social anxiety coping skills

10 Solid Social Anxiety Coping Skills

In Education, Self-Care, Social Health, Wellness by Courtney Archer2 Comments

Social anxiety gets in the way of a lot of essential things, from professional relationships at work to more personal relationships outside of work. Anxiety can be problematic, but it is not hopeless. These social anxiety coping skills can go a long way in coping with the things holding you back so that you can move forward.

You might be surprised to learn that social anxiety is actually fairly common. According to Mental Health America, roughly 7% of all American adults have social anxiety. Whether or not you have been formally diagnosed with social anxiety by a mental health professional, you just might be part of that 7%.

Things like self-doubt, internal criticism, fear of judgment, and fear of embarrassment are common to social anxiety. Experiencing these things does not necessarily mean you are diagnosable, but if you are then you could benefit from the social anxiety coping skills listed below.

The coping skills in this article are curated to be especially helpful to those who experience social anxiety, but they can also help with shyness and fear of crowded places. If you never realized there was a difference between those things, keep on reading.

social anxiety coping skills

10 Solid Social Anxiety Coping Skills

What is Social Anxiety?

Social anxiety is the ongoing fear of social situations combined with extreme discomfort during or avoidance of social situations, to the degree that it interferes with your ability to live your life. Plenty of people hate crowds and small-talk, but not everyone finds it difficult to keep a job or relationship due to those fears.

Generally, mental illness is only diagnosable if it has a significant negative effect on one’s quality of life–significant enough that it is getting in the way of being able to maintain employment, relationships, and/or personal care. If you are maintaining all of those things but are extremely uncomfortable going about them, you may still have social anxiety.

Only a healthcare professional can diagnose you. From therapy to medications to a combination of both (the gold standard), there are a variety of options for treatment. You can find a therapist near you with Psychology Today.

Coping skills and self-care can also go a long way in making social anxiety bearable. They can help you fine-tune the way you respond to social anxiety-provoking situations. Self-care is more of a proactive approach while coping skills are more of a reactive approach. You need both.

Photo with definition of social anxiety.

Social Anxiety vs Shyness

Social anxiety and shyness are very often confused for each other, and the difference between the two comes down to some subtle nuances. The short of it is that shyness leans more toward being a functional limitation, while social anxiety is a dysfunctional limitation.

Generally speaking, people who experience shyness can still function at commonly acceptable levels, while people who have social anxiety have a much harder time doing so.

Social anxiety and shyness are born of common fears, the difference is the level to which they allow you to interact with others and succeed with your goals. Their goals are to keep you socially safe at whatever cost, even if the cost is that you lose out on close connections and friendships.

It is helpful to remind yourself of this when things are difficult. You are not your anxiety. It is not your goal to lose out on connections and friendships.

That is not even your anxiety’s goal. Anxiety is your brain doing whatever it can to keep you safe from what it perceives as the biggest threats.

In fact, another way to look at social anxiety is as a very severe set of coping mechanisms that work very well to keep you from being embarrassed or criticized. It just keeps you from doing a lot of other things too.

So let’s discuss some other coping mechanisms, shall we? There are plenty of coping skills for social anxiety that can help you accomplish some of your other goals, like forming new relationships and maintaining old ones.

Photo with description of the difference between social anxiety and shyness to help you differentiate as you use these social anxiety coping skills.

Social Anxiety Coping Skills for Work & Play

Social Anxiety Coping Skills for Work

The social anxiety coping skills listed below are the ones that are most adaptable and appropriate for nearly every situation. That makes them great for more structured situations like work or school.

It is not so much that they are work specific, more so that you can do these coping skills anywhere which makes them particularly great for situations where it is important to be able to think fast and move forward.

That being said, you can use any of the coping skills in this article at any time. You are the expert on yourself and therefore are the most adept at figuring out what works best for you. I recommend trying each coping skill at least once, and then practicing the ones that are most beneficial.

Work Social Anxiety Coping Skill #1: Check Your Negative Thoughts

Have you ever had someone tell you that you should just think happy thoughts when you are experiencing anxiety? Do not worry, that is not what this coping skill is about. Out of all the social anxiety coping skills available in the world, “just stop doing it,” has got to be one of the worst ones.

It is a lot easier to do something than it is to not do something. For example, if I tell you not to think about a pink and green striped hot air balloon, what do you find yourself thinking about?

Probably a pink and green striped hot air balloon. This is generally how it goes with negative thoughts, too. You start thinking about how awkward it will be at your friend’s get-together and how no one is going to talk to you and if they do you will just embarrass yourself, and no matter how many time you tell yourself not to think about it, you keep going back to it.

Instead of not thinking those thoughts, try checking them instead. If you are going to a friend’s house, you at least know that your friend will talk to you. Just like that, you have proven your thought untrue.

