What to Say to Someone With Social Anxiety

beach friends photoUsually I write blog posts in paragraph form, but this one is a little different. Here, I’d like to use a simple list, because, well, sometimes lists are fun. It’s nice to change things up once in a while.

So in a simple format, here is the list: 100 Things to Say to Someone With Social Anxiety

As you can see, what sets this list apart is that it is literally 100 things. If you’ve ever not known what to say to a friend or family member with social anxiety, consult this list!

  1. This must be hard for you.
  2. It’s not your fault.
  3. I am sorry you are going through this.
  4. Tell me more about how you are feeling.
  5. It’s okay that you have to cancel, we can try to meet up another time.
  6. Would you like to make plans just the two of us, instead of as a group?
  7. I am here if you need me.
  8. How can I help?
  9. What are you feeling right now?
  10. Would you like to go for a walk?
  11. Take your time.
  12. Would you like to talk?
  13. Let’s work through this together.
  14. I know it feels bad now, but this feeling will pass.
  15. I know you are not making this up.
  16. I know that your anxiety is outside your control.
  17. I love you no matter what.
  18. Is there something we can do together that would be less overwhelming?
  19. I want to know how I can best support you.
  20. I know you have a real illness.
  21. I know you can’t control how you feel.
  22. I care about you and want to help.
  23. You are important to me.
  24. It might not seem like it know, but how you feel is going to change.
  25. You are not alone, I am here for you.
  26. Talk to me, I will listen.
  27. I can’t really understand how you are feeling, but I can offer my compassion.
  28. I am not going to abandon you.
  29. I am sorry you are feeling this pain.
  30. Thank you for telling me how you feel.
  31. I am proud of you for seeking help.
  32. You are doing the right thing by taking care of yourself.
  33. Have you seen your doctor?
  34. Maybe we should schedule a visit with the doctor.
  35. It won’t always be like this.
  36. You are a strong person and will get through this.
  37. You don’t need to apologize to me for your illness.
  38. You are worthwhile.
  39. There is treatment that could help you.
  40. You will get through this somehow.
  41. There is still hope.
  42. Life won’t stay this way forever.
  43. Let’s go do something fun.
  44. I know someone who has been through this.
  45. I am here to listen.
  46. How did your appointment with your doctor go?
  47. Can I get you anything?
  48. Whatever happens, we will figure it out.
  49. I’m here if you want to talk about what’s upsetting you.
  50. Want to grab a bite to eat?
  51. Do you want to be alone or should I stay?
  52. I am proud that you stepped outside your comfort zone.
  53. I believe you.
  54. Would you like to go for a drive?
  55. I’m sorry you are struggling with this.
  56. It’s okay to feel this way.
  57. Do you need me to do anything?
  58. I can tell you feel overwhelmed.
  59. Don’t give up.
  60. I’m not going anywhere.
  61. I have all the time in the world.
  62. Talk to me about what’s going through your mind.
  63. You are not crazy.
  64. You will always have me.
  65. We don’t need to talk.
  66. I hope you can come, but understand if you can’t.
  67. Take your time.
  68. I am proud of you for doing this.
  69. I know you are trying.
  70. How can I make you feel better?
  71. Let’s go get some fresh air.
  72. How you are feeling is temporary.
  73. Do you want some space?
  74. You’re not a burden.
  75. I know you are scared.
  76. Let’s watch something funny on TV.
  77. It’s okay.
  78. I am with you.
  79. Can we look at this a different way?
  80. I believe you can overcome your fears.
  81. I would like to help you face your fears.
  82. Let’s do something fun to celebrate you facing your fears.
  83. I am here, you are safe.
  84. Let’s change the ending you see in your mind.
  85. Do you have calming strategies you can use?
  86. I’ve noticed you don’t seem like yourself.
  87. Do you want me to contact a therapist?
  88. I think you are capable of this, even if you don’t.
  89. How have you gotten through this before?
  90. Is there anyone who could help you?
  91. Anxiety is uncomfortable but not dangerous.
  92. What do you think is going to happen next?
  93. Tell me the worst thing that could happen.
  94. Remember when you made it through this before?
  95. You can do this.
  96. You are powerful.
  97. You are brave.
  98. How likely is it that things will go as badly as you expect?
  99. How many times have you gone through this?
  100. I believe in you.

What is the best thing/worst thing someone could say to you about your anxiety? Share your answers to this question HERE.

Performance Anxiety

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Performance anxiety is a common experience, particularly for musicians and athletes. Anxiety about performing may also relate to public speaking or simply being put on the spot. When performance anxiety is significant, it may interfere with daily life, career plans, and attaining life goals. One way that performance anxiety can be alleviated is through promotion of “flow state.”

