Fear of the Unknown - How to Cope with Social Anxiety


University graduate Katherine has a hard time fitting in. The 28-year-old English graduate can’t seem to nail down a job since she gets so terrified in interviews. When she enters the room and sees a panel of interviewees, she starts to instantly panic and her brain goes into overdrive, preventing her from performing at her best.

Outside of finding a job, Katherine has two close friends, people she has known since Grade 4.  She keeps to herself and the thought of meeting new people terrifies her. Sure, Katherine may just an introvert; but she may also suffer from social anxiety disorder.

A common mental illness, social anxiety disorder involves feelings of being overly nervous and uncomfortable in social situations. It’s normal to feel anxious when meeting people for the first time, or talking in front of a group of people, but for a person with social anxiety disorder, the fear is so intense that it affects your day-to-day life, whether that’s in the workplace, in relationships, or any other activity you may do.

People with social anxiety disorder often feel like they may say or do the wrong thing and, as a result, they fear that they may be looked down or judged by others. Common physical signs associated with social anxiety include shallow breathing, sweating, increased heart rate, shakiness, or stomach aches, when confronted by certain situations. People with social anxiety may tend to avoid certain social situations, fail to speak up when they have a good idea, or struggle to be assertive with others.

So do you have social anxiety? Here are some common signs to look for:

  • You’re scared to join in conversations or speak up during a group setting

  • You go out of your way to avoid social situations

  • You use alcohol or other substances to give yourself courage prior to an event where you know you’ll meet new people

So what can you do to combat social anxiety? Here are some tips:

  • The first task is recognizing the problem and committing to making a change for the better.

  • Cognitive Behavour Therapy (CBT) with a trained mental health professional can help to reduce your anxiety.  CBT helps you cope with distress by teaching you skills to build your confidence in a social setting, which may include learning new ways to interact with people.

  • Medication is sometimes used in addition to counselling to help you deal with your body’s response to this disorder. 

  • Self-care - We chatted about this recently in our “Love Yourself - Five Tips for Implementing Self-Care” post, but a little self-care can go a long way. Whether it’s hitting the gym (maybe try a fitness class for motivation and the opportunity to surround yourself with new people), walking your dog, reading a good book, writing in a journal, eating a balanced diet, etc., taking care of yourself can help you manage your stress and anxiety levels.

Katherine has the tell-tale signs that she needs help, so rather than letting the problem affect the quality of her life, she reached out to a psychologist and decided that tackling her anxiety is the right way for her to pursue a more enriching life.

These tips are only a few of many ways deal with social anxiety. If you suffer from social anxiety and you would like some guidance to help you feel more comfortable in social situations, we invite you to contact our office.