Self-Help Techniques for Social Anxiety

A number of self-help techniques may be tried to help control social anxiety symptoms. These are techniques adopted from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), but can also be used outside of formal psychotherapy.

1. Practice deep breathing exercises.

We often identify the physical symptoms of anxiety more readily than the psychological symptoms — so they are often the easiest to change. One of those prominent physical symptoms is breathing. We feel a shortness of breath when anxious, like we can’t breathe normally or can’t catch our breath.

A simple breathing exercise you can practice at home can help alleviate this feeling of shortness of breath.

  • In a comfortable chair, sit with your back straight but your shoulders relaxed. Put one hand on your stomach and the other hand on your chest, so that you can feel how you breathe while practicing the exercise.
  • Close your mouth, and inhale slowly and deeply through your nose while counting slowly up to 10. You may not make it to 10 when you first try this exercise, so you can start with a smaller number like 5 first.
  • As you count, notice the sensations of your body while inhaling. Your hand on your chest shouldn’t move, but you should notice your hand on your stomach rising.
  • When you reach 10 (or 5), hold your breath for 1 second.
  • Then, exhale slowly through your mouth while counting out 10 seconds (or 5 if you’re just starting). Feel the air pushing out of your mouth, and the hand on your stomach moving in.
  • Continue the exercise, breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. Focus on keeping a slow and steady breathing pattern. Practice at least 10 times in a row.

The more you do this, the more you learn to control your breathing — which you thought was uncontrollable — on your own.

2. Take baby steps forward.

Baby steps are such an important of any treatment, but they can also be helpful for self-help exercises. After all, you didn’t get this way overnight. So changing it isn’t going to happen in one try either.

For social anxiety disorder, this can mean learning relaxation exercises (such as the deep breathing exercise above), and practicing them until they become second nature and easily done in any situation, at any time.

People fear the very idea of “exposure therapy,” so it’s important to understand what it does not mean. It doesn’t mean going into your most-feared social situation tomorrow without little help or techniques under your belt. It also doesn’t mean having to face your worst fears in order to overcome them.

Exposure therapy simply refers to being exposed, very gradually, to social situations that would normally be anxiety-provoking. But your exposure to them is in lock-step with your learning relaxation and coping techniques that help you deal with anxiety as it arises.

You can try this out in a smaller form on your own, with the help of a close friend or anxiety buddy. For instance, if you fear the social requirements of a dinner party, try going out with a smaller, more trusted group of friends first. Try and recognize what you’re feeling throughout the night, and when you feel little spikes of anxiety. What happened just before them? How did you keep them from turning into something bigger?

3. Listen to your self-talk or inner voice.

We often tell ourselves things in our heads that may or may not be true. Psychologists call this sort of thing “self-talk,” while others call it their inner voice. Some of this self-talk is positive and can help bolster our self-esteem. Other times, this self-talk can be negative and destructive to our happiness.

When this latter thing happens, psychologists call it a “cognitive distortion” — that is, our thoughts are distorted and irrational. We all engage in these automatic thoughts or cognitive distortions, many times throughout the day. They lead us to make assumptions about our own and other people’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors which are often untrue.

You can review the 15 most common cognitive distortions here and then learn how to fix the cognitive distortions here.

The key is to identify the automatic thoughts as they occur, and then answer them back so you don’t let them get the better of you.

Social anxiety disorder is a fairly common concern which can be treated with a combination of psychotherapy, medications and self-help techniques. But the first step to any treatment is acknowledging the problem, and then seeking out help from a trained mental health professional, such as a psychologist.


Acarturk, C.; Cuijpers, P.; van Straten, A.; de Graaf, R. (2009). Psychological treatment of social anxiety disorder: A meta-analysis. Psychological Medicine: A Journal of Research in Psychiatry and the Allied Sciences, 39, 241-254.

Powers, Mark B.; Sigmarsson, Snorri R.; Emmelkamp, Paul M. G. (2008). A meta-analytic review of psychological treatments for social anxiety disorder. International Journal of Cognitive Therapy, 1, 94-113.

Roy-Byrne, Peter P.; Cowley, Deborah S. (2007). Pharmacological treatments for panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, specific phobia, and social anxiety disorder. In: A guide to treatments that work (3rd ed.). Nathan, Peter E. (Ed.); Gorman, Jack M. (Ed.); New York, NY, US: Oxford University Press, 395-430.