Social Anxiety Blog

I've seen hundreds of people with social anxiety stifle their sneezing.  Because they are so self-conscious, that is, they do not want anyone to see or hear them, they stop (prevent) themselves from sneezing by blocking the oncoming sneeze.  Some people do this by holding it back and others pinch their nose to physically hold it back.

Doing this is dangerous.  A sneeze is air rushing out of your noise at about 150 miles an hour.  It has evolved for a reason (to expel germs that are harmful to the body).  By holding that 150 mile an hour explosion back, a person is keeping in all the germs that need to be expelled.  After a few decades of this behavior, people have had issues with swelling in the neck and difficulty in speaking and swallowing.  Everyone sneezes and it makes a sound, even when you're in a quiet room, like a classroom.  But it's important to sneeze naturally (don't let your social anxiety cause you to stifle sneezing).  You'll be surprised that no one will pay any attention to you if you sneeze in public.  Test it out.  When someone else sneezes, do you stare at them and judge them?  People will not do that to you either.


When I was a teenager and pulled up to a red light, I always hugged the right hand lane and hoped the car in the next lane would not stop parallel with me.  If this happened, my self-consciousness went through the roof, my heart started beating faster, and I stared straight ahead zombielike, afraid to look anywhere but dead-center.   

People with social anxiety understand this.   People that have never had social anxiety don't understand this at all.  

I relay this experience in the first session of the series "Overcoming Social Anxiety: Step by Step".  This way, people with social anxiety know they've finally found someone who finally "gets" what's wrong with them.  Others who listen to this session are mystified by it.  The series uses examples like this -- that make sense to people with social anxiety disorder -- but don't make any sense to people who have never had it.   

The idea for this came from the many clients I've had who've told me they finally felt "understood" by their psychologist -- sometimes after many years of therapy.   It is with these real-life examples that we can weed out people who have social anxiety from people who have never felt anxiety when they've been in similar situations.


Social anxiety is a pernicious disease.  Someone, some thing, or some idea has infected your thought processes to convince you that you are not as good as other people.  A person with social anxiety disorder feels inferior to other people, although this is not true rationally.  

It should be noted from the beginning that nothing about social anxiety is rational.   But very few children are taught to be critical thinkers and to ask questions of themselves.  The more a person learns to ask "Why?" and search for empirical evidence, the less likely they'll be able to get caught in traps like social anxiety disorder.

Growing up, very few children and teenagers are all alone.  Usually this is a good thing.  Learning to stand up for yourself and to be more assertive is one important strategy in learning to overcome social anxiety.  However, some of us -- now in the older generations -- missed all the availability of therapy, counseling, and rational help that would later be provided on the internet.  Many of us were middle-aged before we learned the basic strategies about overcoming social anxiety.  A very few of us became very adept at leading and helping others to take small, gentle steps forward -- gradual steps that would lead them to become less and less anxious.  As people become less anxious, at the same time they are becoming more rational.  The ability to think and to think clearly is strategically important to overcoming social anxiety.

But this is where the generation question comes in.  Many of us have survived the decades of turmoil and lives of constant misery to find themselves better -- no longer anxious at all -- but just starting out at life again like a teenager.  When this happens to someone who is 40, 50, or 60 is another completely different obstacle, and one that is many times harder than social anxiety disorder.  

Where do you go to make friends at that age?  To develop romantic interests, or to get married?  Even the dating services prove harsh for the older client.  So, all of this needs to be taken into account when you contemplate a life without social anxiety.  The younger you start overcoming this terrible disorder, the better off you'll be.   

I have worked with and counseled thousands of people over the past thirty years and I have constantly learned new skills to help people overcome social anxiety.  After all this time, because I had this disorder myself, I have an extensive history in knowing exactly what to do to help an individual get better.   My personal feelings are that no one cares.  Millions of people suffer from this disorder, and hundreds of thousands seek to become better, but only a handful are willing to take on the task of really doing something about their problems.  

In graduate school, they tell you that researchers will have great interest in any clinical work you pioneer, but I have not found this to be the case.  There has been no interest in what we do here or why, despite our deployment of new methods and strategies that change people's lives.   

This is the purpose of blogs.  I'm expressing my frustrations about many things and hoping that someone can do something about them so that future generations may be helped.  

Obviously, there is a need for clinicians in social anxiety work.   Also, I personally need an assistant to help with getting therapy strategies more fully fleshed out.   


Anxiety Struggles: Paul McGrath

Fri, 08/16/2013 - 16:33 -- Aaron O'Banion

In today’s society, social anxiety is slowly becoming more a part of the public consciousness.  While in some cases people have spoken out about the disorder to raise awareness, there are other more unfortunate instances in which SA is brought to the forefront.  A good case in point would be former Irish soccer player Paul McGrath who was recently arrested for intoxication and threatening/abusive behavior. 

Changing Our Thinking Habits

Tue, 07/09/2013 - 11:48 -- jb

When just starting therapy for social anxiety, it's impossible to go from our normal way of thinking to positive thinking right away -- it's too much information for the brain to take in all at once, and so your brain won't accept or believe it.  Instead, we have to slowly ignore our old thinking habits, and change our negative thinking in a step-by-step way.

An Education for One: My Struggle with Social Anxiety

Wed, 06/26/2013 - 14:15 -- anonymous

I wish I could say that my college experience was a typical one, but that would be far from the truth.  Instead, I found myself plagued by a problem, one that I wasn’t even fully aware of at that point in my life.  The problem in question was social anxiety, and it seized control of my life when I entered college.  Some of the symptoms had been with me for years, although I never put a name to it.  I suppose it helped that I could more or less function during my time in high

Focus Externally

Thu, 06/13/2013 - 14:25 -- jb

When we feel anxiety in any form, it is always best to switch our attention EXTERNALLY as much as possible.  Our feelings lie to us when they involve anxiety, so it's best to take our attention away from our internal anxiety feelings (take away their power) by focusing on any sounds, sights, or other external stimuli that you can think of.  If you are working at a job, try to focus on your job-related tasks, if someone is talking to you, give them your full attention.

Do Not Rush Yourself: Controlling Adrenaline and Cortisol

Wed, 05/29/2013 - 13:05 -- Aaron O'Banion

When you are called on or put on the spot, do the opposite of what anxiety wants you to do.   No reason to panic.  Instead, slow yourself down.  Relax as much as possible.  Loosen up your muscles and take your time. 

If you are asked a question in public, you do not need to snap to attention and blurt out an answer.  Anxiety loves it when you act speedily.  Instead, slow your thinking down by relaxing, give yourself a second or two to answer, and then answer using slow talk.  Answer the best you can -- that's all you can ever do. 

Setbacks Are a Sign of Progress

Wed, 05/15/2013 - 13:31 -- jb

Setbacks happen to everyone as they are overcoming social anxiety disorder.  A setback is defined as a time when you go “backwards” a little in your progress against social anxiety, either because you faced too high of an anxiety situation or certain negative thoughts popped into your head an inopportune time when you weren’t expecting it.

Acting Assertively

Wed, 04/10/2013 - 11:36 -- jb

Those of us with social anxiety usually struggle a great deal with assertiveness.  Being assertive is a key part of the "overcoming social anxiety puzzle."  In the local therapy group, we have many handouts and behavioral exercises that deal specifically with assertion techniques.  Acting assertively and believing in our own worth takes some thought, as we must realize that we, like everyone else, have the right to see ourselves as we really are and to act in a manner consistent with these beliefs.