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9 Strategies for How to Deal with Social Anxiety

Updated: Feb 8

A woman holding her head and looking at the camera anxiously with a hazy background
Image/Uday Mittal/Unsplash

***Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and does not provide medical, legal, or health advice and is not a substitute for mental health services

Social anxiety can limit people from taking part in social events or gatherings, which may lead to feelings of isolation, loneliness, and depression. You might feel overwhelmed and stressed at the mere thought of attending a party or celebration. If this is you, you may find yourself agonizing over it as the day approaches closer.

Your feelings are valid and they matter. It may also be a relief to know that there are some things you can do that might help you feel more comfortable during social engagements. If this interests you, take a look at the tips described below.

Be aware of triggers

The first tip is to become aware of what exactly makes you anxious. Is it certain types of social events? Large gatherings? Events where you don’t know anyone? Going on a date? Situations where you might have to perform (e.g. dancing, singing – karaoke, playing an instrument, demonstrating a skill)? What else?

Take a moment and think about what stands out to you. Learning to recognize what bothers you is key as you need to know this before you can take action on addressing your social anxiety.

Recognize how social anxiety affects you

Consider how your social anxiety affects you.

Do you notice that you start breathing hard? Get sweaty? Start stumbling over your words? Feel your mind go blank? Do you blush? Avert your eyes? Get distracted away from the conversation due to the anxious thoughts in your head? Have the urge to leave the room or social event as a form of escaping from the distress? Do you feel embarrassed, ashamed, scared, nervous, or stressed?

Think about how social anxiety manifests itself in you as these are valuable indicators that signal just how anxious you are depending on the situation you are in. You may notice some social scenarios make you more anxious than others.

Use coping techniques

Coping skills for anxiety can range from emotional, cognitive, physiological, behavioural, and other types of approaches.

You may want to acknowledge and validate how you are feeling and recognize this is common for many people. This may help you feel less alone in your experience.

You can try using cognitive reframes to change your outlook about social situations – “there will be people at the event who care about me”, “it’s ok to make mistakes sometimes- it’s part of learning and growth”, “I don’t need to be perfect”, etc.

Physiological strategies can include deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and other types of relaxation and mindfulness strategies that help center and ground you.

Behavioural strategies could also include trying to look at concrete ways of managing your anxiety, such as social skills training. More details on that are below.

Build up your social skills

If you think you could use some strategies for improving your social skills, seeking out support from a mental health professional could be helpful.

Perhaps you could benefit from learning some tips for how to open up conversations, keep conversations going, understand the back and forth of conversations, use your vocal tone to express interest, and increase your awareness of your facial expressions and posture so that you appear more open, welcoming, and supportive.

These strategies can shape the interaction so that your verbal and non-verbal cues match and are well-received by the person you are talking to.

Set your intentions

Think about what you’re hoping for with this social encounter and try not to put too much pressure on yourself. Maybe you want to attend an event to show support for someone you care about. Perhaps you are hoping to make more connections in your local community. Or maybe you are going on a date and hoping you click with the other person.

It can help to set clear intentions for the social event. Not only will this help you feel more in control, but it will also ground you as you adopt a flexible mindset– you don’t have to come away from the day with a new best friend, having talked to every single person in the room, or starting a long term relationship. Setting basic and simple intentions will relieve the sense of pressure on you.

Recall past social successes

Consider times where you felt comfortable and at ease during conversations with others. Use these wins as momentum to propel you forward in new social situations. Give yourself a pep talk similar to how you would talk to a friend who needed moral support before doing something challenging. Remembering your successes can assist you in tackling the next social gathering with greater confidence.

Reduce self-blame

Reframing your expectations of yourself can help you see that you aren’t at fault if the interaction doesn’t go well. There are many things that could be affecting the dynamic – maybe the other person is having a bad day, doesn’t feel well, is worried or stressed about something, etc.

Opening up your perspective to consider other factors that could be influencing the interaction can allow you to come away from the social event being at peace with yourself and with your self-esteem intact.

Stay present

It can be really hard to stay present and focused on what is happening in front of you when your mind is going at 100 miles an hour and you are worried about everything you’re saying, your posture, your facial expressions, and more.

If you can, try to stay focused on the present moment. In doing so, this will allow you to turn your attention to the interaction and you will get less caught up in what is going on in your mind. Being focused on the conversation also will help the other person see that you are interested in what they have to say and you will give off a vibe that shows you are attentive and want to learn more.

Be yourself

Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind is just to be you.

Being yourself allows others to see the real you. You don’t have to pretend to be someone else just because you think others will like that version of you better. In being yourself, you will be able to form real and authentic relationships and you might find that those who gravitate toward you are a good match on many levels. This will increase the odds that you will have more positive social interactions, feel less anxious, and improve your level of comfort and confidence in future social endeavours.

Wishing you well on your mental health journey.

Davina Tiwari MSW, RSW, CSFT Registered Social Worker and Certified Solution Focused Therapist

If you are an adult in Ontario or Alberta seeking online therapy and would like to request a free 15 minute phone consultation, please Book An Appointment or reach out directly under the Contact page.

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