Anxiety and fear in social situations can make daily life more difficult. But there are ways to manage that might be right for you.

Social anxiety and shyness aren’t exactly the same. Though there is overlap between the two, you can be shy (or get social anxiety symptoms from time to time) without experiencing social anxiety disorder.

Let’s take a look at these differences.

Social anxiety disorder involves a persistent fear of being watched and judged by others. This fear can affect work, school, and other day-to-day activities that involve being around others.

Shyness can also make you uncomfortable in social situations, but the difference is in the intensity and effects of your fear. People with social anxiety disorder may feel their anxiety is so strong that it’s beyond their control. It might also feel like anxiety takes over many parts of your life.

Social anxiety doesn’t affect everyone the same way either. Some people with social anxiety disorder experience anxiety only in certain social situations, and others might have anxiety that shows up only in performance-related settings, like public speaking.

It may feel as if your social anxiety or even shyness is out of your control, but it isn’t. There are ways to manage these feelings, however persistent they might seem.

Fermented foods and probiotics are known to bring many physical benefits, such as digestion and cardiac health. What you might not know, though, is that according to research, probiotics can also give you a mental health boost.

In one study, people who ate more fermented foods had fewer social anxiety symptoms. While more research is needed to solidify this link — and probiotics alone are unlikely to make social anxiety disappear completely — adding more probiotics into your diet could be a small yet effective way to help reduce some social anxiety.

While adding probiotics to your diet might help lessen some social anxiety, a couple of things could also make it worse — including that morning cup of coffee or energy drink. Older research shows caffeine can increase feelings of panic and anxiety in people who already experience anxiety.

And in an animal study, consuming more caffeine in adolescence was linked to higher levels of anxiety in adulthood.

Like caffeine, alcohol may not be the best option if you’re looking to reduce feelings of social anxiety. Some people use alcohol as a social lubricant, and it can work in the short term. But if using alcohol to soothe social anxiety becomes a habit, it can make you feel more anxious in regular settings over time.

Some research also suggests that alcohol could increase anxiety in shy people the day after drinking it. Even moderate amounts can affect your mood and anxiety level, so it’s a good idea to be mindful about how often you use it to take the edge off anxiety in social settings.

Talking one-on-one with a therapist may cause feelings of discomfort if you already experience social anxiety. But some alternative therapeutic methods could involve less of this one-on-one time.

For example, virtual reality cognitive behavioral therapy (VR-CBT) allows you to face your fears — like striking up a conversation with a stranger or giving a speech — in a virtual landscape. This form of therapy could allow you to practice communicating in a lower-pressure setting.

While VR-CBT shows promise for helping people manage social anxiety, it might not be available in your area. If you prefer less talk and more tech, biofeedback could be another, more accessible option.

You might also find a therapy that takes you out of your comfort zone — like group therapy — is your preferred approach to address anxiety, and research backs this up. One study on cognitive behavioral group therapy for social anxiety found it helped people reduce symptoms in the long term.

The physical act of smiling could impact mood and shyness.

In short, being happy can make us smile. But smiling can also make us happy. In one study, smiling in scary situations helped shy children reduce social anxiety.

And it’s not just smiling that might help alter your mood. You can practice:

  • good posture
  • loosening the muscles in your face
  • relaxing your eyebrows

On the other hand, research has also found that people with social anxiety might already be used to smiling more than people without it. In another study, people with social anxiety smiled more often to mirror the person they were talking with.

If you feel exhausted by the idea of smiling any more than you already do, that’s OK, too.

You may be thinking: “But that’s the problem. I can’t!” The trick is in setting manageable goals for yourself.

For example, if you’re new to running, you probably wouldn’t begin by signing up for a marathon. Instead, you might start by running only a minute at a time and walking for a while, too. The same can apply when dealing with shyness and social anxiety.

Instead of taking on more than you can handle, you might begin by setting a goal you know you can complete. And that will look different for everyone.

For one person, a good first goal might be texting a friend to say “hi.” For another, it might look like taking a walk around the park when more people are outside.

To identify that kind of a goal, the key is to be honest with yourself about what steps you can take. If you tend to put a lot of pressure on yourself, you might need to scale back the goal to make it more manageable. Or maybe you need to push a bit beyond your comfort zone.

When it comes to identifying what’s possible given your own social anxiety or shyness, you’re the expert.

Partaking in activities you like can be a great way to manage social anxiety. By focusing your attention on something like yoga, drawing, or gardening, you can give yourself a chance to have fun without worrying about judgment from other people.

It’s important to give your mind a break from all that sometimes. Some research even notes that pursuing an activity just because it’s fun is connected to better mental health and good outcomes in therapy.

And none of what you do has to be for show or put on display. You can blog, paint, build birdhouses, or go for a bike ride all for yourself. It’s all about your own enjoyment.

Like one-on-one therapy, reaching out to a friend might be something that feels a little threatening if you’re shy or experiencing social anxiety disorder. But if there’s someone in your life you trust, initiating conversations with them can help them understand you better.

There’s no need to be ashamed or misunderstood for your social anxiety. By practicing expressing your feelings to a friend, you can learn to open up and feel more comfortable making conversation in general.

It may seem counterintuitive, but trying to wish away the things that cause your anxiety isn’t usually the best answer. Instead, consider putting your worries on the spot.

When you notice yourself beginning to feel anxious, you may want to identify exactly what’s making you feel this way. By really focusing your attention inward and having an honest discussion with yourself about what your fears are, you may be in a better position to understand your shyness or social anxiety.

If you feel like you want to take more steps in learning or treating shyness and social anxiety, more resources are available for you. You can check out the National Social Anxiety Center for more info and support or Psych Central’s own resource on treating social anxiety.

There are many ways to help reduce feelings of social anxiety and live life more at ease. Finding the right solutions for you can be a process, but there’s no doubt that it’s a process worthwhile.