Strategies for overcoming social anxiety

27 April 2023 dot 6-minute read
Mental health Social anxiety Feel Well Healthy Mind How to
People who experience social anxiety struggle with an intense fear of interacting or talking with strangers. (Credit: Shutterstock)
Social anxiety affects adults and children alike and goes beyond shyness or occasional nerves. It also includes persistent nervousness and an overwhelming fear of judgement. People who experience social anxiety struggle mentally and physically at gatherings due to their fear of interactions.
Medication, psychotherapy, or a combination thereof, can help manage social anxiety disorder. The good news is that self-help strategies can also supplement the prescribed treatments. Here are a few ideas that can help build confidence in social settings.

1. Keep a journal

Journalling is a therapeutic way to channel your emotions when you have social anxiety. (Credit: Shutterstock)
Simple tasks like ordering food at a restaurant, engaging with co-workers or approaching a stranger can trigger social anxiety. However, the symptoms can come in various degrees of intensity. Some people can cope with being around strangers, while others may feel overwhelmed even in the absence of conversation.
Keeping a journal can identify unique triggers and record these moments of worry and fear. It can help organise thoughts, clarify emotions and recognise negative thinking patterns. Here's how you can start.
  1. List the situations that cause you the most discomfort. Is talking to strangers difficult for you? Do you get anxious when you make small talk?
  2. Identify your physical symptoms. Next to the specific events you've listed, describe what you felt. When making small talk, for example, did you experience heart palpitations or a flushed face?
  3. Name your emotions. Identify the strongest emotions that sum up the moment.
  4. Keep a catalogue of coping techniques. Enumerate the techniques that worked and those that didn't work. Then, discuss with your doctor which one best complements your treatment plan.
  5. Take note of your negative self-talk Jot down reminders on how to reframe it with positive thinking. Here's an example:
Negative: "I'm so anxious, I don't think I can do this!"
Positive: "I'm feeling nervous right now and it's okay. I've felt this way before, but nothing bad happened. So, I'll focus on the present and do my best."

2. Practise mindfulness

Adding meditation to your daily routine can be a tool for self-reflection that feels safe and non-judgmental.
Studies have shown that regular meditation affects the areas of the brain linked to the sympathetic system and the "fight or flight" response. A 20-minute meditation may decrease anxiety levels in the long term if practised consistently.
Meditation beginners may want to try "Five Senses" (also called the "5-4-3-2-1" technique) during bursts of anxiety. Start by taking three slow breaths and then focus on the following:
  • Five things you can see
  • Four things you can hear
  • Three things you can smell
  • Two things you can touch
  • One thing you can taste

3. Adopt an anti-anxiety lifestyle

Discussing your worries with a loved one can make stress less overwhelming when you have social anxiety. (Credit: Shutterstock)
Research has shown that adopting healthy habits can help alleviate the strains of modern life. Lifestyle changes like regular exercise, a healthy diet and good sleep hygiene can elevate mood and improve anxiety symptoms.

Add omega-3s to your diet

A review of 19 clinical trials in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that omega-3 fatty acids may improve anxiety symptoms. Add omega-3s to your diet by eating fish like salmon, herring, mackerel and sardines. For vegetarian-friendly alternatives, try seaweed, flaxseeds and walnuts. However, consult your healthcare provider first before changing your diet.

Stay active

Go for a brisk walk, practise yoga or skip rope to ease symptoms of anxiety. A daily physical activity routine can be light but effective if performed regularly for 30 minutes daily.

Invest in sleep

Getting enough sleep is essential for overall wellbeing. Studies suggest excellent sleep quality reduces vulnerability to anxiety. Aim for at least six to seven hours of sleep each night. Those with sleep challenges may want to add calming activities like meditation or journalling to their bedtime routine.

Take time to relax

Engage in activities that release feel-good chemicals in the brain. Mood-boosting pursuits include reading, listening to music or spending time in nature.
Allow yourself to take some time off to relax every once in a while. Taking breaks can help ease anxiety and increase your mental and physical energy.
These lifestyle changes highlight the importance of self-care when overcoming social anxiety. If you're struggling with this condition, check out AIA Vitality. This wellness programme provides tools and a supportive community of like-minded individuals that may be able to help.
What can you do if you're sleep-deprived? In this episode of AIA Voices, Kate Yan, one of China's leading psychotherapists, shares tips to improve your sleeping habits.
AIA Voices is a community of influential and educational voices from around Asia who talk about life, health and wellness. It is a platform to educate, motivate and inspire people to make positive behavioural changes on their health and wellness journey. AIA Voices provides an opportunity for communities across Asia to connect, collaborate and learn from each other, and was designed to drive AIA One Billion, our ambition to engage a billion people to live Healthier, Longer, Better Lives by 2030.
NIH, National Library of Medicine. 2022. Isolating the Effects of Mindfulness Training Across Anxiety Disorder Diagnoses in the Unified Protocol. [online] [Accessed on 13 July 2022]
NIH, National Library of Medicine. 2018. Mindfulness Facets, Social Anxiety, and Drinking to Cope with Social Anxiety: Testing Mediators of Drinking Problems. [online] [Accessed on 13 July 2022]
NIH, National Library of Medicine. 2022. Efficacy of journaling in the management of mental illness: a systematic review and meta-analysis. [online] [Accessed on 13 July 2022]
NIH, National Library of Medicine. 2021. Stress management training and gratitude journaling in the classroom: an initial investigation in Indian context. [online] [Accessed on 13 July 2022]
Appetite. 2016. Caffeine increases food intake while reducing anxiety-related behaviors. [online] [Accessed on 23 February 2023]

This is general information only and is not intended as financial, medical, health, nutritional or other advice. You should obtain professional advice from a financial adviser, or medical or health practitioner in relation to your own personal circumstances.

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