Social Anxiety Skills

Millions of people struggle with social anxiety. Fortunately, individuals who suffer with Social Anxiety Disorder can make tremendous progress utilizing Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – individual or group – and engaging in regular behavioral practice of new skills.

Here’s a helpful way to think about it!

You want to go to a party on campus. As you approach the party location, your anxiety begins to build. Once you’re there, your anxiety continues to increase from LOW, to MODERATE, perhaps even to HIGH. Once your anxiety gets that elevated, you make what seems to be the most rational decision you can: RETREAT! And guess what… your anxiety diminishes. So, once again, your anxiety has taught you to avoid and isolate, to not pursue the social connections you so deeply desire.

Each time this scenario unfolds, your anxiety wins… and seemingly becomes more dominant and in control. Your job is to teach your anxiety that you make the decisions about your life, not anxiety.

So, to master your social anxiety, you will need to endorse the following:

“I will no longer reflexively avoid, or go around, my anxiety… rather, I will push right through it!”

Here are 11 valuable skills to get you started...

  1. Make a list.
    List the social goals you have in your life and arrange them in a hierarchy from least anxiety-raising to most anxiety-raising.
  2. Develop plans.
    For each of those social goals, write out step-by-step how you will accomplish those goals.
  3. Be more precise.
    When speaking of your anxiety, think of a 0 to 10 anxiety scale with the following values: 0 = being fully calm, 3 = a low level of anxiety, 5 = a moderate level of anxiety, 7 = a high level of anxiety, and 10 = panic. Describe your anxiety levels with number ratings so that you can more precisely get to know your anxiety and its patterns.
  4. Refrain from using drugs or alcohol to reduce anxiety.
    Drugs and alcohol can create a false sense of confidence that doesn’t last.
  5. Develop and practice calming strategies.
    Positive self-coaching
    Focused breathing
    Muscle relaxation
  6. Match your anxiety rating to the appropriate calming skill. 
    If your anxiety is a “3” some focused breathing and positive self-coaching likely will help you cope effectively. If your anxiety is a “5” splashing cold water on your face or moving through some stretching exercises might be indicated. If your anxiety is a “7” perhaps counting backwards from 100 by 7s (100, 93, 86, 79, 72…. etc.) and doing some belly breathing might be best. If your anxiety is a “10” you might want to leave the area and go for a walk. You get the idea! It may take some experimentation to figure out what works best for you.
  7. Practice mindfulness… staying in the present moment.
    The past is gone, the future is not yet here. Bring your total focus to the present moment… and avoid judging yourself.
  8. Learn to appreciate partial progress.
    After your social practice session, note what worked and praise yourself for that. Your ANXIETY will try to activate your inner critical voice, but just let that go. Remind yourself that you are proud of yourself for having the courage to tackle your social anxiety. And you will continue to build on your partial progress with more practice sessions. One step at a time!
  9. Be mindful of your verbal and nonverbal presentation.
    Verbally, project your voice, use an appropriate voice volume, and speak clearly. Nonverbally, put your shoulders back, head up, eyes open, and posture full. Practice walking proudly and confidently. In front of a mirror, get to know your face and how you project yourself to others. Practice smiling both with your mouth and with your eyes, laughing, and letting go of anxious nonverbal body language. Avoid the temptation to bury your face in your phone when you are feeling uncomfortable! This may incorrectly signal to others that you are busy and they need not approach.
  10. Practice conversation starters.
    There are all kinds of wonderful resources on the Internet to help with this. With family members and close friends, practice: introducing yourself, saying hello, asking a question, and making small talk. Develop specific questions ahead of time that can work with certain groups of individuals.
  11. Be proud of yourself and continue to PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE!