Embracing Social Interactions: How to Defeat Social Phobia


Embracing Social Interactions: How to Defeat Social Phobia

We are all a little “social phobia”: nervous before job interviews, not liking to call strangers, or worried that our actions will be judged or laughed at. These are normal experiences that anyone can face. But what do we do if the fear is so strong that it forces us to avoid all social situations? Let’s find out what social phobia is, how it can manifest itself, and what you need to do to conquer it.

What Is Social Phobia

Social phobia is a strong and persistent fear of interacting with people when there is a risk of “embarrassing yourself.” Those who have such a problem fear that they will behave stupidly or ridiculously and it will cause judgment, laughter or even aggression from others.

At the heart of social phobia, there is the fear of not being accepted, ridiculed, rejected. Everyone has this fear. Humans are social creatures; we need to be part of a group. But if social anxiety is heightened, fear fills everything, crowding out all other feelings and preventing even the simplest interactions with others. Fear prevents us from wearing bright clothes, from changing jobs, from avoiding even very interesting events and people. This is the difference between social phobia and shyness: negative experiences are so strong and destructive that they seriously interfere with a person’s daily life.

People with social phobia are afraid not only before or during interactions with people but also afterwards. Often, they avoid such situations or endure them under great stress.

Typical trigger situations:

  • The need to talk to strangers.
  • Any public speaking engagements.
  • Crowds of people.
  • Having someone watch what you do.
  • Having to talk to someone of a higher rank or status.
  • Taking exams.
  • Going to parties.
  • Dating.
  • Having to eat or drink in public.
  • Visiting hospitals, hairdressing salons, clothing stores.

This phobia can be specific or generalized (all situations where you have to interact with people are equally frightening).

How Social Phobia Manifests Itself

Most often in a triggering situation, a person with social phobia feels discomfort, an “over the top” feeling that is hard to describe, let alone control. Signs of social phobia appear at all levels – in feelings, thoughts, and behavior.


The person who suffers from social phobia is most concerned about those signs of fear and stress that may be visible to others. It may be that the person is experiencing several symptoms at the same time:

  • Facial redness.
  • A feeling of not getting enough air.
  • Nausea.
  • Hands or feet trembling.
  • Heaviness in the chest.
  • Rapid heartbeat.
  • Increased sweating.
  • Dizziness.
  • Ringing in the ears.

Sometimes the symptoms can be so intense that it can turn into a panic attack. 


Assumptions, beliefs, interpretations, and predictions can swirl around in the mind. They focus on the threat one feels in the situation.

For example:

  • “Everyone is looking at me, probably thinking something bad.”
  • “I’m being an idiot.”
  • “They definitely won’t hire me after a job interview like this.”

Social phobia is characterized by negative thinking. It reinforces the feelings of anxiety, fear and discomfort that one experiences in interaction with others. 

According to research by psychologists, people with high social anxiety:

  • More negatively evaluate themselves than independent observers. That is, bystanders are much less critical than social “anxious” people seem to be. People with low social anxiety and independent observers have similar assessments
  • More often assume that social situations will end badly and the consequences will be negative.
  • Excessively focus on information that might suggest possible danger in social situations.
  • More often interpret neutral facial expressions as negative. 
  • Tend to exaggerate how much social anxiety symptoms are noticeable to others and how much they affect others’ opinions.


Often, people with high social anxiety choose avoidance. They try their best not to be in a frightening situation, or try to end it as quickly as possible. For example, coming to a party, but fleeing from it after fifteen minutes to enjoy online sport betting at home alone.

Avoiding a scary situation helps reduce fear in the here and now. But in the long run, it only prolongs it because it prevents a positive experience. In practice, the situation may be much less frightening than it seems. The more a person avoids an unpleasant situation, the more difficult it will be for him to experience it if he does have to be in it.

