Relaxation Techniques for Coping with Social Anxiety
If you are suffering from social anxiety, then you must know how awful it feels when you are feeling anxious. Not only does your mind race and you feel insecure and awful inside, but you also have physical symptoms outside. Everyone can see you as you sweat for no reason, shake uncontrollably, and blush at the worst possible moment.
In this article I’m going to show you how you can cope with these physical symptoms so people can’t see you are feeling anxious. You’ll be able to get some control over your physical symptoms of social anxiety. And since you will no longer have to worry about how you look to others, your actual anxiety will also go down significantly.
The technique I’m going to teach you has to do with relaxation. Relaxation is the opposite of anxiety. By consciously choosing to make yourself more relaxed, you will be able to control your anxiety.
How does the technique work? There are two parts to it. The first part is learning how to become more relaxed by yourself in the comfort of your own home. The second part is using the technique in real life to help you become more relaxed when you most need it. Believe me, the relaxation technique I’m about to show you is a godsend when it comes time to face a social situation you are most afraid of.
So the first part of the technique is to sit or lay down somewhere where you are comfortable. It is best if you are by yourself so you feel as little anxiety as possible. Now go through your body and relax every part of it. Start at your head and move your way down to your feet, relaxing each muscle group as you pass it. First relax your forehead, let your jaw go loose, drop your shoulders.
The idea is to let go of as much tension as you possibly can. If it helps, you can also try imagining a relaxing beach or stream in your head. Then just lay there for a few minutes and try to get the feel of how it feels like to be totally relaxed.
The second part is to then take this relaxed feeling into your daily life. Throughout the day, remember to relax your muscle groups individually. Go as relaxed and limp as you can get. The more relaxed you can make your body become, the more your anxiety will begin to go away.
Remember, step one is to practice becoming relaxed inside your home. Many socially anxious people are so tensed up all the time they do not really know how relaxation feels like. The second step is to become more relaxed as you are around people. The best time to use this technique is when you are feeling especially anxious.
Coping with Social Anxiety – 7 Proven Ways to Cure Social Anxiety (No. 3 Is Best)
1. Pharmaceutical Medication
The first social anxiety treatment option that comes to mind for most people is medication. Many people, even experts, usually have strong black-and-white opinions about medication.
This means people fall into 2 basic categories:
Either they believe medication is the ONLY way to cure social anxiety disorder, because the issue must be either genetic or a “chemical imbalance.”
Or they believe medication is evil, only created by Big Pharma to get people hooked, and it should be avoided at all costs.
I believe the truth is somewhere in the middle. Medication can help some people who have severe social anxiety get started on their way to getting better because it often relieves the symptoms of anxiety. However, the medications will basically never cure social anxiety on their own, like pop culture often believes.
Pharmaceutical drugs, although helpful for many people, are far less of an exact science than most people might expect.
The reality of someone taking medication for social anxiety looks more like this…
You’ll first have to try out a few types of medications to find the drug and dosage that works for you.
The medication will usually lessen the anxiety you feel, but it will not make the underlying cause of your social anxiety go away. And a good doctor will have the long term goal of lowering your dosage and eventually getting you off the medication, by treating your problem with some type of therapy and/or exposure.
If you look on social anxiety forums, you find some people who had their quality of life dramatically improved by pharmaceutical medications. However, they don’t work for everyone. Other people cannot find a drug that works for them or one that works without side effects that outweigh the small improvements.
This being the reality, I decided to beat my social anxiety without using any medications. What you choose to do is up to you.
- Scientifically proven to lower symptoms of anxiety.
- Generally, do provide emotional relief to social anxiety sufferers.
- Does not require work or effort to get the result, you just pop the pill.
- Not a “magic bullet” cure for social anxiety, it’s almost always combined with other forms of long-term treatment.
- Often takes trial and error to find a medication that works well for you.
- Can have long lists of unwanted side effects.
Side Note: Be Careful Using the Word “Cure”
It’s human nature to want quick fixes, instant relief, a simple and sure solution to your problem. But when it comes to social anxiety, one single cure that works perfectly for everyone simply doesn’t exist.
Pharmaceutical medications are often perceived as a magic bullet that will “fix” whatever chemical imbalance is causing your problem… but that’s simply not how it works. The human body and mind are a very complex system with millions of moving parts.
This is why almost all drugs have so many side effects… you can’t ONLY change the balance of one chemical in your body without affecting 100 different things at the same time.
This is why scientists are often confused and bewildered when studying social anxiety.
