Struggling With Social Anxiety? Our Neuropsychologist Offers 5 Tips To Make Your Life Easier

While most people care what others think of them to some extent, social anxiety occurs when a person experiences significant stress, fear, or anxiety about being rejected or judged by others in a social setting. When these feelings become so severe that they affect a person's ability to function in everyday situations, social anxiety may be classified as a social anxiety disorder, per a 2013 study in the Annual Review of Clinical Psychology. The Anxiety & Depression Association of America estimates that around 15 million Americans experience social anxiety disorder, but while it's fairly common, it can also feel extremely isolating and debilitating.


If you're struggling with social anxiety, it's important to understand that it's not your fault, you aren't alone, and there is help available. Talking to an experienced mental health professional can help you overcome your fears in the long run, but there are also strategies you can use on your own to find relief. To learn about some of the best techniques to deal with social anxiety healthily, Glam spoke exclusively with Miami-based neuropsychologist Dr. Aldrich Chan, who shared a few helpful tips. By preparing for each individual situation as it comes, staying present rather than getting swept up in catastrophizing thoughts, and setting safe boundaries, you can make life with social anxiety much more manageable.


If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

Prepare and practice

Social anxiety can lead you to fear a wide range of social situations, but your fears might also be limited to a few particular scenarios. If that's the case, Dr. Aldrich Chan advises that the best thing you can do is prepare in advance to develop your confidence. "Rehearse what you want to say or even role-play with a trusted friend," he tells Glam exclusively, specifying that this is a particularly useful strategy if you're worried about giving a speech or presentation. "This gives you confidence in the content of your speech and helps you become familiar with the feelings of expressing yourself," Dr Chan says.


You can also use this technique in less formal social situations, like a first date or even starting a new job. It can be especially helpful when dealing with phone call anxiety. Practicing what you're going to say with "a set of go-to questions in your mind" can take the edge off, as you won't have to worry about having to think of something to say on the spot. The more you practice your speech or conversation, the more confident you will feel.

Mindfulness and grounding techniques

"Mindfulness" isn't just a buzzword in the wellness space. The act of being fully present and grounded in your surroundings can be incredibly helpful if you experience any form of anxiety, as it slows those anxious thoughts down. "When anxiety strikes, it often sends the mind into overdrive with swirling, negative thoughts," Dr. Aldrich Chan says in an exclusive conversation with Glam, explaining that by being mindful, you can "divert your mind from anxious thoughts" and instead concentrate on the present. So, how exactly do you practice mindfulness?


While there are apps for mindfulness and meditation, Dr. Chan recommends "focusing on your breath or grounding techniques like the '5-4-3-2-1' (identify five things you can see, four you can touch, three you can hear, two you can smell, and one you can taste)." These will snap your thoughts back from whatever is making you worried and onto the present moment. As your mind stops buzzing with anxious thoughts, you should begin to also find relief from some of the physiological symptoms of your social anxiety.

Set boundaries and pace yourself

Although social anxiety is common (even extroverts can experience it), the triggers associated with it can be unique. It's important to identify the specific factors and situations that cause you the most anxiety so you can tread through them carefully and set up enough boundaries for yourself. According to Dr. Aldrich Chan, who spoke with Glam exclusively, this can help you to "limit your time in anxiety-inducing situations." One of the most universal triggers for social anxiety is crowds, and Dr. Chan has some helpful advice for setting boundaries in this scenario: "If crowded settings are overwhelming, give yourself permission to take breaks. Step outside for a breath of fresh air, find a quieter spot ..."


Another common trigger is feeling bombarded by digital communications, like texts and emails. If you find yourself feeling anxious about forever having to reply to people, Dr. Chan recommends setting "specific times in the day when you'll address them so you're not constantly feeling the pressure to respond immediately." Pacing yourself and operating within boundaries can feel strange at first, especially if you tend to worry about pleasing the people around you, but remember that your own health and well-being should be your priority.

Reframe negative thoughts

Many people who experience social anxiety feel overwhelmed by the physical symptoms, like a racing heartbeat, feeling flushed, shaking, or nausea. Often, these sensations come about in response to anxious thoughts, so tackling your thoughts can be an effective way to relieve physical symptoms. Dr. Aldrich Chan suggests identifying and then reworking your negative thoughts one by one to develop healthier thought patterns in the long term. "Cognitive restructuring is a technique from cognitive-behavioral therapy that involves identifying and challenging negative thought patterns," he tells Glam exclusively. "For example, if you think, 'I'll embarrass myself if I speak up,' you can reframe it to, 'Everyone makes mistakes, and speaking up is an opportunity for me to share my perspective. Even if it's not perfect, it's valuable.'"


You may have to put in a lot of effort to reframe your thoughts at first, especially if they're hard-wired and deeply ingrained in your mindset. But the more you challenge each negative thought, the easier it will be to dismantle them until they are no longer your first response.

Seek support

Help is always available if you experience social anxiety; this is not an obstacle you need to face on your own. Whether you open up to a mental health professional or just a trusted friend, Dr. Aldrich Chan tells Glam exclusively that "verbalizing your fears can help diminish their power." Having another person validate the effect your fears have on you, even if you think they're silly, can help you feel less alone and overwhelmed.


Seeking professional help can be particularly effective because, in addition to just having someone to talk to, you'll have cognitive-behavioral therapy, which Dr. Chan says "is effective for treating social anxiety." However, other options are available, too. " ... joining support groups, either in-person or online, can provide a space where you can share your experiences and learn from others who face similar challenges," he adds. No matter how your social anxiety presents itself, nobody should have to suffer. By employing these strategies and seeking support, you can take some of the pressure off and start enjoying life again.