Managing Social Anxiety

Managing worry

Managing low mood

Success/coping with stress

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What It Does

This course features:

checkmarkInformation about social anxiety and shyness
checkmarkSocial anxiety self-assessment
checkmarkTechniques to manage social anxiety

How It Helps

This resource can help you:

checkmarkBuild your assertiveness
checkmarkChallenge socially anxious thinking
checkmarkLearn different coping strategies

This course features:

checkmarkInformation about social anxiety and shyness
checkmarkSocial anxiety self-assessment
checkmarkTechniques to manage social anxiety

This resource can help you:

checkmarkBuild your assertiveness
checkmarkChallenge socially anxious thinking
checkmarkLearn different coping strategies

Save this resource

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What is shyness & social anxiety?

Before we examine what social anxiety is, it’s important to understand that everyone’s experience of social anxiety and shyness is different. It might be that someone is just generally quite shy, or someone might be very avoidant of social situations due to extreme fear of embarrassment and shame. Someone may just lack assertiveness skills, which could be acting as a barrier towards gaining confidence and feeling comfortable in social settings.

It’s perfectly normal to feel shy from time to time. It is something that everyone has experienced. If you ask about people’s first day at school, first-ever date, job interview or first-time public speaking, most people will recall feeling shy, nervous, and anxious at some point.

When it comes to social anxiety, however, feeling shy and anxious becomes problematic when it interferes with our daily functioning, causing significant amounts of avoidance and distress. Social anxiety can force us to live more restrictive lives and suffer from unmanageable amounts of anxiety, especially when social situations are unavoidable or sprung upon us.

Social anxiety disorder is described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM V) as:

“A marked and persistent fear of one or more social or performance situations in which the person is exposed to unfamiliar people or possible scrutiny from others. The individual fears that [they] will act in a way (or show anxiety symptoms) that will be humiliating or embarrassing.”

Other features of social anxiety include:

  • Situational panic attacks.

  • Avoidance of performance-based situations where there is a risk of judgment from others.

  • Increased risk of depression.

  • Turning to alcohol to cope with social situations.

  • Turning to drugs to cope with social situations.

  • Strong feelings of shame and/or embarrassment.

How is social anxiety maintained?

A variety of issues can cause social anxiety. We might be naturally anxious, or we might have been exposed to distress previously via bullying or abusive behaviour. While it’s helpful to address these issues in therapy, there are things you can do in the here-and-now to disrupt the maintenance of social anxiety. Unfortunately, just like many processes that we follow, the more we practice being socially anxious, the more socially anxious we become.

The 5 Areas Model below demonstrates the vicious circle of Social Anxiety.

Click here to download a diagram of the 5 Areas model


When it comes to social anxiety, there are a variety of triggers that can cause extremely uncomfortable bouts of anxiety. Common examples of social anxiety triggers include:

  • Authority figures.

  • Parties & social events.

  • Strangers and unfamiliar people.

  • Public speaking.

  • Being criticized.

  • Experiencing anxiety symptoms that may be visible to others, such as sweating, blushing & shaking.

  • Doing things where others might be watching.


When triggered, we can feel overwhelmed by negative thoughts. Socially anxious thoughts are often influenced by an overestimation of threat and an underestimation of one’s ability to cope. Thoughts can also be overwhelming before, during, and after social situations. Planning what to say, not knowing how to respond and going over conversations after social events are commonplace within social anxiety.

  • Overestimation of threat: “There are a few people I don’t know at the study group, they will most probably think I’m weird for being so shy.”

  • Underestimation of coping: “If I stutter and don’t present my work well everyone will laugh at me and I’ll crumble, I’ll never get over it!”

  • Before the social event: “There will be people I don’t know at the wedding, I hope people don’t come up to me and ask me lots of questions.”

  • During the social event: “People will be able to see me blushing, they must think I’m so silly. I feel so embarrassed I just want to leave”

  • After the social event: “I was so nervous, I must have come across as really silly, I wonder what people must have thought of me?”


Typically, when caught up in a vicious cycle of social anxiety, our behaviours play a prominent role in maintaining the cycle. Avoidance plays a vital role in every type of anxiety disorder, especially social anxiety. When the stress of a social situation gets too much, we instinctively avoid them. We might make an excuse not to go, cancel last-minute, or find ways to be invisible during social situations (safety behaviours). While this gives us relief in the short term, this robs us of the opportunity to build confidence and expose ourselves more to our feared social situations.