For example, the main drugs used to treat social anxiety now are SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors). These drugs supposedly work by increasing the levels of serotonin in your brain. The theory was that people who suffer from social anxiety disorder have a low “chemical balance” of serotonin, an important neurotransmitter.
Yet a recent study has found that the opposite is true! People who have social anxiety actually produce too much serotonin in the fear part of the brain, the amygdala. This means that all the drugs people have been taking SHOULD have made them feel more anxious, instead of less!
Now here’s the most confusing part of the whole thing: the SSRI drugs did actually help!… Scientists just have no idea why anymore. (Part of it could be the placebo effect.)
So here’s the lesson from this…
Don’t look for one “magic bullet” to cure your social anxiety. The most effective strategy is to find several regular lead bullets to shoot at your problem. This means you need to TRY OUT for yourself the different strategies I’m talking about in this article, and see which ones work best for you.
Most people I work with who overcome their social anxiety usually find relief using a combination of different strategies. It’s never just one thing that made them feel 100% better, it’s more like 5 things that each made them feel 20-30% better.
That’s why my system for overcoming social anxiety is basically a combination of the best techniques from many different areas of psychology I’ve studied. I believe attacking the problem from several different angles is most effective.
2. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
This is the most well-known non-drug treatment option for social anxiety. Right now it’s the “standard approach” for most anxiety and depression disorders. If you go to a therapist, they will probably use cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT for short).
When most people think of “therapy,” they probably imagine laying back on a couch and sharing details about their childhood. CBT is usually much different from that type of therapy. It’s less about digging into your past, and more about trying to change how you think and act directly.
CBT is actually a combination of 2 different treatments:
Cognitive restructuring. This is a scientific way of saying “changing how you think”. Most therapists will have you write down your thoughts in a journal, then compare your thinking to common cognitive distortions to see where you are being too negative or irrational. Sometimes you analyze your thoughts more deeply, to see how they come from core beliefs or assumptions you have.
Exposure therapy. This is the “behavioral” part, and it means doing the things that you fear. You start with small steps and work your way towards facing harder and more high pressure situations. (CBT also usually includes learning relaxation techniques like deep breathing or guided imagery.)
So does it work?
In general, cognitive behavioral therapy does help people with social anxiety disorder. Many people have even been permanently cured with dedicated and patient practice of CBT. But there are a few big drawbacks to CBT that almost no therapist knows (or will tell you) that I think you should be aware of…
- Many scientific studies support its effectiveness for treating social anxiety disorder.
- Easy to find a local therapist trained to guide you through the basics of CBT. Even easier to find loads of books and websites teaching the main ideas and techniques.
- Very safe. Doesn’t carry the risk of unwanted side effects like medications.
- CBT is about half (!) as effective as when it first came out in the 70s. This is a dirty secret of CBT: scientists have measured a big decline in the effectiveness of CBT since it first came out, and they’re not sure why.
- CBT has a very high drop-out rate (source) compared to other treatment options, even other types of therapies. This may be because the process is dry, repetitive and boring. Many people don’t stick with writing down their thoughts every day very long, especially when they try to do it on their own without a therapist.
- CBT is a tool designed to be general, not specific. It’s general enough to work for many types of problems. But this means you basically use the tool to dig your own way out of social anxiety. As a result, a lot of people following CBT may not get specific enough advice that they need.
(In my advice I try to do as much of the work for you as I can. For example, in my video “13 Things Confident People Don’t Do” I give you the exact mind set shifts you need to start being more confident. Instead of telling you to pay attention to your thoughts and work it out on your own.)
3. Mindfulness Meditation
Things like meditation or yoga used to be perceived as alternative religions.
Now they’ve become popular in North America as cool hobbies. It seems like most of the girls at any university have tried yoga, and meditation is becoming more common too. I recently went to a 10-day meditation retreat near my city that had about 100 people participating.
Yet this is not just a trendy hobby. Many scientific studies have now been done on mindfulness meditation, and it’s been proven to help people with problems like anxiety and depression:
“Group mindfulness treatment is as effective as individual cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) in patients with depression and anxiety, according to a new study from Lund University in Sweden and Region Skåne.”
– Jan Sundquist, Lund University, Sweden
In fact, some of the latest types of therapy are based on mindfulness techniques first practiced thousands of years ago. For example, Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy.
These new mindfulness-based therapies “may be as effective in treating anxiety disorders, depression, addiction, and somatic health problems as established psychological interventions [like CBT],” according to some studies.
What Is Mindfulness Meditation?
