Nix Social Anxiety: 11 Tricks to Calm Down Your Mind

Updated: Feb. 09, 2017

Social anxiety is the most prevalent anxiety disease, affecting up to 20 percent of the population. But while the condition can be terrifying, it doesn't have to control you.


Enjoy a heaping bowl of… sauerkraut?

People with social anxiety who ate one serving of fermented foods daily showed less worry and were more outgoing in social settings, according to a study published in Psychiatry Research. And no, this isn’t some kind of science joke. Fermented foods—like yogurt, kefir, kimchi, and sauerkraut—are rich in good bacteria for your gut. Your gut is responsible for making over 80 percent of your body’s serotonin, a feel-good neurochemical that helps us feel at ease in the world. This trick works particularly well for people who are genetically predisposed to social anxiety, the researchers added. So before your next blind date, load up on spicy fermented cabbage—just make sure to brush your teeth before heading out.


Kickbox your way out

Exercise is potent medicine for people with social anxiety, according to a study done by Queen’s University in Australia. Consistent exercise has the power to rewire your brain, making you literally see things in a different way. Specifically the researchers found that anxious people saw the world in a less threatening, more positive way after a workout. And any type of exercise will work so pick a way that you enjoy moving your body and stick with it.

iStock/Petar Chernaev

Call your mother

Social anxiety is mainly an inherited condition, according to a surprising study done by the Norwegian Institute of Public Health. Even though it may seem like the scary situation is what’s driving your fears, it’s more likely that your body is just responding as it’s been programmed by your genes to do. But don’t take this as a “get out of all office parties free” card. Instead, simply knowing that their anxiety is genetic helped study participants to accept it and helped them confront their fears. If you’re feeling anxious about something, ring up mom or a calming pep talk. Not only can she remind you that you’re likely not the only person in your family who struggles with these feelings, but she can also remind you how loved you are.


Count your blessings (and friends)

One of the greatest fears that people with social anxiety have is that secretly everyone hates them. This belief that even your friends aren’t really your friends is patently false, say researchers from Washington University in St. Louis. They reported that people with social anxiety disorder may feel that their friendships are fraught, but when interviewed, their friends didn’t see it that way at all. So instead of worrying about whether or not someone really likes you, try making note of all the friends you have and the ways friends bless your life—and it never hurts to tell them that.


Talk it out with a professional

Many anxious people think that medicating with anti-anxiety drugs or alcohol is the best way to feel more relaxed in social settings but a new study published in The Lancet Psychiatry found that talk therapy, particularly a kind called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) was far more effective than drugs. The best part? Positively retraining your brain with CBT has no side effects and can last a lifetime, while booze and pills only help until the chemicals leave your system and may even make you feel worse afterward.  Here are other natural ways to learn to soothe anxiety.


Pet a cuddly pooch

Okay, so it’s not socially acceptable to bring your pet everywhere, but try to schedule things, like a first date or your birthday party, in a place where you can have your pooch by your side. Having an animal companion, like a dog, kitten, or even a lizard greatly helps reduce social anxiety, according to research done by the National Institutes of Health. And good news: If your social anxiety is severe enough to be a disability, you can get a psychiatric service dog that can accompany you anywhere, just like any other type of service dog.


Namaste your worries away

Yoga combines the best parts of exercise and relaxation techniques, according to the Queen’s University study, which makes it particularly helpful for socially anxious people. The movement will help you in the long run by helping you see people less negatively and the deep breathing can help you overcome your worry in that moment where you’re trying to talk to someone new. Check out these scientific benefits of meditation.

iStock/Emir Memedovski

Pull out your best acting skills

Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence has been very public about her battle with social anxiety and the one thing she says helped her the most as a teen is the thing she ended up making her career: acting. Even if you don’t feel confident and outgoing, simply acting like you are can trick your brain into believing it. Fake it till you make it. Practice these skills enough times and you’ll no longer be faking it, you’ll be truly at ease.


Offer to help out in the kitchen

Terrified of going to a social gathering? Offer to help out in some way. Doing little acts of kindness or service greatly reduce social anxiety, according to a study published in Motivation and Emotion.  The researchers think that service helps you focus on how other people are feeling, rather than yourself, and it gives you a sense of purpose. It also automatically gives you conversation fodder with those around you and solves that super awkward question of what to do with your hands when you talk to someone.

iStock/Petar Chernaev

Learn to accept a compliment

Social anxiety is characterized by two thing: A fear of social situations and a fear of being judged by other people. But people aren’t being nearly as critical of you as you may think, according to a JAMA studyPeople with social anxiety are more likely to give negative or neutral statements about themselves a lot of weight while ignoring positive statements—even though they don’t do it when listening to comments about others, say the researchers. The trick then is to learn to take a compliment and believe people when they tell you something good about yourself and try not to obsess over the things you see as negative. Try one of these tricks when you need an instant confidence boost.

iStock/Leonardo Patrizi

Don’t fat-shame people—including yourself

Obese and overweight people are much more likely to suffer from social anxiety, likely because they’re worried about people judging them harshly for their weight, according to a study published in Depression and Anxiety. We all can and should work on not judging others or ourselves based on body shape and size. And unsurprisingly, learning to focus on the good in others can help you learn to be as gentle with yourself.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest