Reducing Social Anxiety

Question: How do I reduce social anxiety and improve my social skills?

Excellent question. I would encourage anyone, struggling with social anxiety, to take a two-pronged approach: one to decrease overall anxiety and the other would be to improve social skills.

To decrease overall anxiety, I encourage walking outdoors for 45 minutes a day. Research shows that extended periods of anxiety cause the brain to atrophy and walking 45 minutes a day will cause significant brain growth in as little as six weeks. Research also shows that walking outside in nature promotes brain growth faster than any indoor activity or citified activity. You could choose another type of exercise.

Meditation is shown to promote brain growth and decrease anxiety. So, I would encourage you to begin meditating and gradually increase to daily for at least 10–15 minutes. Do it longer if you’re able. Remember that meditation is a practice, not a destination. The idea is not to clear your mind. Your mind is unlikely to cooperate with that. The idea is to sit or lay still and practice focusing your mind on a positive thing. If your mind strays, just acknowledge that it has. It’s normal. Then return to your focus. This might be your breath. It is also possible to meditate with a guide. Sometimes this is more realistic in the beginning. Go to uclahealth.org, scroll down, and click on their free guided meditations.

Doing art of any kind is helpful. Gardening is a type of art but also an excellent grounding technique as is walking barefoot.

Eat healthy foods three times a day. Make sure to include good protein and plenty of vegetables.

Then begin focusing on social skills. Do a search in your area for CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) groups. A group like will assist with your social skills.

Research shows four basic skills to increase your ability to socialize effectively:

  1. smile
  2. make eye contact
  3. say positive things
  4. tell about yourself/listen. It is important to find a balance here.

Thinking ahead will help you. Plan on a greeting to use. You may practice with a family member or friend or in the mirror. Practice using the greeting and making eye contact and smiling.

Remember that people use body language to let you know if they want to socialize. If they are looking at a book, phone, or newspaper, they’d probably prefer to be left alone. If they are looking at you, around, or just zoning out, it’s probably okay to say ‘hello’.

Plan ahead to have open ended questions to ask. Yes/no questions will shut a conversation down but open-ended questions get people talking. You can brainstorm these question ahead of time., “How was your weekend?” or “What did you do over the weekend?” are good ways to start a conversation.

Remember to start with baby steps. You could print this out, then choose ONE thing to work on. You might start walking. If so, you would think about how much you walk now, then add a little, minutes or days. Then gradually add to it each week. Next you might work on smiling at people and notice the ones who smile back. Little by little you will add to your social skills and reduce your anxiety.