Understanding Flow State

Flow state as a term was first coined by psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi in the 1890s, when he noticed that artists lost themselves in their work. Flow might also be referred to as “being in the zone.” If you’ve ever found yourself totally absorbed in an activity, to the point that you did not notice time passing, it’s possible you were experiencing flow state.

The experience generally involves intense concentration in the present moment, a distorted sense of time, and feeling as though an activity is intrinsically rewarding—in other words, you are not caught up in thinking about the outcome.

What Influences Flow

Numerous factors influence how well you transition into flow, or whether instead, you experience performance anxiety. Confidence has been shown to relate positively to flow, while anxiety has been show to relate negatively to flow. In general, when flow is highest, performance anxiety tends to be lowest.

In addition, we know that level of skill is important for entering flow state. Without the necessary skill and practice, a task will feel too difficult for you to enter flow state. Once a task feels too difficult, you may also fall into self-criticism, which can also exacerbate performance anxiety.

What Happens in the Brain During Flow

You might wonder exactly what is happening when you enter flow state. In essence, your prefrontal cortex shuts down. This area of your brain controls your sense of self, perception of time, and complex thought. When this part of your brain goes silent, your brain waves slow down and you might even feel like an observer watching yourself. Indeed, this state is at the root of practices such as Zen Buddhism.

Promoting Flow State and Reducing Performance Anxiety

While it’s helpful to know about flow state, it’s even more helpful to know how to induce it to reduce performance anxiety. In order to enter flow state, you must feel relaxed and focused. Your goal then, is to create performance conditions that foster the flow state.

  1. Balance between skill and challenge. One of the most important ways to do this is to ensure that in any performance situation, there is an appropriate balance between skill and challenge. In other words, you need to be in a situation in which you can succeed. And, you need to practice sufficiently to develop needed skills.
  2. Stay in the present. Your focus should be on the present rather than the future, to enter flow state. Don’t think about the outcome of what you are doing. Instead, focus intently on your actions in the moment. By the same token, don’t focus on the audience if you want to enter flow state.
  3. Positive self-talk. While it may sound simple, saying uplifting things to yourself can help to boost your ability to enter flow state. Tell yourself, “I can do this” or “I am capable.” Go one step further an visualize yourself doing well.
  4. Work out before a performance. Do some exercise that encourages flow state such as low intensity jogging. This will help you to enter flow state.
  5. Practice mindfulness. Spend a set period such as 10 minutes focusing on your breath. As your mind generates various thoughts, acknowledge them but always return to focusing  on your breath. By practicing in this way, you are training your brain pathways to enter flow state.
  6. Develop a pre-performance routine. Choose a focal point, use positive self-talk, breathe deeply, and scan and release tension from your body. Take it one step further and imagine any nervous energy being channeled out of your core toward your audience.

Recognizing Flow State

You will know you’ve entered flow state when your self-consciousness is reduced. Fear tends to feed pressure, and pressure to do well may cause you to crumble. Pay attention to situations in which you naturally have no fear or feel no pressure to do well. When you don’t feel you are in danger, it will be easier to relax and enter flow state. Try to translate that feeling into all areas of your life. In essence, when you stop trying to impress everyone, and focus on the music, the shot, or the message of your speech—that’s when the magic begins and the anxiety fades away.


Fullagar CJ, Knight PA, Sovern HS. Challenge/Skill Balance, Flow, and Performance AnxietyApplied Psychol. 2012;62(2):236-259.

Kirchner JM. Incorporating flow into practice and performance. Work. 2011;40(3):289-296.
Kirchner JM, Bloom AJ, Skutnick-Henley P. The relationship between performance anxiety and flow. Medical Problems of Performing Artists. 2008;23(2):59.
Koehn S. Effects of confidence and anxiety on flow state in competition. Eur J Sport Sci. 2013;13(5):543-550.

How to Stop Having Social Anxiety

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How to stop having social anxiety sounds like the name of an infomercial. I can picture it now… a man is trembling and shaking… cut to the “stop social anxiety now” cure. This revolutionary cure will only cost you $14.99. But wait, if you order now, you can get two social anxiety gizmos for the price of one. If only such a gizmo existed, social anxiety would be a thing of the past–and someone would be very rich.

No, when we talk about how to stop having social anxiety, we usually talk about the known treatments. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and/or medication are the usual go-to’s, though these are not cures, they are treatments. You might relapse, you might not fully recover, you might… drop out… or never start in the first place.

The truth is that we still don’t have a great way to deal with this problem, namely because it’s a social problem.