Feelings, thoughts, and behaviors feed off each other and are linked in one anxious cycle. For example, if your hands begin to shake, a panicked thought may follow (“Everyone will notice that my hands are shaking, and they’ll think I’m crazy”) and a desire to escape the meeting. Or vice versa: if before an important presentation one thinks that nobody will like it, it can “call up” physical symptoms of fear – the heart will beat faster, the head will spin.

How to Deal With Social Phobia

Social phobia is successfully treated. A combination of medication and psychotherapy is considered most effective. Antidepressants successfully reduce anxiety and reduce the intensity of its manifestations at the physical level. And with a psychologist, you can work through the irrational thoughts and beliefs that feed and reinforce social phobia.

It’s like in a computer game, where if you fail at a level, you can go through it all over again, figuring out how to act correctly in the process.

Exposure therapy is also effective. This approach is based on the principle of “Look Your Fear in the Eyes.” The client needs to be in an exposition – the situation which frightens him or her the most – or to visualize it as vividly and vividly as possible. Gradually the person gets used to the situation, and their anxiety decreases. It’s like in a computer game where if you fail at a level, you can go through it all over again, figuring out how to act correctly in the process. In life, it could be an exercise where you have to ask strangers on the street for directions until it no longer makes you uncomfortable or terrified. It will probably require repeating the experience many times, but then it will be easier to cope with other frightening situations.

Given that many people have suffered from symptoms of social phobia for their entire conscious life, accepting change can be difficult. However, it’s possible to conquer your fears step by step and learn to stop the anxious cycle of thoughts and feelings within yourself.

Refute Negative Thoughts

Negative thinking is the “fuel” for social phobia. People with this phobia tend to “read minds” – to assume that others see them as uncomfortable as they perceive themselves. They also often “predict the future”-suggesting that interactions with people will end in disaster, so they become anxious long before the situation.

For example, if you’re worried about a presentation at a work meeting, the thought behind that anxiety may be, “I’m sure I’ll screw up, and everyone will think I don’t understand what I’m doing.”

Shift the Focus of Attention

When we find ourselves in a situation that triggers a social phobia episode, it’s difficult to get out of the tangle of our anxious thoughts and feelings. It can feel like everyone around us is looking at us and judging us. And it is impossible to focus on anything but the physical symptoms of your anxiety, in the hope that this will help control and conceal them better. However, this only makes you more nervous and prevents you from interacting with people.

Shifting the focus of attention from what is going on inside to the situation itself can help reduce social anxiety. Of course, it’s not easy, but you can gradually learn to switch and have positive experiences that can help combat anxiety.

Chances are, people around you are nervous too – or have been nervous in a similar situation in the past, so they know how it feels.

Remember that anxiety is far from as obvious to those around you as you think it is. And even if someone notices that you’re nervous, it doesn’t mean that they’re going to think badly of you. Chances are, people around you are nervous too – or have been nervous in a similar situation in the past, so they know how it feels.

In a conversation, focus on what’s being discussed now, rather than guessing what to say when you’re approached. Listen to people, not to your negative thoughts that you’ve said something stupid or are about to do something stupid.

Don’t try to behave perfectly. Instead, try to be sincere and attentive, qualities that your interlocutors will appreciate.

Face Your Fears

Avoiding scary situations only prolongs social phobia. It prevents you from achieving what you want: for example, the fear of going on a date prevents the desire to find a partner.

Of course, at first, voluntarily facing frightening situations seems impossible. But learning to cope can and should be done gradually, building self-confidence and strategies for dealing with fear. Start with small challenges and gradually move on to something that is much more frightening.

For example, if an attack of social phobia causes you to talk to strangers, you can start by going to a party paired with a sociable friend (and if anything, hide behind him). Once you become comfortable with this arrangement, you can move on to the next step, such as trying to meet someone.

Don’t try to conquer the biggest of your social fears overnight. It’s important to move slowly and not to force events, so as not to inadvertently increase social anxiety instead of reducing it. Try to treat yourself with patience and empathy.

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