What is social anxiety?

Ever felt shy, nervous, uncomfortable, or afraid of being judged in a social situation? 

Whether you’re meeting a group of people for the first time or going for a job interview, it’s 100% normal to feel anxious in social situations from time to time. But if you feel so much anxiety about socialising, that it’s getting in the way of participating in social events, going to school or work, you might have social anxiety. 

Social anxiety is rising among young people, especially after COVID. A lot of us are still readjusting to ‘normal’ life and may feel more nervous socialising with people than we previously would’ve. Remember that this is quite common and if you’ve been feeling this way, you’re definitely not alone! 

Research suggests that almost 13% of people in Australia experience social anxiety in their lifetime. Social anxiety can be treated, and there are strategies you can use to get through difficult social situations. 

What are the signs of social anxiety?

ReachOut has some great info on signs to look out for that may indicate you have social anxiety. Common signs include:

  • feeling anxious in social situations (physical symptoms include racing heart, sweating, queasy stomach, dizziness and shortness of breath)
  • feeling pressured to do things ‘right’ in social situations
  • feeling self-conscious around others and anxious when you’re the centre of attention
  • worrying that others will judge or think badly of you, or notice your anxiety
  • replaying how you acted in a social situation over and over again in your mind afterwards
  • trying to keep quiet or not to draw attention to yourself
  • not doing things you want to do because of feeling anxious.
What causes social anxiety?

Social anxiety doesn’t have any specific cause. It usually develops from a combination of things, like genes, personality, early life experiences, and life stressors. 

For example, some factors that may lead you to develop social anxiety include:

  • Other family members experiencing an anxiety disorder
  • Being bullied or teased at school 
  • Stress at school, uni, or work 
  • Overly critical parenting 
  • Being excluded from certain social groups
  • Being naturally shy or introverted 
  • Significant life changes like starting a new job, or having a baby 
How to treat social anxiety 

If you think you might have social anxiety, it’s important to seek professional help so you can enjoy your everyday life. 

CBT Therapy

If you tend to avoid social situations because of unhelpful thinking patterns, you are likely to benefit from cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) as it can help you find ways to change those habits and patterns. CBT for social anxiety often involves learning how to combat negative and self-critical thoughts, manage emotions of fear and shame, and more. Learn more about CBT here


In some cases a mental health professional will prescribe medication like antidepressants. The best treatment options differ from person to person, so the best thing to do is to talk to a professional about it. 

Seeking help

For those with social anxiety, seeking help from a mental health professional may seem daunting. But remember that they are trained to listen and understand your worries, and will know how to talk to you about any challenges you are facing. It might seem scary, but remember that this is an important step towards working through social anxiety and it is likely to be less scary than you might think!

If you are finding it difficult to get in touch with a mental health professional, ReachOut have some great tips:

  • ask a friend or family member to help you book an appointment with a professional (you can text them if asking face-to-face or over the phone is too hard right now)
  • ask a friend or family member to come with you to your appointment
  • make the appointment with someone you know, such as your regular GP, a wellbeing teacher at school, or a counsellor/therapist you’ve seen before
  • write down some of your questions and thoughts beforehand so that it’s easier to remember them during the appointment
  • try a helpline that you can chat to online or talk to on the phone.

There are also online treatments for social anxiety that are free, like Mental Health Online, E-couch, and MoodGym

Young people in conversation.
How can I manage my social anxiety?

Managing social anxiety when you’re in an actual social situation is all about changing the way you think about what’s going on.

 If you find yourself feeling anxious in a social situation, remember that anxiety isn’t as visible to others as you might think. The people around you probably can’t even notice that you’re feeling awkward or uncomfortable, and aren’t judging you as you might think! 

Try not to fixate on what other people might be thinking about you, or worry about whether you’re talking or acting in the right way. Listen to the conversation, think about what you can say next, and focus on what’s happening in the present moment. 

Looking after your mental health generally can also help. Try things like:

  • Practising self-care
  • Practising mindfulness/meditation
  • Sticking to a regular sleep schedule
  • Eating healthy and exercising regularly
  • Avoiding too much caffeine, alcohol, smoking, and drugs 
  • Seeking support from peers. ReachOut and headspace have great online communities where you can connect with other young people experiencing similar challenges. 

Social anxiety can be difficult to get through, but remember that plenty of support is available and you’re not alone! Don’t be afraid to seek help, as this will get you on the right track to manage social anxiety. 

Where to get help

If you or someone you know is experiencing severe social anxiety, you should talk about it to an adult you trust. 

Need someone to talk to? Free, confidential support is available.

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