Whether you want to admit it or not, social anxiety will pervade every part of your life if you let it. That means that getting help is difficult. Making that phone call is difficult. Hopefully, if you are in bad shape, someone will make it for you.

What does that leave us with?

If you’re reading this, let me be clear that you can’t plug a hole in a sinking ship with a toothpick. If your anxiety is severe, then CBT and medication are likely necessary.

But if it’s moderate, or if you are looking to deal with some symptoms on your own, then trying to help yourself is not a bad idea.

Let’s start with your core beliefs about yourself. Usually in CBT, you work backwards from your anxious thoughts to figure out your core beliefs. While this is helpful, I think it is also helpful to fully grasp what a core belief is by thinking about how you view yourself.

We all go through life with certain perceptions of ourselves.

These tend to fall in certain domains, and might be known as personality traits such as those identified by psychologist Hans Eysenck.

I like to think that certain traits kind of stick with you.

For example, are you…

Passive or aggressive?

Friendly or unfriendly?

Intelligent or dumb?

Irresponsible or responsible?

Impulsive or inhibited?

Expressive or reserved?

Active or lazy?

Moody or happy?

Obsessive or laidback?

When I was doing some reading about imposter syndrome, I found it interesting that many who live with this problem (thinking that they don’t belong in their job/position despite many achievements) grew up with a sense that they were not intelligent. While I can identify with many of the aspects of this syndrome, this one hit me squarely in the wrong way. Nope, I never thought that, because nobody told me that. I thought I could achieve anything I set my mind to. That was not one of my core beliefs.

Which was a bit of a lightbulb moment for me. Because I realized there were other areas of my life in which that was not true. Shouldn’t I feel confident in all areas that I can be the best me? What was holding me back?

I did not even realize that I held core beliefs about not being “good” at certain things.

I was never good at sports. I never expected to be good at sports. That is one of my core beliefs.


Translate that to social anxiety, what were you “never good at” as a child? What did you “never expect to be good at?”

Dig into those questions and you will get at those core beliefs.

But here’s where it gets tricky. They are so ingrained in us that we take them as true.

I never questioned whether I could ever catch a baseball. I just assumed it was impossible. Still to this day, it seems impossible to me.

What seems impossible to you? Identify those things, and you will see where you are being held back.

Now here’s the shift—imagine, just for a moment, that you could wipe that slate clean. You are a completely clean slate with no preconceived notions of who you are and what you are like. If you start from scratch, can’t you build anything? Have you been trying to build a house on a crumbling foundation? You can’t do it. The house will never be sound.

Wipe out those core beliefs.

Every day this week, tell yourself, “I am a clean slate.” Imagine a giant eraser rubbing off the words that haunt you or point out your weaknesses. This sounds ridiculous I know. Just try it.

Oh and by the way..

In 2017, a study was conducted to develop and validate the Core Beliefs Questionnaire (CBQ). This scale had three versions: Trait version, Contigent version (beliefs related to specific situations), and Other version (beliefs about how others view you). What was found was that scores on the three tests decreased from before treatment to after treatment for social anxiety disorder. This means that core beliefs are changed through treatment. If you can get at these beliefs and change them, you might see the same effects.

Until then, I’ll keep trying to catch that baseball.


Wong QJJ, Gregory B, Gaston JE, Rapee RM, Wilson JK, Abbott MJ. Development and validation of the Core Beliefs Questionnaire in a sample of individuals with social anxiety disorder. J Affect Disord. 2017;207:121-127. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2016.09.020.


What most helps you to calm down when you have anxiety? Answer this question HERE and see what other people have to say.

Poetry Contest: The Top Five Nominees

Thank you to everyone who participated in the social anxiety poetry contest. I have chosen the top five entries that were submitted by December 31st, 2017. Now it is time to vote for your favorite! Read through the following five poems and then cast your vote in the polling box at the bottom of the page. Voting closes January 31st, 2018.

Update: The grand prize will be a Humble Bundle digital book package worth over $150 including a digital copy of my book “The Anxiety Workbook” as well as the books “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in 7 Weeks” and “Real World Mindfulness for Beginners.”

Update: We have a winner! The grand prize winner of the poetry contest was Elisabeth Porter for her poem “Hold On,” with 67% of the vote. The runner up was J Michael Wright for the poem “Social Anxiety.” Thanks for participating everyone!

writing pen natural light photo

Hold On

by Elisabeth Porter

I feel trapped in a box and tightly sealed, traveling on ship across the sea
Everything in me wants to say “Why ME??”
It’s a claustrophobic atmosphere with many hours of feeling sick
It’s a claustrophobic atmosphere with not much room to think
It’s a claustrophobic atmosphere where anxiety seems to be the only food to eat

But you know what?!? —
The box can be a blessing, the ship can be your guide, the box can be your blessing—do you know the reason why?
The box is a protection,
the ship leads a specific direction,
and the anxiety is being used to make you into a better you.