You can also remind yourself that you have not died of embarrassment yet and are unlikely to do so today. It might help to plan some quick escape routes if things are not going well–reasons why you might need to return home.

Naturally, the goal is to be able to stay at the get-together, but coping is all about breaking things down into reasonable steps. You might commit to staying for 15 minutes or half an hour before using your excuse to leave. The important thing is to get outside of your comfort zone for long enough to prove you can so that it will be easier the next time.

Photo discussing how it is easier to do something than to not do something.

Work Social Anxiety Coping Skill #2: Find Easy Things to Talk About

Finding easy things to talk about is a classic for social anxiety coping skills. Part of the problem with social anxiety is that when we are afraid or nervous it can be difficult to think of anything to say, which only contributes to the difficulty of the interaction.

So come up with some things to say beforehand. Generally, there are commonplace work topics that anyone can talk about for a minute or two, like how out of touch upper management is. Just kidding. Mostly.

Some safer topics might be parking (does anyone work anywhere that actually has enough parking anywhere close to the building?), newly announced policies or procedures, how heavy the workload is, or how things are finally starting to come together. Maybe there is a new project you are excited about, or someone new was hired or someone old moved on to a different role.

Or you could talk about the latest book you have read or movie that you have seen. If you have been to a great restaurant recently, talk about that–everyone has something to say about food.

The point is to think of some things beforehand so that when you are around people you are not grasping for something to say. You could even put it into a note on your phone so that you can check it really quick before you have to be social.

Ideas for things to talk about, one of the great social anxiety coping skills.

Work Social Anxiety Coping Skill #3: Reframe Your Thoughts

Social anxiety often stems from the thoughts we think, so you will find that a lot of social anxiety coping skills specifically target thoughts.

Reframing your thoughts is similar to checking your thoughts, just a little different. When checking your thoughts, the goal is to provide evidence against them–reasons why they might not be true or might not be as bad as you think.

The goal of reframing your thoughts is to shift the emphasis. Consider the example from earlier, where you might be worried about going to a friend’s get-together because you think no one will talk to you and if they do you will embarrass yourself.

In order to reframe these thoughts, consider the motivation behind them. What is so bad about no one talking to you, or about you embarrassing yourself? Maybe these are key thoughts in your mind because it is important for you to appear competent or to appear to belong.

Figure out what the driving motivation is behind your repetitive, anxious thoughts. Telling yourself that it is important to feel like you belong is different than telling yourself no one will talk to you. It gives you somewhere to go, a way to move forward.

Fear that no one will talk to you gives all the control of a situation to other people–it is up to them whether or not they talk to you. Of course feeling like you have no control is going to increase your anxiety!

But if you reframe the thought from “no one will talk to me,” to, “it is important to feel like I belong,” it shifts the thought back into a realm where you have some control over it. You cannot force other people to accept you, but you can modify your behaviors so that you have more opportunities to be accepted.

For example, you might try introducing yourself to someone at the get-together. Or you might try smiling at someone who seems friendly. Reframing the thought to the importance of acceptance helps you move out of your fears and into your goals.

Photo with reminder that the goal of reframing your thoughts is to shift their emphasis, one of the helpful social anxiety coping skills.

Work Social Anxiety Coping Skill #4: Look Outside Yourself

Continuing with social anxiety coping skills that have to do with the way we interact with our thoughts, looking outside yourself can help you get out of the downward spiral of fear and negativity.

Anxiety causes people to spend an awful lot of time inside their heads. As mentioned above, anxiety is our brain’s way of trying to keep us safe from what we perceive to be the biggest threats. That is why anxious thoughts can be compulsive and obsessive at times, and very difficult to let go of.

Looking outside yourself helps with social anxiety because it gets you outside of your head. Make an intentional effort to notice what is going on around you. From what the weather is doing to how your coworkers seem to be getting along, observing the world outside your head can be a nice break.

Not only that, but doing so also makes it easier to come up with things to talk about (the second suggestion on this list of social anxiety coping skills!) It is amazing how much easier it is to talk to people when you know something about them. It also makes it easier for them to talk to you when you are able to bring up something of importance or interest to them.

Make it a point to observe what is happening around you, not just inside your head. This gives you a break from the anxious thoughts that are holding you back, as well as an opportunity to pick up on things that can improve your social experiences.

Photo with instructions on how noticing what is going on around you can be a great social anxiety coping skill.

Work Social Anxiety Coping Skill #5: Radical Acceptance

Let’s talk about two words that no one seems to like, shall we? Radical, and acceptance. Anymore it seems like the word “radical” has become synonymous with “extremist,” but they are not the same thing.

Radical means doing something completely outside the norm. If you have only ever driven a manual transmission vehicle, switching to an automatic vehicle is radical. If you have been raised on a meat-and-potatoes diet and go vegan, that would also be radical.

