxiety disorder can affect people regardless of their age and gender, but it usually starts in teens with a history of shyness*.

It affects as much as 7% of the population at any given time in the U.S (or 15 million people). Research in Europe estimates that the lifetime prevalence of the condition is also around 7% in the general population**. 

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What causes social anxiety and why have you become scared of people?

There is no single known cause, but research suggests that genetics may play a role (you may have inherited an overreaction to new experiences) in combination with environmental and general stressors.

In addition, bad or even traumatic experiences – such as being bullied at school, being rejected, being negatively evaluated, publicly criticised or ridiculed – may have contributed to the problem.   By changing the way you think about a situation, you potentially change the way you feel. However, any traumatic experiences may need to be detraumatised first.

How to overcome social anxiety 

The best treatment is different for everyone, but the good news is that you can help yourself manage the condition with much less energy than you’ve spent so far. You can learn to cope with social anxiety – and you can even overcome it altogether.

Here’s what you need to do:

Social anxiety self-help – step 1

Commit to some simple lifestyle changes – those that are kind to your body and mind.

  • reduce your alcohol and caffeine intake
  • take regular exercise
  • ensure you get adequate sleep
  • eat a healthy diet

Taking care of your physical health really is that important… when your body’s well-nourished, suitably exercised and properly rested, your mental health stands a much better chance of being more balanced too.

I also recommend Dr Kelly Brogan’s holistic method (as a psychiatrist she used to prescribe all kinds of medication – now she knows better!).

Step 2

Set yourself some challenges to overcome – but just start off with some baby steps out of your comfort zone.

Every day, three times a day, challenge yourself to face a fear or part of a fear. This builds a sense of achievement, hope and self-esteem.

For example, if the thought of going out to the shops fills you with dread, just deciding to walk 20 steps in the direction of the shops is a great start. You can then build on your challenges each time, making them just that little harder to overcome – but always within your power to do so.

Overcome social anxiety with self-help – step 3

Listen regularly to the right hypnosis downloads – it’s such an effective self-help strategy. You don’t even need to leave the comfort of your own home, so you can start to build your strength in your own time, in the environment where you feel most secure.

For further information see my article: Hypnosis FAQ and Downloads

6 (social) anxiety treatments

You’ve tried all of the above self-help strategies – consistently – and you’re still avoiding social situations like the plague? It may be time to get some professional help. There’s absolutely NO shame needing a bit of extra help!

Here’s what’s on offer to help you cure your fears (yes, the condition can potentially be cured!)…

1. Therapy for social anxiety – chat online with a professional therapist

Ideal for you! No need to go and see anybody. You can connect with a professional, licensed therapist – online – for treatment. For further information, see my page: Mental Health Counseling.

2. Hypnotherapy

Turn the tide by visiting a suitably qualified hypnotherapist. Hypnotherapy is the best way of letting your unconscious mind work for you, rather than against you.

Remember, if you can’t afford to visit one, or your social phobia is stopping you from doing so – get the low-down and a download HERE.

3. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

CBT is an effective treatment option. CBT is a form of psychotherapy that helps you to change negative or unhelpful thoughts and behavioural patterns which may contribute to your anxiety in a social setting. CBT combines two components:

  1. Cognitive therapy: examines how any negative or unhelpful thoughts contribute to your level of anxiety
  2. Behaviour therapy: examines how you behave and react in feared situations

CBT, which includes exposure therapy, is based on the idea that your thoughts (and not the outside world) affect how you feel and that in turn your feelings affect your behaviour. So it’s not the situation that determines how you feel, but your perception of it.

4. Overcome social anxiety with group therapy

Group therapy can be an important element in your treatment plan. There are two kinds of groups: therapy groups and support groups – both are great in encouraging self-help.

Therapy groups focus on the use of CBT in a group setting and they may use acting, mock interviews, videotaping and observing. These offer you an opportunity to practice and prepare for situations you are afraid of in a safe environment.

A support group offers what it says on the tin. ;-) And you know who can offer really great support? Other people with social anxiety, because they understand exactly how it feels (that is as long as they’re not overwhelming you with their problems! See my article on online depression help.)

5. Anxiety symptoms treatment – should you opt for medication?

Medication – in the form of beta-blockers, antidepressants and benzodiazepines – is sometimes used to ease symptoms. Although these medications can help, they come at a cost. Some of these are highly addictive, others cause (possibly permanent) changes in your brain and none are a cure. Instead, they mask your symptoms temporarily. When you stop taking medication, your symptoms will probably return.

The changes you make to improve your overall health and well-being, and CBT, hypnotherapy and group therapy are much better ways to deal with your fears and phobias in the longer run. 

6. Social anxiety remedies

For natural remedies, please see my page on natural remedies for depression.

What social phobia means in terms of your relationship

If you happen to be in an abusive relationship this may well have caused your social anxiety, or it will worsen the situation. Yet at the same time, you’re probably unlikely to imagine yourself being able to stand on your own two feet because of the disorder.

If this is the case, then I strongly recommend you find some way of accessing help. You’ll find some useful organisation on this page.

For a loving partner, however, it is extremely painful to watch you suffer, as they recognise all your wonderful talents and your beauty. They also know your strength and the courage it takes for you to face up to each and every day.

You owe it to yourself, and to them, to take those tiny steps forward every day and beat that social anxiety or phobia.

I know you can do it. I’m rooting for you! :-)

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* “Social Anxiety Disorder.CTSA: Social Anxiety: Symptoms. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Jan. 2016.
** “A European Perspective on Social Anxiety Disorder.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 15 Feb. 2000. Web. 07 Jan. 2016.