Social Anxiety is an anxiety disorder where we believe that others will judge us negatively ("they'll think I'm an idiot" etc), and it is therefore experienced most acutely in situations when we are with other people.  Our attention is very self-focussed - on what we must look like to others, what they might be thinking of us, trying to interpret every glance or other unspoken gesture or expression and what it might say about what they think about us.  We become 'mind-readers' and imagine that we can correctly assume what others are thinking about us.

Because we don't want to experience this anxiety (and it's normal body response), we tend to avoid situations when it might happen, and therefore are unlikely to learn that it could be ok and we could actually enjoy ourselves. 

If we do have to go, then we use 'safety behaviours' to help us cope, such as trying not to be noticed, avoiding eye contact, holding or fiddling with something, trying to hide (e.g. sit in corner, hair over face), don't talk, and maybe have an escape plan (e.g. sit by door or in aisle, make excuse to leave early).  This all increases the self-focus.

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy helps us learn to challenge the unhelpful thoughts and beliefs, learn to control our focus of attention, and change what we do.

Please read this page for information about anxiety and the normal body response.


Example of a vicious cycle of Social Anxiety



Social Anxiety Self Help Video


In order to break the vicious cycle of social anxiety, we need to change the way we think, and change what we do.  Firstly, we can learn about how any anxiety affects our body:

Thinking Differently - Challenging Thoughts

If we can change the way we think about a situation, then we will not feel so anxious.  We can learn to challenge those anxiety-provoking thoughts.  Thoughts are not statements of fact.  Don't believe everything you think!

What we believe deep down about ourselves, influences and distorts the way we think other people will think about us.  Just because we think others think negatively about us, doesn't mean that is how it really is!  We are looking at social situations, at other people and their judgement of us, through those very distorted lenses.

Learn to challenge the unhelpful and distorted thinking:



Thinking Differently:  Re-Focus

When we're in a social situation with a group of people, our focus of attention becomes totally caught up in our own thoughts and feelings.  We see everyone around us, but all we can think about is how they might be thinking critically about us!  The adrenaline response of anxiety makes us feel terrible too, so we're thinking about how horrible that is, and how we just want to escape the situation. 

It is very helpful to learn how to change our focus of attention and take more control over how we react to thoughts.  We can learn to just notice the thoughts, acknowledge them, then let them pass.  Notice the Mind Bully and let it go - turn your focus of attention to something else.  First of all, you might learn to focus on your breathing.

Then you might learn and practise Mindfulness skills including Mindful Activity



 Notice:            Where my attention is


 Observe:        What I'm doing.  Think: "I am walking", "I am sitting",

                                   "I am breathing", then notice those sensations in your body 

 Wise Mind:   What now?   How shall I continue?   Doing or Being?





  • Choose an activity to do mindfully throughout the day, for one, two or five minutes. For example:  Drink a cup of tea.  Walk.  Wash the dishes. 

  • Whatever you are doing, be in that moment, right now.   See, hear, smell, touch, feel, breathe.

  • Simply notice whenever other thoughts and sensations come to mind, then re-focus on your chosen mindful activity.

  • Be patient and compassionate with yourself.

  • Describe - rather than judge good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant.

  • It is as it is.

Everything Flows.  Nothing is fixed.   Heraclitus


See the mindfulness page for more examples


Doing Differently

Our usual strategy for dealing with social anxiety, is to avoid social situations.  However, that just serves to keep the social anxiety going because we never find out that we could cope and that we could enjoy ourselves.

Use Overcoming Avoidance to gradually face your fears

In the vicious cycle example diagram above, you will notice a list of what are called "safety behaviours" that we might use when we feel anxious in a social situation.  It's helpful to identify what you do in those situations, such as:  plan your exit (book a taxi), sit in a corner (to hide), sit on the end (to allow quick exit), check where the exits or toilets are, fiddle with something, drink more, not talk, avoid eye contact and so on.

Slowly, we can change what we do.  Use the Avoidance worksheet and identify some healthy coping strategies to use in those situations, and gradually, reduce and stop those safety behaviours.  So part of your list of feared situations might be changing where you sit, who you sit by, not booking a taxi etc.

It's important that you see the situations through - stick with the anxiety - it will pass.


FACE Fear and Avoidance - VIDEO



You can use STOPP skill to include many strategies:



STOP - just pause for a moment


Take a breath - one slow deep breath


Observe - there's the mind bully again.  My body and mind is reacting to the thoughts that others might be critical and I feel anxious.


Pull back - this is just the anxiety talking.  Don't believe everything you think!  Let's stick with the facts - these thoughts are just opinions (Fact or Opinion).  I don't have to react right now.    There's another explanation for this...(there is no evidence that others are thinking critically of me, my friends wouldn't invite me if they didn't want me there, others won't even notice me etc)  What's the bigger picture?


Practise / Proceed - What can I do right now?   I can use these strategies:

Where can I put my focus of attention right now?  (Mindfulness & mindful activity).  What else can I do that would help me tolerate these thoughts and feelings without reacting to them?


Complete your own STOPP  Worksheet PDF  or  STOPP webpage


Learn effective skills online - The Decider Skills for Self Help online course 

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Other Anxiety Self Help Resources


Self Help Books

Overcoming Social Anxiety & Shyness

Overcoming Social Anxiety and Shyness Self-help Course

The Shyness & Social Anxiety Workbook