Avoidance can be subtler, and may arrive in the form of something called "safety-seeking behaviour." Relying on alcohol to boost your confidence, leaving early, and only speaking when spoken to are all safety behaviours we use to avoid feeling exposed to our triggers. Other common safety behaviours include:

  • Passive verbal and non-verbal communication.

  • Arriving early to avoid being the center of attention, and leaving early.

  • Wearing your hood up or having sunglasses on to avoid eye contact.

  • Avoiding social situations altogether.

  • Always needing to be close to someone who can do most of the talking.

  • Making excuses to leave social situations early.

Physical symptoms

When feeling threatened or stressed, our natural fight-or-flight response kicks in, causing our bodies to produce adrenaline. As social situations aren’t typically situations where we can use this stored adrenaline (unless it's exercise-based), our bodies can become overwhelmed with all that excess adrenaline. This reaction produces uncomfortable symptoms such as palpitations, sweating, dizziness, physical tension, shaking, and shortness of breath, to name a few.

The thought of someone noticing these symptoms can be anxiety-provoking in itself. People with social anxiety have a tendency to "self-focus" and monitor these symptoms closely, which can increase anxiety levels further. For example, someone's first day at work might make them feel socially anxious, causing an increase in temperature, which, in turn, might cause them to sweat more than usual. Worry about sweat patches and a preoccupation with what others might think might cause even more sweating and significantly increase anxiety. Common physical symptoms experienced when feeling socially anxious include:

  • Heart palpitations

  • Sweating

  • Feeling dizzy/faint

  • Tension

  • Tingling sensations

  • Knots or butterflies in the stomach

  • Feeling weak in the legs (jelly-legs)

  • Dry throat

  • Shortness of breath

  • Feeling as though you need to urinate

While these symptoms may cause alarm, they each have a purpose to ready the body and mind for action, which is something called the "fight-or-flight response." These symptoms are commonly misinterpreted as feelings of ill health or that we are "going crazy."

The more anxious we feel, the more we can experience these types of physical symptoms, bringing unintended consequences that can make us feel even more self-conscious such as sweating, blushing, and shaking.

What can be reassuring to realise is that each of these uncomfortable physical symptoms we experience have a purpose which is to ready our body for action. This is our bodies natural inbuilt protection system called the 'fight or flight response'.

Click here to download the fight-or-flight response symptom sheet


Emotions are extremely powerful and influence our thinking, behaviour, and how we feel. The thought of feeling exposed through being criticized can bring strong emotions such as shame and embarrassment, and can leave us feeling overwhelmed or remind us of painful experiences from the past where we felt exposed.

The emotion might remind us of a traumatic period in our lives, make us feel very uncomfortable and sometimes quite vulnerable. Typical emotions experienced before, during and after episodes of social anxiety include;

  • Scared

  • On-edge

  • Nervous

  • Irritable

  • Sad

  • Cautious

  • Alarmed

  • Frustrated

  • Tearful

  • Overwhelmed

What can be done?

So, our thoughts, behaviours, emotions, and how we feel physically, all play a role in how our social anxiety develops. They all have a close relationship with each other and can work as a team to make you feel socially anxious. This course will aim to arm you with a range of techniques to help you transition from a vicious circle to a more virtuous one.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) looks to break this cycle by helping you to restructure your thoughts, change your behaviour, reduce physical symptoms of anxiety, and reduce the emotional consequences of feeling overwhelmed or exposed. Counselling can also help people build up resilience and work through traumatic circumstances which have caused long-term distress. Techniques like mindfulness can also help, helping you to enter the "here-and-now" and using grounding techniques to help manage emotional distress.

Person A vs Person B

Person A's approach may bring some short-term relief, but situations tend to become more difficult with little to no long-term pay-off. Person B's approach includes an element of short-term discomfort. However, this is something that gets easier with practice and offers a high level of reward.

You will notice that person A is acting on instinct. In contrast, person B, despite still feeling anxious, has used strategies and techniques to alleviate their social anxiety and make it more manageable.

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