Actionable Intel: Tips For Social Anxiety

7 Science-Based Tips for Social Anxiety

While a whole lot of people suffer from social anxiety, only a handful seeks professional help at some point in their lives. However, many affected people turn online in the hope of finding practical tips for social anxiety which help them manage their excessive arousal and cope with their SAD.

In addition to the four basic tips given on our social anxiety treatment page, we will review further recommendations for people with SAD.

Meditation and mindfulness practices are helpful for most people with social anxiety.

Please keep in mind that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to social anxiety disorder. For this reason, the following tips are not to be seen as prescriptive or equally effective and useful for every affected person.

However, it may be worth the effort trying the tips that resonate with you and see if they help you better handle your social anxiety.

Before we dive into further recommendations for social anxiety, let’s quickly sum up the four basic tips given in our treatment section:

  1. Get enough and adequate sleep
  2. Adhere to a physical exercise regimen
  3. Use your breathing to your advantage
  4. Gradually expose yourself to feared social situations

By following these four tips as best as you can, you will be on your way to greater well-being. Additionally, the following recommendations may provide further alleviation.

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5. Practice Directing Your Attention to External Stimuli

People with social anxiety have a habit of directing their attention inwards when they feel nervous and insecure. Oftentimes, they believe that by steadily monitoring their anxiety as well as their physical symptoms they will be able to hold their arousal at bay. This usually has a paradoxical effect and increases it instead.

Also, by not focusing on what is happening around them, their social behavior is negatively influenced as they are not actively engaging on an interpersonal level.

Many people with social anxiety develop an anxiety of anxiety and try to monitor their arousal.

A person may find herself worrying about seeming foolish in a small group of people. These concerns lead to anxiety, which in turn leads to more anxiety due to the fear that others may notice her insecurity.

Instead of focusing on what is being said in the conversation, she pays attention to her heart rate, the heat in her face or whether or not she is sweating and if others are noticing this.

Directing the attention outwards can interrupt this vicious cycle of anxiety. Paying attention to what is being said or what is happening on an interpersonal level decreases arousal and drastically improves social performance.

However, deliberately directing one’s attention towards certain stimuli may result difficult in stressful situations. In fact, studies confirmed that thought suppression can easily lead to adverse effects when the individual experiences high levels of stress (Wegner, 1997).

For this reason, practicing to direct your attention at will towards different stimuli when not being stressed is a good start. Mindfulness and meditation are great ways to activate and strengthen the brain areas responsible for focus control.

By regularly practicing to direct your attention towards inner and outer stimuli, you prepare your brain to do the same when under a lot of stress.

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Therefore, try incorporating mindfulness exercises and meditation practice into your daily routines. A good starting point are the following two exercises:

  1. Sit down in a comfortable position, close your eyes and focus on your breath. As soon as you notice that your attention has drifted away, simply return your attention to your breath. This exercise may seem simple, but you will quickly notice how easily your attention shifts to random thoughts that pop up in your mind. Whenever this happens, bring your attention back to your breathing.
  2. This second exercise can be done in any given scenario, so you do not need to sit down and be undisturbed to do this. Simply decide to bring your attention to a certain stimulus. This can be the sounds around you, the touch of the wind or your clothes on your skin, the way your feet touch the ground when walking, the taste of the food you are eating, etc. Play around and switch from one stimulus to another.

By making these two simple exercises part of your daily routine, you prepare your brain to have more control in stressful situations.

The rational, logically thinking part of your brain will gain power and influence over the older, reptilian like part of your brain which is strongly involved in generating anxiety when your brain perceives a threat.

With persistent practice, you will be able to direct your attention towards what is being said in a conversation, or direct your attention at will to a neutral or non-anxiety provoking stimulus whenever you start feeling nervous in a social situation. It is a powerful tool, make sure to see if it works for you.

6. Socialize More in Ways that Suit You

Socially anxious people often isolate themselves due to their anxiety. Others may not be socially isolated, but feel lonely on an emotional level.

Social isolation, even when only subjectively perceived, takes a huge toll on our physical and mental health (Bhatti & Haq, 2017). Isolation stress is considered a major risk factor when it comes to neuropsychiatric disorders (Han et al., 2018). Especially depression and anxiety can not only be the causes, but also the results of feeling lonely.

Oxytocin, a neurotransmitter which is also called the “love-hormone“, plays an important role when it comes to social interactions.

It is released into the bloodstream when interacting with others, especially when engaging in affiliative behavior, such as physical contact. A handshake, a hug, or even a slight touch on the shoulder can trigger its release.

But also a good conversation or the simple presence of another person can have this effect. It has been shown that higher levels of it in the blood relate to an increased tendency to socialize (Yatawara et al., 2016).

