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Mental Health and Wellbeing

Social Anxiety

Also called Social Phobia, Social Anxiety Disorder is a long term and often-overwhelming fear of social situations. It is common for this condition to start during a person’s teenage years and it can have a distressing impact on someone’s life. Social anxiety is more than just a person being shy; it is a fear that can affect everyday activities, a person’s self-confidence and even their relationships. Some people find that it gets better as they get older but many may need treatment to help.

Symptoms of Social Anxiety

While many people occasionally worry about social situations but someone who suffers from social anxiety feels overly worried before, during and often after the event. People with social anxiety often experience the following symptoms:

  • Worrying about everyday activities. Going out to the shops, speaking to someone on the phone or meeting with strangers.
  • Worry or avoid social situations, such as eating with company, attending parties or partaking with group conversations.
  • Worrying about something that you feel is embarrassing, such as blushing or sweating, or saying something incorrect.
  • Finding it difficult to do something when others are watching you or having the feeling that you are being watched while you take part in something.
  • A fear of being criticised for something, avoiding eye contact or having low self-esteem.
  • Often have symptoms of nausea, sweating or heart palpitations.
  • Suffer from panic attacks, an overwhelming sense of fear and anxiety, these usually only last a few minutes.

Social anxiety disorder is common in people who have other mental health issues, such as depression, generalised anxiety disorder or panic disorder.

Getting Help

If someone feels that they suffer from social anxiety, it is advisable that they speak to their GP, especially if it is having a big impact on their daily life. Asking for help can be a difficult and anxious experience, but a GP will be able to put someone at ease and be able to offer a variety of treatments. Taking therapies can help people get to the root cause of their anxiety and in some cases; people can be referred to mental health specialists for a full assessment. You can also refer yourself to NHS psychological therapy services (IAPT) without needing to see a GP for a referral.


  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) with a therapist is one of the most common treatments as they help you work through your thought patterns and behaviours, working together to change them.
  • Guided self-help, which involves working through a CBT-based workbook or an online course with support from a therapist.
  • Antidepressant medicines such as sertraline, however these will not be offered to someone under the age of 15.

CBT is considered the best treatment, however this is all down to the person and how they respond. Some people need to try other treatments and possibly a combination.

Things you can try to help

Self-help can help reduce social anxiety and it is often helpful for someone to try these before seeking other treatments.

  • Try to understand more about your anxiety. Try to write down what goes through your mind and how you behave in certain social situations; keeping a diary can help.
  • Try some relaxation techniques, such as breathing exercises for stress.
  • Try to focus on what people are saying rather than just assuming the worst.
  • Break down challenging situations into smaller parts and work on feeling more relaxed with each part. Instead of thinking about needing a shower, going out to the party, being around people and the stress that can come with that, just think about taking a nice shower.