Social anxiety and boosting interpersonal relationships

From time to time, we all experience nervousness that accompanies social situations. For instance, when it’s our turn to give a presentation to our colleagues or maybe attending a networking event with unfamiliar people. However, those with social anxiety disorder (also known as social phobia) often experience excess fear of social interactions including severe self-consciousness, and intense worry and fear of being judged or embarrassed by others. Almost 11 percent of the Australian population experiences social phobia during their lifetime, with just under 5% experiencing social phobia in any 12-month period [1]. Social anxiety can interfere with a person’s everyday life including relationships, and work.

Difficulty tolerating uncertainty and the idea that we don’t know what others are thinking or saying about us, is often a major trigger of social anxiety. Uncertainty fuels negative emotions which can consume our thoughts with “worst case scenarios” and “what ifs”, sending us in a downward spiral. A person’s intolerance towards uncertainty (IU), and the negative beliefs they have towards uncertain situations/ events, can be a major fuel for worry. Low intolerance towards uncertainty has been associated with mental health conditions including social anxiety disorder[2], whereby a person experiences excessive worry and fear of social situations and in some extreme cases avoidance of social interactions all together. Uncertainty is an unavoidable part of life and, whilst sometimes we have no control over certain situations, we can work to build our capacity to cope in times of uncertainty. So, lets dive deep into some practical strategies that can help to gain the confidence to overcome worry in social settings and build our interpersonal relationships.

1. Goal setting

When dealing with social anxiety and things out of our control, goal setting is a great tool that can help to break down larger goals into smaller manageable steps. This can prevent us from becoming overwhelmed and can create a sense of autonomy and control in our lives. Goals should be SMART- Specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely. For example, a goal may be to attend more workplace social events. When developing this goal, it’s important to ask ourselves these five questions so we can have a clear direction on each of the steps needed to achieve the goal.

  • What is the goal?
  • How will this goal be achieved?
  • Who is involved in the process of achieving this goal?
  • When will this goal be achieved by?
  • Where is this goal being achieved?

2. Rituals

When facing the future of uncertainty that often triggers social anxiety, rituals can help to instil a sense of control and confidence within ourselves. Performing a ritual such as deep breathing exercises before giving a presentation can help to engage in our senses and calm our worries. Several pieces of research highlight that rituals can ease social anxiety and help to face uncertainty. This was proven in a study which highlighted that participants who practiced rituals before public speaking had reported that they felt less anxious and had significantly lower heart rates than those who hadn’t performed rituals [3].

3. Cherish alone time, say yes to together time

Constantly being in social settings such as the workplace can be draining for those with social anxiety. Cherishing time to ourselves is important for our mental health and allows us to gather and process our thoughts. However, saying yes to together time is just as important! Confronting the fear of social situations can help to overcome social anxiety. This may include saying yes to attending that networking event which can help to gain confidence, improve our ability to interact with others, and boost interpersonal relationships.

4. Combat unhelpful thinking

People who suffer from social anxiety often experience negative thoughts which contribute to their fear in social situations. Identifying and challenging these negative thoughts can help to combat unhelpful thinking, and shift to helpful thinking and a positive mindset.

For example, a negative thought of someone who has social anxiety may include:

  • “I’m going to stuff up my work presentation, I haven’t presented face-to-face in two years!”

Next, it’s important to challenge these negative thoughts. “Do I know that I will stuff up my presentation? I have presented before and it went really well”. Analysing these negative thoughts can help to replace them with a positive way of thinking.

5. Show yourself compassion

Research suggests that there is a link between those who have social anxiety and low self-compassion [4]. Practicing self-compassion and being kind to ourselves can help with self-criticism, which often people with social anxiety are prone too.  Once we learn to accept ourselves, our fear of negatively being judged by others is likely to diminish. When we practice compassion towards ourselves, our emotions, and our feelings we can help to boost our sense of self, which can help to combat social anxiety.

Self-compassionate exercises that we can engage in to promote our interconnected self can include journaling, positive self-talk, and mindfulness. These exercises can help to enhance our wellbeing and reduce stress by fostering sense of calmness, and safety.

6. Asking for help and support

If you’re feeling overwhelmed and experiencing social anxiety, you might benefit from speaking with someone. Reach out to your manger, or an Employee Assistant Program.

Webinar: Strengthening Relationships

It’s undoubtedly that the past two years of the pandemic have challenged our relationships and impacted on the way in which we interact with others. In 2022, as we start to re-normalise face-to-face interactions with colleagues again, we may be feeling a little more anxious in social situations.

Our most recent webinar, Strengthening Relationships in 2022, looks at why there is an increase in social anxiety and how we can best boost our interpersonal relationships.

For more information, visit, https://cfch.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/Webinar_Strengthening-relationships-in-2022_1.pdf, or contact us at learningandwellbeing@cfch.com.au or on 02 8243 1500.


[1] Beyond Blue (2022). Social Phobia, Retrieved on 31st March 2022, from: https://www.beyondblue.org.au/the-facts/anxiety/types-of-anxiety/social-phobia.

[2] Hezel, D., Stewart, S., Riemann, B. and McNally, R., 2019. Standard of proof and intolerance of uncertainty in obsessive-compulsive disorder and social anxiety disorder. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 64, pp.36-44.

[3] Lang, M., Krátký, J. and Xygalatas, D., 2020. The role of ritual behaviour in anxiety reduction: an investigation of Marathi religious practices in Mauritius. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 375(1805), p.20190431.

[4] Werner, K., Jazaieri, H., Goldin, P., Ziv, M., Heimberg, R. and Gross, J., 2012. Self-compassion and social anxiety disorder. Anxiety, Stress & Coping, 25(5), pp.543-558.