Well, mindfulness is one type of meditation. There are many other types of meditation, but mindfulness is the one that’s most commonly used to help people with anxiety, depression, stress and other problems.
Many people think meditation is about closing your eyes and shutting yourself off from the world, usually in some weird posture. Mindfulness meditation is not like this at all. If anything it’s the exact opposite! Mindfulness is more about opening yourself up to the world, and paying closer attention to what is happening, both inside and outside of you.
In a nutshell, mindfulness is about paying attention to what is happening without judging or reacting to what you observe. For example, if you feel your heart beating faster from anxiety or you have some negative thoughts running through your head… then you simply pay attention without even wishing for these unpleasant sensations to go away.
The point of this practice is to help you get distance from yourself. It allows you to step back for a few moments from the chaos of your own mind and observe it from a more neutral point of view. As if you were looking inside the head of someone else.
The Best Type of Meditation for Social Anxiety
Meditation will help you the most if don’t just do it sitting alone in your room. You should take the techniques and use them in the real world as you are living life.
For example, many people who have social anxiety tend to daydream, think a lot and live inside their heads. Your attention is trapped inside your mind, constantly imagining something embarrassing happening to you in the future, or remembering a humiliating past event… and you are rarely living in the here-and-now.
Here is how a great meditation teacher called Sadhguru explains it in this video: How to Overcome Fear
By practicing mindfulness in your daily life, you’ll find yourself living more in the present moment, instead of being stuck in your memory or imagination.
This was one of the biggest shifts that allowed me to cure my social anxiety, and it’s why I dedicate a whole chapter of my course for overcoming social anxiety to a couple of very powerful mindfulness techniques.
“Worry pretends to be necessary but serves no useful purpose” – Eckhart Tolle
“Meditation Doesn’t Work for Me”
Some people sit down to try meditation, and after trying a technique a few times inconsistently, they conclude that “my mind is just too active” and “it doesn’t help me.”
To get benefits from meditation, you have to make a habit of doing it every day for the long term. I find the easiest way to accomplish this is to make sure you do it right after you wake up. I do it every single day for 10-20 minutes no matter what. I do it the first thing in the morning so that I don’t forget. The change is gradual, but give it a few weeks or months and you’ll probably experience a huge difference.
- Scientifically proven to help with anxiety or depression.
- Safe to try, no risk of unwanted side effects besides maybe boredom. Has many other health benefits you wouldn’t expect.
- Can do it anywhere, just need to set some time aside.
- It’s not a quick technique for anxiety. It’s about learning a different way of living.
- Takes daily practice to see the change, something many people may not commit to.
- Many meditation teachers combine the techniques with their own religious and spiritual beliefs. This can sometimes make it hard to separate the helpful techniques from the woo-woo spiritual ideas.
- Not as much scientific support yet as CBT.
One of the too-quickly overlooked approaches to decreasing social anxiety is making positive changes to your lifestyle. Your brain exists inside of your body, which means it is highly influenced by what you put in it and how you treat your physical health.
This section could be an article on its own, or maybe a whole book. There’s so much to learn and study when it comes to the effect food has on your mood.
Here’s a few quick bullet points:
Eat unprocessed whole foods. Processed foods usually have a lot of unhealthy things added in, like sugar, salt, preservatives and bad types of fat/oil. This is why you should be careful buying so-called “healthy foods” that come in boxes, cans or bottles. If it’s a whole piece of food – like an apple, carrot or piece of steak – then it’s much more likely to be good for you.
Lower the refined carbs and sugar. To understand why, read the book “Grain Brain (which you can buy on Amazon). The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar–Your Brain’s Silent Killers.” I try to eat a diet that resembles paleo, which is mainly meat, fish, eggs, lots of vegetables, nuts, some fruits, etc. I rarely eat carbs like bread, pasta, rice, noodles, pastries, potatoes, etc… whereas a lot of people make carbs the center of every meal!
Eat more veggies (that are not potatoes or corn!). Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale and brussels sprouts are exceptionally good for you. Right now I drink a smoothie with kale, blueberries and protein powder almost every day.
Eat the good types of fat. Contrary to what health “experts” have said the past 10 years, low fat doesn’t mean healthy. Your brain needs fat to function well. Not the fat you find in a McDonald’s burger… but fat rich in omega 3 found in wild salmon, sardines, herring, anchovies, and mackerel.
Other good types of fat are coconut oil (I almost always cook with this now), olive oil, avocados, grass-fed butter, and so on.
