How to Surf the Social Wave Without the Stress

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Jimmy Marble for PAPER MAGAZINE

“Social anxiety is the fear of social situations that involve interaction with other people,” says Erin Quinane, founder of The Mental Health Company.

“Those who suffer social anxiety, are often perceived by others as being shy, quiet, withdrawn, inhibited, unfriendly or nervous. In fact, they are actually the opposite. They want to make friends, be involved and engage in social interactions.”  

Erin says that people with social anxiety usually experience significant distress in the following situations:

  • Being introduced to other people.
  • Being teased or criticised.
  • Being the centre of attention.
  • Being watched or observed.
  • Speaking in a formal public situation.
  • Meeting people in authority.
  • Feeling insecure and out of place in social situations. 
  • Embarrassed easily. 
  • Meeting other peoples’ eyes.

Here are Erin’s tips on how to kick social anxiety to the curb this party season.

Anxiety isn't reality

Everyone has a constant stream of thoughts that affect mood and energy. Social anxiety feeds on thoughts that exaggerate danger, foresee dire consequences, and attribute negative judgments to others. The antidote isn't positive thinking, but realistic thinking. Examine your anxiety by producing thoughts, then correcting them.


Symptoms of anxiety and excitement are almost identical, and if you feel revved up and think, "I'm getting anxious", it creates a destructive spiral. Instead think of it as “getting excited". 

Shift your focus

Anxiety turns your attention inward, so try to focus your attention on the task itself. A shift in focus interrupts the anxiety cycle and lets you focus on the present.

Experience discomfort

Some things are worth doing even if you're anxious. Be willing to stand in the hurricane and do what you think is important.


One of the worst things about anxiety, is the feeling that once it starts it will build uncontrollably.  Breathe slowly and deeply, and whenever you start feeling anxious be aware of your breathing. If it is shallow and rapid, consciously shift to slow abdominal breathing.  

Tolerate uncertainty

Most people like life clear cut. Unfortunately, life isn't always that way and you eventually have to face the fact you can't control everything, not everyone will like you, and not everyone will approve of your every action. Sometimes your best bet is to go with the flow and learn the gentle art of acceptance.