Among the most important tips for social anxiety is to increase the frequency of pleasant social interactions due to their anxiety-reducing potential.

Of special interest to those with SAD, it has been suggested that Oxytocin is involved in anxiety-reducing processes and that it alters fear responses by exercising influence over the Amygdala, the brain’s fear center (Slattery & Neumann, 2010; Knobloch et al., 2012).

Taken together, interacting and simply being with others is important for our well-being and can have an important ameliorating effect on social anxiety. Social isolation, on the other hand, tends to exacerbate social anxiety symptoms.

However, telling a socially anxious person to simply socialize more is not enough. If it were that easy, SAD would not be the third most common mental health condition in the world today.

Therefore, it is important to identify ways of socializing which suit each specific person. If you suffer from social anxiety and are looking for ways to benefit from the effects of Oxytocin, ponder the following questions:

  1. Who do I enjoy being around?
  2. What types of social interactions usually make me feel good?
  3. How must socializing look like to not feel overly anxious and make me wear out?
  4. How can I arrange my life to regularly socialize with others in a way that suits me?

Your answers to these question can build the base for important lifestyle changes. Conquering your social isolation is a major step on your way to overcoming social anxiety. If you find a way to do so which suits you, you are on the right track to getting better.

7. Find and Follow a Diet that Supports Your Mental Health

While it is seems common sense that a bad mood, depression and anxiety can lead to unhealthy eating habits, many people overlook that feeling emotionally unstable cannot only be the cause, but also the result of detrimental food intake.

Only recently were investigations turned on their heads in the scientific realm, as researchers started examining how our mental well-being is affected by the foods we eat (Murphy & Mercer, 2013).

It turns out that the role of dietary habits in regulating anxiety is a highly complex topic, since it depends on a whole range of different factors.

For example, the diet of a mother-to-be is going to impact how certain foods affect her child’s anxiety, even after it has become an adult (Murphy & Mercer, 2013).

Since this section attempts to give easy-to-follow tips for social anxiety, we are going to focus on some of the main research findings that are most likely to help socially anxious people cope.

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As you have probably guessed, refined and added sugars have been associated with higher anxiety-levels (Masana et al., 2019).

This association seems to be bidirectional, as it has been suggested that diets high in sugar and saturated fats have anxiety-causing characteristics (Murphy & Mercer, 2013; Masana et al., 2019), meaning that consuming lots of sugar and bad fats can cause you to feel more anxious.

Therefore, you might want to try adjusting your diet, following these two rules of thumb:

  1. Reduce intake of refined and added sugars (mainly found in processed foods)
  2. Reduce intake of saturated fats (such as in red and processed meats)

It has to be pointed out that a recent meta-analysis examining the effects of dietary interventions on depression and anxiety found no relevant effects on anxiety, but reported significant reductions in depression scores (Firth et al., 2019).

As you can see, research is ongoing and much remains to be uncovered. Be that as it may, improving your diet by reducing refined and added sugars as well as bad fats, and adopting a mediterranean-like diet is likely to benefit your overall well-being, slightly reduce depressive symptoms, and possibly reduce your social anxiety to a small degree.

Just as it is the case for overcoming social anxiety, there seems to be no one-size-fits-all approach to a diet which improves your psychological well-being.

You may have to experiment a little to find one that suits you, but it can certainly be worth the effort. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, spices, seafood and olive oil is a good starting point.

There are by and large countless reasons to start eating better. Now there is another one: it might improve your mental health.

Summary

To wrap up, here our seven tips for social anxiety disorder summarized again:

  1. Get enough and adequate sleep
  2. Adhere to a physical exercise regimen
  3. Use your breathing to your advantage
  4. Gradually expose yourself to feared social situations
  5. Practice directing your attention to external stimuli
  6. Socialize more in ways that suit you
  7. Find and follow a diet that supports your mental health

We know how difficult change can be, especially when you are feeling trapped. That’s why we have created the following PDF which reminds you of our tips for social anxiety and why they are worth implementing in your life. You can download it for free, no strings attached.

The 4-Week-Proactive-Change Challenge

Many people with social anxiety are determined to get better, but become intimidated when learning that one of the major keys to do so is gradual exposure to the situations they fear. Too often, this leads to them getting stuck in a state of frustration and hopelessness.

While our seven tips for social anxiety already include some behavior changes that can provide relief without having to face your fears, we have additionally created a 4-week-proactive-change challenge.

The idea is to get people active when it comes to overcoming their social anxiety and to demonstrate that by combining many easy to implement actions, it is possible to experience some relief, even without facing your fears. We invite you to participate!


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