So though your feeling sick, and everything feels hopeless— hold on.

Social Anxiety

by J Michael Wright
He wanted to slam his fists into the air, wishing they would pound away at the veneer of this fake reality.

He wanted to scream at the passersby, yell that they were trapped in cells designed by digital walls and arbitrary, archaic Patriarchal rules.

You’re not welcome if you fit the following: fat, gay or trans, a person of color, female, pregnant, mentally ill, if you’re eccentric, and the list goes on.

You must be “This” white, male, straight, physically and mentally fit to ride this ride.

All others may exist until they no longer provide a use, and then it’s curtains on your goals, dreams, aspirations, bills, your ability to exist – until you find a new place – but the clock is always ticking and it’s only a matter of time before the bell tolls for thee, and the process starts over again.

Money and materials are the only ways to prove your worth, and people only look if you’re pretty based on their standards.

Screw the Golden rule; let’s adopt Platinum instead: “Treat others how they want to be treated, not how you want to be treated.”

But the cacophony of voices demanding that he conform overwhelms him, and his pleas begging people to wake up are ignored, so he crawls into a ball and wishes the World away.

It never goes away.

The harshness of this fake reality chips away at his steely constitution until there’s nothing left, and he cries from being berated by people on-line, people at work, his friends and family, drained by their desperation of being successful in this fake world.

So, he quits, and he starts the clock over and over again, but the years pass and fade, and “You’re not getting any younger, babe,” so he stresses about his future and what kind of partner can he be if he can’t properly provide.

He feels ugly, feels misunderstood, feels alone despite being surrounded by people, and all he can do is face the day, one at a time, and take things in stride because he’s not giving up, just giving in.


by “Kandice”

Mind succumbed by familiar loneliness, dark, empty, distant
Hands dripping like a facet, cold, wet, tremors
Heart pounding to my eardrums, thump, thump, thump
Breath escaping my body faster than my mind, labored, unsheathed, arrhythmic
Swallowing, quickly, last night’s dinner before heads turn, pathetic, unnatural, anxiety

Another t-shirt stained brown with sweat, bleach, money, disposal
Laying next a pillow collecting tears for decades, obsession, restless, fear
Dated sweaters to hide drenched shirts daily, insecurity, emergency, desperate

Laptop in bed, lying awake with chocolates and television, safe, peaceful, home


My Coma Has Come

by K. A. Kumi

My coma has come.

Wide eyed, stiff necked, pulse flooded,
extremity trembled, mind muddled, sterility.

My coma has come.

Tongue spun, shame bathed, function failed,
cringe caressed, mired mood, aridity.

My coma is coming.

I’ll puke & piss & pill & pace &
pine & ponder & pray in preparation.

My coma is cold.

It sees me shivering in sun shunned of warmth universal,
yet sweating in sight of their every iced gaze.

My coma is king.

And I shall crucify myself for all witness,
ne’er shown whole, but hung of my own hand.

When my coma has come.

There’s Always Tomorrow

by John Doe

I could have been great
I still could be
I could have been free
I might still be
I could have found hope
Then I should see
That I’m no worse
Than those around me
That I too can grow
And be my best me
I’ll do that tomorrow
Today I anxiety


Anxiety Habits: You Become What You Do Every Day

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Anxiety habits. These might include anything from biting your fingernails to imagining the worst will happen. While everyone who lives with anxiety likely has an anxiety habit or two, most people don’t think twice about whether these habits are under their control. If anxiety is at the root of your nail biting, surely you’ve got to get rid of the anxiety somehow first, before you can stop biting your nails?

While one might think this would be the case, and it most likely is true that people who are for the most part anxiety-free don’t bite their nails (or have other habits reminiscent of anxiety), there is no reason why you can’t work backwards: start eliminating the bad habits and leave the anxiety ’til the end.

Lately I’ve been trying to follow the practices of the FlyLady.net. If you’re not familiar with this website, Marla Cilley, aka the “Flylady,” a nickname given to her when she joined a cleaning forum way back when, directs women (though I guess it could include men, her audience seems to be all women) across the United States and the world to develop good habits to keep an organized and clean home.

I’ve tried to follow the site before, subscribed to emails, etc., but always found it overwhelming. They would be off decluttering a room and I’d still be stuck with a sink full of dishes. What I realized though, was that there was a ton of motivation waiting for me on that site—I just had to put it to use.

