Social Anxiety

Social anxiety is characterized by intense and persistent worries about embarrassing oneself, or showing anxiety symptoms (American Psychiatric Association, 1994).

Anxiety Drop-in Group Sessions

Learn more about your anxiety and healthy ways to approach it by attending some (or all!) of these free sessions. No registration is required. You will not be called upon to speak in front of the group. There will be no role playing. Only share if you want!


Place Riel Student Centre, Room 323


Tuesdays, 3pm – 4pm

Series 1

  • January 8 – What is Anxiety? Understanding Our Body's Alarm System.
  • January 15– Emotional Awareness: Approaching Emotions Differently and Building Emotional Tolerance.
  • January 22 – Thought Awareness: Identifying Unhelpful Thought Patterns and Challenging Automatic Thoughts.
  • January 29 – Behavioral Awareness: Why Avoidance Doesn't Work in the Lonf Run.
  • February 5 – Managing Setbacks: Moving Forward with a Plan.

Series 2

  • February 26 – What is Anxiety? Understanding Our Body's Alarm System.
  • March 5 – Emotional Awareness: Approaching Emotions Differently and Building Emotional Tolerance.
  • March 12 – Thought Awareness: Identifying Unhelpful Thought Patterns and Challenging Automatic Thoughts.
  • March 19 – Behavioral Awareness: Why Avoidance Doesn't Work in the Lonf Run.
  • March 26 – Managing Setbacks: Moving Forward with a Plan.

Exam Stress – Single Drop-in Information Group

  • April 2 – Managing Exam Anxiety
  • April 9 – Managing Exam Anxiety

What is Social Anxiety

Social anxiety is the excessive fear of certain social or performance situations. Generally, people who experience social anxiety fear one or more of the following:

  • Formal speaking (e.g., giving a class presentation, speaking with a person in authority)
  • Informal speaking (e.g., going to a party, meeting someone new)
  • Being observed (e.g., eating in public, using public bathrooms, being watched while working)
  • Assertive communication (e.g., expressing disagreement with someone) (Liebowitz, 1987 in Heimberg and Becker, 2002)

Individuals who experience social anxiety tend to recognize that their fear is excessive, feel upset about their level of anxiety, and realize that their daily routine, social life, and academic/occupational functioning has been adversely impacted.

What Causes Social Anxiety?

There are numerous possible contributors to the development of social and performance anxiety, including:

  • Having a genetic predisposition
  • Experiencing humiliating or distressing events (e.g., being bullied)
  • Having poor social skills (Leahy and Holland, 2000)

What are the Symptoms of Social Anxiety?

Symptoms of social anxiety can include the following:


  • Trembling
  • Sweating
  • Dry mouth
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Increased heart rate
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Muscle tension
  • Cold, clammy hands
  • Dizziness
  • Frequent urination
  • Headaches


  • Negative self-talk
  • Persistent worrying
  • Repetitive thoughts
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Going "blank"
  • Thoughts of being out of control
  • Thoughts of going crazy
  • Thoughts of anxiety recurring


  • Avoidance
  • Procrastination
  • Social withdrawal
  • Missed classes/exams
  • Making excuses
  • Increased caffeine use
  • Increased alcohol/drug use
  • Eating more/less
  • Disturbed sleep

What Can I Do to Reduce Social Anxiety?

  • See your doctor or a physician at the Student Wellness Centre to rule out any physical health problems that may be producing anxiety symptoms.

  • Remember that some amount of anxiety is normal.

  • Recognize that the most effective way to overcome anxiety is to face it. Believing that anxiety is “bad” and must be avoided makes it more difficult to cope. Adopting beliefs that suggest anxiety is uncomfortable but “o.k.” can assist you in performing despite anxiety.

  • Think about your thinking.
    • Learn to recognize negative predictions (“He’ll think I’m stupid”), harsh self-criticisms (“I’m so boring”), perfectionistic self-statements (“I have to get this right”) and beliefs about helplessness (“It won’t matter if I try”).
    • Challenge negative self-talk. When you notice anxious thinking, try asking yourself questions such as: “Is this always true?” “What are the odds of that really happening?” “Could there be another possibility?” “Is there another explanation?” “Is this helpful?” “Would I talk to a friend this way?”
    • Generate positive self-statements that are affirming, encouraging and believable (e.g. “I was nervous during my presentation and it showed. I got through it, though. And the class really seemed to like the last section. Next time I’ll prepare more thoroughly.”) (Bourne, 1995; Wilson, 1996).

  • Challenge avoidance behavior. Avoiding anxiety-provoking situations alleviates anxiety immediately but only temporarily. Avoiding means you rob yourself of the opportunity to see that you can cope, that disasters rarely occur and that your level of anxiety will diminish.

  • Stay in the anxiety-provoking situation until your physical discomfort lessens. If you can’t stay, keep going back until you feel less anxious. Your anxiety will decrease.

  • Learn to trust your body. Your body is incapable of maintaining an extreme level of anxiety for an extended period of time.

  • Practicing abdominal breathing can help alleviate uncomfortable anxiety symptoms.

  • Take care of your physical health. Eat well, exercise regularly, get enough rest and avoid excessive use of caffeine. Seek professional help if you have problems with substance use.

  • Seek and accept support from others.

  • Read about anxiety management.

  • Give yourself credit for taking charge and helping yourself cope. Be patient, too.

Where Can I Get Help?

  • If you think that you may be experiencing problems with social anxiety, and require professional assistance, contact the Student Wellness Centre
  • You may also speak to your family doctor or a physician at the Student Wellness Centre about a referral to a counsellor who has experience treating this difficulty.


  • American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.
  • Bourne, E. (1995). The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook. Oakland, New Harbinger Publications, Inc.
  • Heimberg, R. and Becker, R. (2002). Cognitive-Behavioral Group Therapy for Social Phobia. New York: Guilford Press.
  • Leahy, R. & Holland, S. (2000). Treatment Plans and Interventions for Depression and Anxiety Disorders. New York: Guilford Press.
  • Wilson, R. (1996). Don’t Panic: Taking Control of Anxiety Attacks. New York: HarperPerennial.
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