How can I get help and support for social anxiety?
Note: NAMI volunteers are not medical or mental health professionals; we cannot offer medical or mental health advice. The material outlined below is informational, and we hope that it helps provide guidance toward getting support.
What is social anxiety?
Social anxiety is something that many people experience from time to time. It means feeling nervous, shy, or uncomfortable in social situations. This could happen when giving a presentation in class, meeting someone new, or going to a big party. These feelings are normal and can happen to anyone.
What is social anxiety disorder?
Social anxiety disorder, also known as "social phobia," happens when someone strongly fears being judged or embarrassed by others. For people with this disorder, things like talking to new people, making friends, or speaking in front of the class can feel impossible. They worry a lot about what others think of them and fear they might say or do something embarrassing. They also feel uneasy when being watched and worry about seeming anxious in front of others.
Because of their intense fear, people with social anxiety disorder usually avoid social situations. If they can't avoid them, they feel very stressed and uncomfortable. Having social anxiety disorder is more than just being shy or worrying about what others think of you sometimes. It can greatly impact a person's well-being, making it difficult to do well in school, learn new things, keep a job, and have good relationships.
When should I ask for help withmy social anxiety?
Here are signs that social anxiety may be having a negative impact on your life and that you may need to ask for some help:
- Avoiding social situations: You often skip parties or gatherings because they make you anxious.
- Isolation: You would rather be by yourself to avoid the discomfort you feel around others
- Fear of judgment: You worry a lot about what others might think of you, making you feel self-conscious around others.
- Physical symptoms: You experience physical symptoms like sweating, trembling, rapid heartbeat, or stomachaches when around other people.
- Trouble speakingup: It becomes challenging to talk or share your thoughts with other people.
- Performance anxiety: You have really strong anxiety before presentations, speaking in public, or participating in group activities.
- Negative thoughts: You often have negative thoughts about yourself and worry that others are judging you.
- Problems with relationships: Your social anxiety affects your ability to make friends and connect with new people.
- Academic or job performance: You have trouble doing well at school or work because of your social anxiety.
- Emotion overload: Social situations often make you feel stressed, panicked, and overwhelmed.
How can I get help for my social anxiety?
A mental health professional can work with you to learn coping strategies and help you build confidence in social situations. With help, you can learn to manage your social anxiety and feel comfortable around other people. The articles below will give you information about how to ask for help with your mental health and how to connect with a mental health professional.
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- I need to see a Psychiatrist/Therapist. How can I find one?
What can I do to manage social anxiety on my own?
There are things you can do on your own to calm feelings of social anxiety and feel more comfortable being around others. Remember, managing social anxiety is a process, and it's okay to take it one step at a time. Be patient with yourself and try different strategies to learn what works best for you. Here are a few things you can try to help manage feelings of social anxiety:
- Take deep breaths: When you start feeling anxious, practice deep breathing. Take slow, deep breaths in through your nose and breathe out slowly through your mouth. This can help calm you down and make you feel less anxious.
- Practice relaxation techniques: Try a relaxation technique like clenching and unclenching your fists or watching a guided meditation video before your social event. Relaxation techniques can help you feel more at ease.
- Challenge unhelpful thinking: Pay attention to your thoughts and try to challenge ones that aren’t helpful. For example, if you have the thought “I have to do this perfectly or someone will laugh at me,” try replacing it with something more helpful, like “It’s okay to not do everything perfectly. If I do mess up, I have friends who will be supportive.”
- Face your fears one step at a time: Instead of avoiding social situations, try facing them one step at a time. Start with smaller, less overwhelming social interactions and work your way up to more challenging ones. Each time you do this, you'll build confidence. It helps to have a few breathing or relaxation strategies you can use if you start to feel overwhelmed.
- Visualize success: Before a social event that makes you feel anxious, try picturing yourself having fun, being calm, and feeling confident. Visualization strategies can help you feel calmer and more reassured.
- Focus on others: Have you ever heard of the “spotlight effect”? The spotlight effect describes how we all feel like a spotlight is on us, so when we make a small mistake, we think everybody must have noticed. But, since everybody feels like the spotlight is on them, other people aren’t likely to notice your small mistake. Focusing on others is a great way to remind yourself that the spotlight isn’t on you. Get curious and ask other people questions about themselves. This can take off some of the pressure and make social interactions more fun.
- Ask for support: Talk to someone you trust about your social anxiety. It could be a friend, family member, or a school counselor. Ask for extra help and reassurance in social situations if you need it.
For more information about social anxiety, visit NAMI’s Anxiety Disorders webpage to learn about different anxiety disorders, treatment options, and support. You can also check out The Anxiety Network, which provides resources, information, coping skills, and screening tools for social anxiety disorder.
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