What is social anxiety?

Older man in home office talking on mobile phone


Everyone gets an occasional bout of nerves in social settings, but if your anxiety is starting to interfere with your daily life and your feelings are so intense that it stops you from doing things you normally enjoy, you may have social anxiety. 

People with social anxiety tend to feel overwhelming fear in everyday social situations, whether it’s shopping for groceries or meeting a friend for coffee.  

Glen Willson, a GemLife Highfields resident and a Crisis Support Officer (CSO) for Lifeline Darling Downs, shares some professional insights into this surprisingly common disorder. 

“Social anxiety is the irrational fear of being judged, watched, or embarrassing or humiliating themselves and is accompanied by a desperate need to escape any uncomfortable situations and emotions,” he said. 

“Generally, it is mental distress caused by certain triggers a person has dealt with in earlier life and makes them suffer by holding back on living their life. Unfortunately, many people handle their triggers in harmful ways, with increased alcohol consumption, drugs, binge-eating, excessive sleeping, or even self-harm.” 

Glen says that sufferers are not alone and there is always help available. 

“Call the Lifeline hotline whenever you need emotional support – there is always someone you can talk to who will keep it completely confidential.” 

“Never try to control your anxiety. The more you see it as something that needs to be eliminated, the more focused you will be on it and it will be harder to reduce,” he said. 

“It is possible to overcome your anxiety and live a fulfilling life.” 

Lifeline is a national charity providing all Australians experiencing emotional distress with access to 24-hour crisis support and suicide prevention services.  

Call 13 11 14 or Text 0477 13 11 14 anytime to speak to someone from Lifeline Australia’s 24/7 Crisis Support. 

Strategies to deal with social anxiety

Baby steps
People with social anxiety often try to avoid situations, so make a list of the situations you try to avoid and then break each situation down into a series of small steps of increasing difficulty. Gradually allow yourself to enter those settings. For example, arrive early at events and meetings so that you can meet people one by one as they arrive instead of turning up to a room full of people which can be overwhelming.

Deep breathing

Deep breathing and Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) are some of the best coping methods. You can learn them from YouTube and incorporate them into your daily routine to help you relax before you enter social settings.

Diet and lifestyle

Exercise regularly and eat nutritious meals. Reduce or avoid caffeine and sugar as they can trigger anxiety.

Monitor your feelings

Fear and negative thinking are two of the most common emotions with social anxiety. Be aware of your thoughts in social situations and make sure they are positive, especially about yourself.

Educate yourself

Learn ways to improve your communication skills and understand the social cues given by others with their body language and facial expressions. Stay up to date on current events so you can make small talk. Have a relaxed posture and good eye contact as this encourages others to respond positively to you and, in turn, will help you relax.