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It’s not unusual for us to feel shy or nervous at times, and many people feel anxious in settings such as parties, social gatherings, or while giving a speech. Social anxiety is more than this type of nervousness – it can feel intense, overwhelming, and can have an impact on our daily lives.

Social anxiety disorder is a common type of anxiety, and sometimes we might call it ‘social phobia’. It’s usually long-term and can make social situations feel tough. With social anxiety, you may worry about social situations a lot, and what might happen in these situations.

What does social anxiety feel like?

  • Feeling worried, nervous, or anxious before any social situation. These situations might be busy places, meeting new people, talking in a group, speaking on the phone or in public.
  • Worrying that people are watching you while you’re doing something such as eating, drinking or talking.
  • Worrying that people think badly of you. You might feel like people think you’re ‘boring‘ or ‘weird’.
  • Worrying that you might embarrass yourself in front of other people.
  • Going over past social situations in your head, thinking about what you could have said or done differently.
  • You might notice physical feelings such as a racing heart, dry mouth, sweating, needing the toilet, shaking, or breathing quicker.
  • Feeling a sudden sense of fear or dread, this is known as a panic attack.
  • Avoiding any social situations that will overwhelm you or cause you distress.

Why does it happen? What causes social anxiety?

It’s common for most people to feel anxious or worried at some point in their lives, and it’s quite common in social situations. We’re not sure exactly why some people feel more socially anxious than others, but we do know that there are many things that may contribute.

  • Being bullied or criticised may affect your confidence.
  • Feeling embarrassed in a social situation in the past can make you feel worried that it could happen again.
  • You might think badly about yourself, and assume that everyone else thinks the same way about you.

You might also feel anxious or have low mood alongside the social anxiety, it’s common for these feelings to happen together.

What helps social anxiety?

While social anxiety can feel isolating, it’s important to know that you aren’t alone in how you’re feeling.

There are lots of things you can do to help with social anxiety. Some of these things you can try yourself, and others are things you can work on with a professional in talking therapy.

Talk about how you’re feeling

It can be difficult for us to open up about how we’re feeling, and with social anxiety this may feel even trickier. However, it’s important to know that you don’t need to struggle on alone – there are people who can help and want to help.

Friends, family, colleagues

Sometimes, being able to share the load of what we’re struggling with can be helpful. You could speak to a friend, a family member, or a colleague. As long as it’s someone you trust and feel you able to open up to them, this can be a great place to start. You could chat with someone about how you’re feeling while going for a walk, or sitting down with a cuppa. Feeling comfortable can make it easier to talk about how you’re feeling.

You might find that when sharing your own problems, people also feel able to open up to you about their own. You might find that people also struggle with similar things to you.

NHS Talking Therapies

You might find that speaking to someone you know has been helpful, but you could do with more support – and that’s okay too! In talking therapy, a professional will be able to work with you to understand your problems, work through any difficult feelings, and find coping strategies to help you feel better in the long term.

We know that the thought of opening up to a stranger can sometimes feel odd, and it’s perfectly normal to feel apprehensive or unsure. If you’d rather not speak to your GP first about how you’re feeling, you can self-refer directly to NHS Talking Therapies. Everything is confidential, and we’re here to support you.

What are some things I can try myself?

Write it down

It can be helpful to keep a journal or a diary as a place to note down what you notice when you’re feeling anxious. Writing down what you’re thinking, how you’re feeling, and how you behave can be really useful to look back and reflect on when the moment has passed.

Make time for yourself

Setting aside time for yourself every day (even if it’s just 20 minutes) can be a positive step for your mental health. Allowing yourself the opportunity to do something you enjoy, such as going for a walk, reading a book, or listening to music, is a great way to relax and prioritise yourself.

Coping techniques

There are lots of techniques you can try that can help you cope with how you’re feeling, such as grounding exercises, mindfulness, breathing techniques and physical activity. Giving yourself something to focus on while you’re feeling anxious can be a positive way of coping with these feelings. Take a look at the self-help page on the NHS website for more ideas.

Take care of yourself

Sleep can have a big impact on how we’re feeling, and if we aren’t getting enough/are getting too much – this can sometimes make us feel low, worried or stressed. Keeping a good sleeping pattern, and eating well can help boost our mood.


Last but certainly not least, talking really does help. Whether it’s a friend, family, your GP or a mental health professional – talking about how you feel is so important, and can be a great step towards improving how you’re feeling.

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