When it comes to social anxiety, acceptance is radical. Social anxiety is a constant struggle of pushing against the thoughts and fears that run rampant through you. It can be and often is all-consuming, which is why it can become so dysfunctional.

Radical acceptance is not so much radical acceptance of the anxiety, but of the fact that social interactions can be awkward and difficult. When your brain is screaming at you not to enter social situations because you might be embarrassed, it is truly radical to just accept that you might, indeed, be embarrassed.

What if, when you started having thoughts of, “I’ll stand by myself the whole time and it’ll be super awkward and people will judge me,” you responded with thoughts of, “and that’s okay. That happens sometimes.”

What if you stopped struggling? This is not the same as giving up–giving up looks like never going anywhere ever again and anxiety consuming everything in your life.

Radical acceptance is not throwing in the towel. It is not giving up. It is telling your brain that, yes, awkward and difficult things do happen, and that you are going to engage in your life anyway.

It might go without saying, but radical acceptance is not easy. If it was then people would not have anxiety, right? Radical acceptance is something that has to be done intentionally and practiced. The more you do it, the easier it becomes.

Photo with description of radical acceptance, one of the more difficult social anxiety coping skills.

Social Anxiety Coping Skills for Play

The social anxiety coping skills listed below are a little more personal, and therefore more appropriate for relationships with people you know pretty well like family, friends, and romantic interests. That does not mean they are not appropriate for work, more so that employing them at work might take a little more finesse.

You might find the opposite to be true and that some of them seem easier than the first five listed. While this article is separated into social anxiety coping skills for work and for play, try at least a couple of things from each section and decide for yourself which areas of your life they fit best into. You are the expert on you.

Social Anxiety Coping Skills for Play #1: Tell People About It

Telling people about your social anxiety just might seem the most oxymoronic of all these coping skills for social anxiety. People and what they think about you are the problem, after all.

The thing is, there are a lot of reasons why a person might stand by themselves at a party and not interact with anyone. It might be because they are exhausted, or because they are waiting for someone else, or it could be because they have had a bad day and just do not want to talk to people.

Or, it could be because they have social anxiety and just making it to the party took everything they had out of them.

When you let people in on what you are experiencing, they do not have to guess. When people guess, they tend to guess it has something to do with them. We are all a little egotistical that way.

So do not leave it up for assumption. You do not need to tell everyone you have social anxiety–honestly, you probably should not. Some people just are not going to understand or be helpful.

But it is helpful to tell some people. You might mention it to someone you want to spend more time with, that you really enjoy their company and also that being around other people makes you generally uncomfortable.

The other benefit of telling trusted family or friends is that it enables them to be helpful. If you let a friend know that social gatherings put you in a tizzy, you can ask them to be your social gathering sidekick. It’s kind of like having a wingman or woman, only instead of helping you get a date they are helping you put your fears of isolation and embarrassment to rest.

People are not always the most accurate when trying to guess what is going on in someone else’s head. Telling the people you care about that you experience social anxiety helps them understand why you might not spend a lot of time at their events or get-togethers. It also gives them the opportunity to help you so that you can do more of what you want to do.

Social anxiety coping skills are not always things you do on your own. Some of the best ones involve including others.

Photo with information about how telling people about your social anxiety can help you cope with it.

Social Anxiety Coping Skills for Play #2: Be Kind to Yourself

While social anxiety is generally viewed as a fear of social situations and what other people might think of or say to you, the crux of social anxiety is the things you tell yourself.

This is not to say that the things you tell yourself are unfounded. Social anxiety often stems from experiences, sometimes even from traumatic experiences. You might not trust what other people will do or say because you were bullied, or because you experienced abuse or betrayal at the hands of a loved one.

Social anxiety is a valid thing, and it is not something you are experiencing because your head is messed up. It is something that we can feed into, and in fact, generally do.

If you are deeply afraid that other people will judge you or be mean to you, it is natural to begin imagining ways they might do that. Natural, but not helpful and certainly not kind.

Kindness can go a long way in helping you to check, reframe, and/or accept your anxiety-driven thoughts. Notice when you are the one telling you that you do not belong, or that you are awkward, or that you will always be alone.

Notice how often you are the one bullying yourself. Social anxiety can make bullies out of anyone, and especially out of you.

Instead of bullying yourself, try responding to yourself with some compassion. Instead of telling yourself that you are awkward and that no one likes you, remind yourself of people you have connected with in the past and people who love you in spite of or even because of your quirks. Remind yourself that you are worthy of connection and belonging.

Photo with information on how being kind is one of the loveliest social anxiety coping skills.

Social Anxiety Coping Skills for Play #3: Face Your Fears

You know that line from Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, when Mr. Darcy tells Elizabeth he doesn’t have the talent of conversing easily with strangers, and Elizabeth tells him to practice?