I didn’t necessarily have to follow every new habit or direction, but if I started somewhere and did a little bit each day, then I would be headed in the right direction.

For the Flybabies, as she calls her followers, that starts with a clean and shiny sink every night that you wake up to every morning. The idea is that the sink is the central heart of the home, and when it is clean and shiny, that will eventually spread to the rest of the house. It’s supposed to make you smile in the morning when you see it.

So, I got to thinking, what would be the equivalent for social anxiety? What one habit could you practice every day that would be at the heart of managing anxiety, and would lead you to want to develop other good habits along the way? I thought about the long and hard, because there isn’t too much that is objective like with cleaning your house.

It’s not like you can say:

Okay, I’ve completed my [avoiding negative thoughts/being mindful/insert other helpful tip for coping with anxiety]. No! You’re technically supposed to do those things ALL THE TIME. So really, those are the results of your anxiety being reduced, rather than the cause of it. While of course doing these things will help to reduce your anxiety, they aren’t things you can check off a list.

They’re not like a shiny sink, making you smile in the morning.

So what then, could we do every day, at the heart of getting better, that would spread to other areas of our lives?

The shiny sink is what?—a representation of the opposite of disorderliness, the opposite of being messy, the opposite of being out of control.

So what would be the opposite of being socially anxious?

It has to be a daily habit, remember. We’re not talking about signing up for a pottery class to improve your social skills or joining a book club to be more comfortable speaking in front of others.

Just a daily habit, that over time takes less time to do, but that makes you feel good about yourself, and eventually becomes how you live your life.

Can you think of any things that people who are not socially anxious do on a daily basis?

When I wracked my brain I came up with some ideas:

-initiate conversations
-leave the house
-make phone calls
-don’t overthink
-don’t try to be perfect

Some of these are actions, some are just ways of being.

So, let’s pick one.

For simplicity, let’s give this a name so we can stop saying that we want to be the opposite of socially anxious. I like Chris MacLeod’s term “succeed socially,” but that’s not quite it.

What I want is for you to feel good about yourself. Because when you start to feel good about yourself, you will start to see yourself as a person who deserves to be free of anxiety.

To feel good about yourself, do one good deed that helps someone else every day.

We’ll give it a name at another time, but for now I want you to get started on this.

And if you’re wondering if this has any scientific backing, check out the study in the source list.

That’s it! Soon you’ll be moving from anxiety habits to a kindness habit. Let me know in the comments what types of kind acts you did.


Alden LE, Trew JL. If it makes you happy: engaging in kind acts increases positive affect in socially anxious individuals. Emotion. 2013;13(1):64-75.

The Traveling Book

Sometimes, it’s good just to have a light-hearted post. This one follows the adventures of my book, “7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety” (Now renamed “The Anxiety Workbook) on its travels around the globe.

I have to say I’m a bit envious of the places that it has gone and is likely to still go. I must thank my relatives and people I’ve never even met for their generosity in snapping photos of the book in various locations.

If you have a copy of the book and would like to share a photo of it where you live, I would love to receive it. You can send that to submissions@aboutsocialanxiety.com.

South America

The first three photos below were taken by a friend of my aunt as they traveled around South America. The first two photos are at the Falkland Islands, and the third is at the Copacabana Hotel in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.

Image may contain: sky, outdoor and nature

Image may contain: one or more people, people standing and outdoor

Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada

This next photo was actually taken by me! I live just over an hour away from one of the natural wonders of the world, Niagara Falls. This photo is taken from the Canadian side looking out to the Horseshoe Falls. I was visiting the Falls with my parents and my children and it was actually a grey and rainy day—not really good for sightseeing. So we stopped the car briefly while I jumped out to take this picture. Fear of heights, anyone?

Image may contain: outdoor, water and nature

Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

This photo was taken by my aunt in Victoria, BC. This was actually the first in the traveling book series of photos and inspired some of the others. It looks like a very calm and peaceful place to be.

Image may contain: ocean, sky, outdoor, nature and water

Playa Del Carmen, Mexico

This is the most recent photo! My aunt-in-law Martha took the book with her to Playa Del Carmen, Mexico. Have to say I am quite jealous of the warm weather they are having while we head into winter back here in Canada.

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, standing, ocean, sky, cloud, outdoor, nature and water

Usefulness of Self-Help Books

Well, that’s it for now! If I receive more photos I will be sure to update this post. Remember, this is just in fun to show far a book can travel globally—and hopefully the impact it can have. Not everyone believes in self-help books, and some may even be afraid that using one may make them look “weak” or in the case of social anxiety, weird.

