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How to break free from social anxiety

Written By: Simone Sonnier, UT Physicians | Updated: June 2, 2022
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Getting help for social anxiety can range from simple, no-cost solutions to expert support.

Social anxiety — it’s more common than you think. Some experience it from time to time, while others struggle with it daily.

Noelle S. Knight, LCSW, counselor with UT Physicians, offers her advice on dealing with anxiety disorders in a healthy manner and how the pandemic may have intensified these feelings.

The COVID-19 effect

Being safe during the height of the pandemic meant reducing all social interactions with many extended friends and family members. Get-togethers turned to virtual platforms and outings became a solo and infrequent act. The result for those with anxiety was missed opportunities for social learning.

Noelle S. Knight
Noelle S. Knight, LCSW

“So much of how we engage with others happens through social learning,” explained Knight. “When we missed out on social cues, touch, affirmation, and shared learning that naturally occurs when people interact, there’s an effect.”

Now that the world is returning to its new normal, there’s a major opportunity to engage with others more freely and relearn some social skills that are perhaps a little rusty. Of course, that’s easier said than done for some.

“While some people made a graceful transformation into the new normal, it was a rough landing for others — particularly those with anxiety disorders,” she shared.

Signs of social anxiety

Although it’s something we’ve all dealt with, social anxiety looks different for each person. Overall, it is a feeling of ongoing, intense fear about being in social situations, especially those where there’s the concern of being judged, embarrassed, or humiliated. The turning point between these naturally occurring feelings we all get and a diagnosis of social anxiety disorder is the intensity.

“Someone who has social anxiety will have fear that is excessive and out of proportion,” shared Knight. “It will keep them from living the everyday life they truly want for themselves.”

Getting help

Knight recommends trying a few simple solutions first such as:

  • Spending time outdoors
  • Practicing gentle movement or stretching
  • Drinking plenty of water and eating nutritious meals
  • Being mindful of the present moment
  • Turning to religious or spiritual activities
  • Embracing your creative side through reading, writing, or music

“There is real science to back these stress management techniques, and they can be used safely by most people at almost any functioning level,” said Knight.

UT Physicians offers no-cost virtual and in-person wellness classes for patients and community members including Mindfulness: Here and Now, Chair Yoga, and Breathing Exercises. For a list of the class schedule, visit this page.

However, if someone feels like they are experiencing stronger symptoms and need additional support — help is out there.

“UT Physicians has an excellent group of doctors and therapists that can evaluate someone for social anxiety symptoms and create a treatment plan with the individual for optimal results,” she offered. “The goal here would be to relax into the joy of being them, which is something we can all appreciate.”

To schedule an appointment with one of our mental health experts, call 888-488-3627 or submit an online request.

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As the clinical practice of McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, UT Physicians has locations across the Greater Houston area to serve the community. To schedule an appointment, call 888-4UT-DOCS.