First of all, let’s all just appreciate for a moment how Jane Austen wrote a character with severe shyness at the least and social anxiety at the most into one of the most beloved novels of all time. Everyone loves Mr. Darcy, and that man has some serious social uncertainties.

More seriously though, Elizabeth had a point. Some people are child prodigies when it comes to social skills, but pretty much everyone else gains them through practice. We observe, learn from those around us, and maybe by the time we die we are not constantly suffering from foot-in-mouth syndrome.

Social anxiety makes practicing social skills challenging at best, but no less effective. Exposure therapy is a classic form of treatment for anxiety, and it is something you can do to some extent with yourself. (Get a therapist at Psychology Today for help from a professional with this one.)

Basically, one of the most researched and proven anxiety coping skills is to face your fears. To put yourself in social situations and prove to yourself that doing so is not going to kill you.

That might seem a little flippant, but panic attacks are literally our brains telling us that something is going to kill us. Exposing yourself to social situations might be terrifying, and it is also one of the best ways to prove to your brain that doing so will not kill you.

Taking little steps is crucial when it comes to facing your fears. Start with the safest social settings and the safest people you know, and try to keep yourself in the situation for a certain amount of time. Generally, it is easiest to begin with adding more time, then entering less comfortable social settings, and then being around less comfortable people.

Do it all slowly though. You do not want to jump in too far too fast and prove to your brain that it was right all along and social situations are all nightmares. Take your time, taking notes as you go so that you can refer back to what helps you be more successful.

Photo with information about how to begin facing your social anxiety-driven fears.

Social Anxiety Coping Skills for Play #4: Find Someone Who Seems More Uncomfortable

Similar to the coping skill for anxiety mentioned above of looking outside yourself, it can be helpful to look for someone who seems like they just might be as uncomfortable as you are. Remember, at least 7% of the population experiences social anxiety.  That is close to 1 in 15 people who have social anxiety.

If you feel out of place, awkward, unsure of what to do or who to talk to, look around and see if anyone looks like they feel the same way. Look for people who are sitting or standing alone, who are looking nervously around the room or doing their best not to look at anyone.

Knowing what it is like to feel so out of place and alone, make it your mission to help them feel more comfortable. Invite them to sit with you, ask them about what they are interested in and what brought them to this mutual gathering place.

They might tell you that they want to be alone and that is fine–you did not fail, you just found a person who might already be overwhelmed by their surroundings or who just needs some alone time. If that is the case, know that it is enough that you went outside of your comfort zone and tried to help someone else.

Social anxiety can be a terribly alienating thing. Trying to help someone else who is experiencing it is one of the most amazing social anxiety coping skills because it helps both them and you. It gets you out of your head and your fears of how things could go wrong by turning your focus elsewhere.

Photo with info on how helping others can help you feel less anxious.

Social Anxiety Coping Skills for Play #5: Do Some Assertiveness Training

Listen. In order to do any of these social anxiety coping skills, you need to be able to be at least a little assertive.

Whether you have decided to go down the path of radical acceptance, or being kind to yourself, or telling other people about what you are experiencing, all of these coping skills for anxiety take a certain degree of assertiveness.

One of the things that makes combatting social anxiety so difficult is that it is often so very difficult to be assertive. Speaking up, standing out, and making a case for something is a challenge for most anyone. Assertiveness is something that usually has to be learned; we do not come by it naturally.

I highly recommend checking out the Centre for Clinical Interventions’ Assert Yourself! workbook. It is a free resource that the Australian government put together to help people learn what assertiveness is and how to increase it.

The short of it is that assertiveness is a way of communicating and interacting that shows respect for you and for others. Being assertive allows you to take care of yourself and make sure that your needs are met while not infringing on the basic needs of others.

Increasing your assertiveness can go a long way in helping you work with your social anxiety so that it does not get in the way of the things you need, like compassion and belonging.

Photo with info on how assertiveness is one of the most all-encompassing social anxiety coping skills.

In Conclusion

Coping skills for social anxiety are all about finding ways to re-route, combat, and work with your social anxiety. You might not find every coping skill listed in this article relevant or applicable to you, and that is okay!

It is to be expected, actually. Everyone is different and what works for one person does not necessarily work for another. The point is to try different coping skills out and determine what works best for you.

If you have any go-to coping skills for social anxiety that did not make it into this article, please share them in the comments below. Just because they are not listed here does not mean they are any less effective or useful, and others will benefit from your suggestions.

Want to read more? Recommended articles below:

8 Effective Self-Compassion Exercises

Need a Break? 7 Simple Ways to Rejuvenate

10 Effective Coping Skills for Anxiety

What is Self-Compassion? 3 Basic Steps to Help

What is Self-Care? Satisfaction, Relief, & Wonder


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