Avoid so-called “healthy” vegetable oils like canola, soya and corn.
Eat fermented foods. Fermented foods contain probiotics, a very good type of bacteria. A recent study found that the fermented foods you eat, the less anxious, worried or neurotic you probably are.
What are some good fermented foods? Sauerkraut, pickles and kimchi. (Although make sure it’s unpasteurized or “raw” because the process of pasteurization kills all the good bacteria due to the high heat.)
Dairy foods like yogurt and kefir also contain a lot of probiotics, just make sure the label says it “contains live and active cultures.”
Kombucha tea is another fermented drink that’s becoming more popular.
I personally love coffee, and drink it almost every morning. However, most doctors recommend decreasing or eliminating coffee if you have anxiety, so you should experiment and see if cutting out caffeine helps you. (I actually often make Bulletproof coffee at home, where I blend in coconut oil, grass fed butter and some raw honey into my coffee. Sounds weird I know, but it’s delicious and good for your brain.)
5. Natural Supplements
Beyond your basic diet, which should be the foundation for your nutrition, you can take some supplements and vitamins to improve your mood and health. I’m definitely not an expert here, but I can share with you the general recommendations for anxiety.
If you want to keep it basic:
- Zinc, Magnesium, Vitamin D, Vitamin B6 and B12 can help improve your mood and make you feel relaxed. Low levels of these have been linked to depression.
- There are also herbs like Chamomile, Valerian Root, St. John’s Wort and Passionflower which are claimed to reduce anxiety, though there is little scientific evidence behind it. You can buy these as tea or capsules and see if they help you.
- Avoid the supplement Kava, it’s been shown to decrease anxiety but using it often can cause liver problems.
In the book The Mood Cure (which you can buy on Amazon) , Dr. Julia Ross explains the 4 main types of neurotransmitters, how you can tell if you have low levels of each one, and specific doses of natural supplements you can take to fix it.
Studies suggest that an imbalance of certain neurotransmitters (chemical messengers in the brain) may contribute to anxiety disorders. The neurotransmitters targeted in anxiety disorders are gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), serotonin, dopamine, and epinephrine. – University of Maryland Medical Center
Here’s a very quick summary:
- Serotonin – the most common neurotransmitter deficiency. This is a feel good chemical that makes us happy, outgoing and enthusiastic. Many pharmaceutical drugs (SSRIs for example) work by artificially increasing the serotonin levels in your brain… but you can achieve similar effects by consuming 5-HTP or L tryptophan. (These are serotonin precursors. When you eat these, they get converted to serotonin in your brain.)
- Catecholamines (norepinephrine) – This brain chemical helps us feel energized and focused. The natural supplement to increase it is L Tyrosine.
- GABA – This is a natural stress reliever, muscle relaxant, and helps you sleep. Benzodiazepines (medications such as valium and xanax) reduce anxiety through the way they interact with the GABA receptors. You can increase it by taking GABA.
- Endorphins – Another feel good chemical, it is raised through exercise, which I’ll talk about more in the next section…
- Very low chance of bad side effects at normal doses.
- Have helped many people feel better.
- Natural supplements are often not regulated, may be low quality.
- Not well studied scientifically.
- Many people get little or no effect from supplements, or perhaps only a placebo effect.
6. Exercise & Sleep
These are two very important elements of your lifestyle. By lifestyle I mean your daily or weekly habits.
Exercise is proven to improve mental well-being…
“Scientists have found that regular participation in aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem. About five minutes of aerobic exercise can begin to stimulate anti-anxiety effects.” – Anxiety & Depression Association of America
When you exercise, endorphins are released in your brain. This is a natural painkiller which helps you feel great and relaxed. Exercise also increases GABA in your brain, which has been shows to decrease anxiety. And it decreases cortisol, a chemical in your body that comes from stress.
Finally, exercise is great for relieving physical and mental tension, and it makes it easier to go to sleep. (Anyone who has exercised hard before can tell you this is true.)
I personally do weightlifting much more than cardio. For me running every day would just be too boring. Instead I do a ~45-minute workout 3 times a week. Though I do walk almost everywhere daily because I live near the downtown of a city.
You need to find some form of exercise that you can make into a regular habit. It could be running, swimming or hiking outside. It could be lifting weights, kickboxing or another martial art. It could be soccer, basketball or another sport.
Now let’s talk about sleep…
Staying up late and getting too little sleep is something which I’ve been guilty of too often. This is bad because a lack of sleep can make you feel more nervous and on edge.