If self-help gets you down, think of it as self-improvement? The principles of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), and mindfulness can help EVERYONE, regardless of whether you have social anxiety or not.

Learning how to recognize your thoughts, slow yourself down, be in the moment—this is what we all know we need to do. A book might not solve all your problems, but it may give you one, or two, or a few ideas on how to cope better. If so, then it’s done it’s job.

If you’d like a copy of my book, it is available on Amazon or in some bookstores. You could also visit your local library and ask whether they accept book suggestions. While the book is workbook-style and includes spaces to write your own thoughts, you could always use a notebook to record your answers.

Social Anxiety Poems: A Poetry Contest

writing photoAttention all poets! Do you write poetry as a way to deal with your feelings? Or maybe you never have, but think you’d like to try?

About Social Anxiety is hosting a social anxiety poetry contest.

  • Poems should be no longer than 12 lines.
  • The deadline for submissions is December 31st, 2017.
  • The guidelines are simple: write about your social anxiety or social anxiety in general. Keep it to a PG-13 audience.
  • The top five poems will be posted on this website, where About Social Anxiety readers will vote for a favorite.
  • Submissions should be sent to submissions@aboutsocialanxiety.com.
  • Prizes to be announced!

The Fear of Winning

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Most of us fear failure. If you live with social anxiety, you probably fear it even more so. It might be surprising then, to realize that in addition to your fear of failure there is another fear lurking. One that you might not have thought about much or even believed could be a fear.

That fear is the fear of success.

The fear of winning.

The fear of doing well.

The fear of being recognized for your accomplishments.

Does this sound like you?

There are many reasons why people with social anxiety might fear success. At it’s core, what you are really afraid of is shaking up the status quo. As much as you might hate your life, hate yourself, hate your job, hate that you have no friends, hate your anxiety…. it’s what you know. Success… well that’s a bit scary, whether it’s social success, work success, financial success. It feels like that would come with responsibilities that you don’t know whether you can handle.

Why We Fear Winning

In the case of social anxiety in particular, you might literally be afraid of being thrust into the limelight because of your success.

Imagine winning the lottery. Writing a bestseller. There’s a reason why some authors/musicians/actors become private people—they were not prepared for what success would bring.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing either, because we all need our privacy.

How do you know if your fear of success or fear of winning is holding you back?

Ask yourself this:

Have you ever….

  • Done destructive things to handicap yourself such as drinking too much alcohol?
  • Refused to set goals so that you had no chance of success?
  • Been on the brink of success or nearly reached a goal and then suddenly changed paths to avoid going all the way? For example, not taking that last course toward getting your degree or closed down a business just when you started to attract more customers?

Another reason you might fear success is that you are worried others will be mad, envious, jealous, or hurt. If you are moving up, you might feel like you are leaving others behind. People with social anxiety are highly attuned to what other people are thinking/feeling, and you may worry that your success will come at the cost of other people’s happiness.

In fact, in Asian countries, it is actually expected that you downplay your success so as not to make other people feel bad.

Research on the Fear of Winning and Social Anxiety

Fear of success or fear of winning may be closely related to a fear of positive evaluation, which has been studied extensively by researchers in terms of how it relates to social anxiety, perfectionism, depression, etc. What we know is that fear of positive evaluation is a real problem for people with social anxiety.

People who have a fear of positive evaluation also tend to have maladaptive perfectionism, meaning that their perfectionism interferes with living life.

In fact, people who are perfectionists may actually develop social anxiety if they have a tendency to fear positive evaluation.

As a whole, the research shows that social anxiety and the fear of positive evaluation are related.

It’s quite the pickle! You are both afraid of people thinking badly of you and also of them thinking good things about you. What is a person to do?

Overcome Your Fear of Success

Beyond simply working on your social anxiety/perfectionism, there are specific things you can do to stop handicapping yourself from achieving success.

No, we’re not talking about “The Secret” here—although the message is similar. It’s not so much that what you seek you attract, but that when you are open to success, you allow it to happen. It was there all along. You were on the brink of it many times. You may have even felt it, achieved it, gotten there.. but couldn’t hold on.

I’m telling you now to let it happen.

If that feels too hard, then write down what you are feeling.

Ask yourself what you are afraid of.

Then accept your reasons for being afraid of success.

Realize that failure will always be part of success. You can’t get to to the top without falling once in a while.

But your abilities are not limited. Your skills are not limited. Those limits are ones you’ve created in your mind to protect yourself from what you fear the most.

Once you’ve decided to move past that fear, there’s nothing left to do.


Set those goals… and

Stick with that plan that is becoming successful.