According to a study by UC Berkeley, being sleep deprived increases anticipatory anxiety a lot. This means you will feel a lot more anxious BEFORE a social situation if you don’t get enough sleep.
“People who are anxious by nature are the same people who will suffer the greatest harm from sleep deprivation,” said Matthew Walker, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at UC Berkeley.
And that’s not to mention how much harder it is to talk to people when you are feeling low on energy, tired and unfocused.
7. Energy Therapies That Heal Trauma
Okay, this one is controversial, but I’m going to include it here anyway because it’s really interesting.
Trauma is not just something that happens to people who go to war or get attacked in the street. Milder forms of trauma can happen to almost anybody in childhood. And many scientists have already studied the link between social anxiety and childhood trauma:
“Studies investigating childhood trauma in social anxiety suggest that parental emotional abuse towards the child (e.g., swearing, insulting, denigrating, and non-physical aggressing) and emotional neglect (e.g., emotional deprivation or the absence of feeling special, loved, or being part of a nurturing environment) may be important factors in the development of SAD.
For example, in a non-clinical sample, compared to women with low levels of social anxiety, women high in social anxiety reported significantly more paternal rejection, paternal and maternal neglect, and paternal authority-discipline.” (Klonsky, Dutton, & Liebel, 1990)
These types of early childhood experiences of abuse or neglect can cause someone to feel ashamed, insecure or deeply flawed as a person. I talk a lot about this in my social anxiety system and in my toxic shame video here. Trauma comes from disturbing memories in the past that create a “psychoenergetic block” inside you that affects your life and relationships with people today.
So how to deal with it? Well there’s 2 interesting approaches I can share:
1. EMDR (Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing)
EMDR is a type of therapy where you focus on the traumatic memory while moving your eyes side to side. This eye movement is supposed to allow you to “reprocess” the past trauma.
In the world of psychotherapy EMDR is somewhat controversial because it doesn’t have the same scientific support other approaches do. It is very often used on people suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Read the EMDR Wikipedia article for more info.
2. EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique)
Many people think this one is complete bullshit, and you probably will too if you see a video of someone doing EFT. Basically the technique involves tapping different parts of your head and body while repeating a phrase like: “Even though I feel anxious, I deeply love and accept myself.”
The claim is that tapping on specific “meridian points” on your body can release energy blockages. They say the location of these points is based on acupuncture.
I’m very skeptical about EFT, too… especially since it is often sold as a cure for weight loss, smoking, and pretty much anything else.
So who knows, maybe it can work for you.
8. Anything Else?
Now you have a VERY in depth overview of the most common (proven) ways people try to cure social anxiety. There is no single perfect method that works for everyone, but now you have more clarity and ideas about what next step you need to take on your journey.
Just before we finish here, I want to tell you one last thing:
It’s Not Your Fault!
The biggest reason so many people suffer with social anxiety for years and years is because of bad advice. Back when I had severe social anxiety, the only advice I heard was:
“There’s nothing to be afraid of!”
“It’s all in your head!”
“Fake it ’til you make it!”
The problem is, advice for curing social anxiety is 99% garbage, usually given by people who have never struggled with this themselves. Your parents, friends or teachers simply don’t understand how hard it is. That’s why they may tell you that type of useless “motivational” advice.
Even the published books and articles on social anxiety usually suck. They’re often written by people with a lot of degrees who will tell you over-simplified tips like: “Focus more on other people” … “Stop thinking negative thoughts” … or maybe “Stand up straighter to be confident.”
That’s why I decided to make this website. I wanted to share the tips and techniques for curing social anxiety that I have proven to be effective in the real world. The difference is that I’m speaking from personal experience. I think that “shines through” in most of the articles I write here.
My goal is to help 25,000 people totally eliminate their social anxiety. Maybe one of those could be you. Here’s what you should do next…
Watch these following 2 videos below –
By Sean W Cooper, the author of The Shyness and Social Anxiety System, is an ex-sufferer from social anxiety and shyness. This program is a compilation of his research and effort in overcoming shyness and anxiety.
Sean W Cooper’s Shyness and Anxiety system is a step by step audio course broken down into modules that are easy to access. It teaches you ways to start overcoming your social anxiety and self-doubt. The system utilises cognitive behavioural therapy which explores how feelings and thoughts can drive behaviour.
The Shyness and Social Anxiety system is endorsed by professionals and praised by psychologists due to the way it provides the relevant skills to manage issues of shyness and social anxiety.
To find out more, click on Coping with Social Anxiety