And if you feel like being self-destructive, write about that too, until the feeling passes.

Yap K, Gibbs AL, Francis AJP, Schuster SE. Testing the Bivalent Fear of Evaluation Model of Social Anxiety: The Relationship between Fear of Positive Evaluation, Social Anxiety, and Perfectionism. Cogn Behav Ther. 2016;45(2):136-149.
Weeks JW, Howell AN. The bivalent fear of evaluation model of social anxiety: further integrating findings on fears of positive and negative evaluation. Cogn Behav Ther. 2012;41(2):83-95.
Weeks JW. Replication and extension of a hierarchical model of social anxiety and depression: fear of positive evaluation as a key unique factor in social anxiety. Cogn Behav Ther. 2015;44(2):103-116.

Dogs With Social Anxiety

miniature schnauzer photo

Dogs with social anxiety disorder? While this may sound unusual, dogs can have fear and anxiety just like humans, and this can be expressed in relation to new situations, new people, and being around other dogs.

According to a 2016 study of 3284 dog owners of 192 different breeds, published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, about 39% of dogs are sensitive to noise, 26% have general fears about unfamiliar people, other dogs, and new situations, and 17% have separation anxiety. These three issues can also be linked to behavioral problems in dogs such as aggressiveness. A dog who is afraid is more likely to become aggressive than a dog who has no fear.

Causes of Social Anxiety in Dogs

Because of the overlap between different kids of anxiety and fear in dogs, it’s likely that some part of your dog’s temperament is determined by genetic factors.

Over my lifetime I’ve had four canine companions—all of them miniature schnauzers. And, while the breed was the same, the dogs were as different as night and day.

The first and third dogs were both fearless. The second and fourth differed greatly from those two. The second was cautious in new situations, while our current dog is the most anxious one I’ve ever owned.

He is afraid of walking on solid surface floors and generally does not leave his bed. When we have large gatherings, he can’t be here, because I don’t trust him. His fear causes him to be unpredictable.

Just like people can be highly sensitive, so too can dogs. Dogs with social anxiety may be the victims of physiological and behavioral overarousal, meaning that they have deeper processing of sensory information. A 2017 study published in PLoS One developed a 32-item questionnaire to measure this sensitivity in dogs.

What they found was that demographic characteristics of the dogs had only small influence on the sensitivity of the dogs. Gender, age, age at adoption, and also characteristics of the owners, such as age, job, and communication style really had little impact.

However, experiences in a dog’s life may influence later behavior. In a 2015 questionnaire study of 3264 dog owners in Finland, published in PLoS ONE, early life experiences  were found to relate to later dog anxiety. In that study, they found that fearful dogs had fewer socialization experiences and lower quality of care by their mother as a puppy.

Signs of Dog Anxiety

If your dog becomes agitated in new situations with unfamiliar people or other dogs, look for the following signs of dog anxiety:

  • barking
  • hiding
  • licking his/her lips
  • oversalivating
  • pacing
  • panting
  • scanning the environment
  • shaking
  • whining

I know in the case of our dog, when I take him in the car and he isn’t sure what is about to happen, he pants, shakes, and whines.

What to Do If Your Dog Has Social Anxiety

  1. First, don’t respond with punishment, either verbal or physical. This is likely to just make the situation worse.
  2. Get your dog out for some daily exercise. In that Finnish study, they found that anxiety in the dogs was also linked to the amount of daily exercise. Dogs getting less exercise were more sensitive to noise and had more separation anxiety.
  3. Avoid anxiety-provoking situations if possible. For example, in the case of our dog, I put him in a kennel for the night when I know we will be having a large number of people to our house, such as at a holiday party. It’s better for our dog, and it’s better for our guests.
  4. Talk to your veterinarian about the possibility of anti-anxiety medication. This can sometimes be prescribed for dogs.
  5. Try to alter the association between the triggering event and the dog’s response. For example, in a video of the dog whisperer Cesar Milan helping a dog who was afraid of squeak toys, he gradually helped the dog to calm down by using lavender essential oil and a massage. He then paired the lavender scent with the squeak toy, so that the dog, who had learned to associate the smell with being relaxed, would now react that way to the toy as well. This is a simplified example, but you get the idea. Find a way to break the bad association (e.g., new situation = anxiety) and replace it with a new better association (i.e., new situation = fun OR treats OR relaxation).

Finally, don’t confine your dog to a crate unless that is something he or she is used to. This can just make the anxiety and panic worse. 


Braem M, Asher L, Furrer S, Lechner I, Würbel H, Melotti L. Development of the “Highly Sensitive Dog” questionnaire to evaluate the personality dimension “Sensory Processing Sensitivity” in dogs. PLoS ONE. 2017;12(5):e0177616.

College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. Context is Critical When Treating Anxiety in Dogs.

Tiira K, Lohi H. Early Life Experiences and Exercise Associate with Canine Anxieties. PLoS One. 2015;10(11).

Tiira K, Sulkama S, Lohi H. Prevalence, Comorbidity, and Behavioral Variation in Canine Anxiety. J Vet Beh: Clin App Res. 2016;16:36-44.


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Taking the Easy Way Out When You Have Social Anxiety

happy photo

As readers of my articles at Verywell will know, I often encourage doing things that push the boundaries of your social anxiety. While this will be uncomfortable in the moment, the long-term effect will help you to feel reduced anxiety in those situations that you confront. What this  means is that I am not a fan of “taking the easy way out.” If I were to meet with you today and give you one piece of advice to overcome your social anxiety, it would be to avoid doing that.

While that might sound harsh—as though somehow having a mental illness is taking the easy out (it’s certainly not)—it’s meant to be a bit compelling in a challenging kind of a way.

If I were to ask you right now what some of your goals are in life, would they include avoiding that which makes you afraid and aligning your aspirations with the path of least resistance? Probably not. Or maybe yes, but deep down you might know that leaves you feeling a bit uneasy.

Take a moment right now, and write down five things you would do if you felt less anxious in social or performance situations.

  1. ___________________
  2. ___________________
  3. ___________________
  4. ___________________
  5. ___________________

That list is obviously going to vary depending on where you are in your life, where you fall on the introversion/extroversion continuum, etc.

But let’s say for argument’s sake that your list looks something like this.

  1. I would apply for a job that pays better/has more responsibilities.
  2. I would have more friends/spend more time with people.
  3. I would speak up more in conversations.
  4. I would go to more events/parties/gatherings.
  5. I would go on dates.

Remember, these don’t necessarily have to match yours either in content or level of difficulty.

While it may feel less scary, anxiety-provoking, and fear-inducing to “take the easy way out” and ignore these goals, doing so keeps you at a certain level.

It keeps you among the people that are not serious about overcoming social anxiety. People who are serious about not letting social anxiety rule their lives can do these things. And then some.

Allow me to explain why I don’t agree with living within self-imposed limits such as staying at a low-paying job because it feels easier or staying silent because then you “know you won’t make a mistake.”

What do you learn, or what are you telling yourself, if you take the easy way out?

1. It teaches you to be afraid. If you set limits on what you can or should do based on your anxiety, you are subconsciously telling yourself that your fear is warranted. What’s the worst that would happen if you spoke up in a meeting at work? Could you approach situations from the perspective of trying to make a fool of yourself? What if you allowed yourself to look anxious, made your hands shake on purpose, or tripped over your words just to see how other people would react? Try it sometime, you might be surprised how little of a reaction you get.

2.  It does not allow you to learn from your mistakes. Mistakes are the great teachers in life. Without mistakes along the way, you won’t learn. Why do we learn best from our mistakes? Once you’ve learned what not to do, the chance of repeating the same mistake twice is lessened. What social mistake have you made lately? Think back on that mistake and what you learned from it. Appreciate it as a teacher rather than a negative aspect of yourself.

3.  You develop a reputation that is hard to shake. You won’t hear this said often about social anxiety, but it does tend to be true. Once you start avoiding people, you will develop a reputation as being standoffish or unapproachable, even though it’s ridiculously untrue. This creates a vicious cycle that you can’t escape. People will stop inviting you to events, stop trying to bring you into the conversation, and even stop thinking of you for promotions at work. It’s movement in a direction that is hard to reverse once it’s started. So start small, and begin to build yourself back into someone you want to be—not someone you’ve become because of who you were afraid to be.

4. You will find your options greatly narrowed. Similar to developing a poor reputation, your options will become narrowed the more you try to take the easy way out. While at first you may not notice what you’ve done, eventually you may wake up one day and wonder who you will talk to that day. Don’t let that happen to you. Don’t bank on friends and family being there when you finally make it out of your shell. While the good ones will stay, your relationship with them will be taxed.

While all of this might sound a little harsh, it’s meant to be that way. I don’t want you to keep going down that path.

Think of it this way—you don’t have to change overnight. You don’t have to change in a day. But you want your trajectory to be “up.” You want the slope of the line to be positive, as Susannah Cahalan writes in her book Brain on Fire.

But, if you are not taking the easy way out, what are you to do?

Learning to break free from social anxiety is a topic for another day. I’ll be writing about ways to break free from the easy path soon.

For now, just make a commitment that you will try.