About social anxiety
Social anxiety is worry or fear about social situations.
If you have social anxiety, you might:
- feel uncomfortable when you attend children’s playdates, parties and school activities
- worry about being judged for saying or doing something embarrassing or offensive
- have difficulty speaking, speak softly to others or avoid talking altogether, including on the phone
- have difficulty eating or drinking in front of others
- feel numb in group situations
- avoid eye contact
- avoid most social situations
- develop or have a fear of missing out
- have strong or frequent urges to escape social situations.
Social anxiety can have physical signs too, including sweating, increased heart rate, stomach aches, nausea, blushing and trembling. These physical signs can make you feel embarrassed and even more anxious.
Strategies for managing social anxiety as a parent
Social anxiety is quite common.
There are several strategies that can help you manage social anxiety:
- Prepare for social events.
- Take a gradual approach to social events.
- Reframe your thoughts.
- Work on your wellbeing.
And if you find that social anxiety is still an issue even when you start using these strategies, it’s a good idea to get some professional support. Getting support as soon as you can is important. It can help you manage social anxiety before it becomes overwhelming.
When you manage your social anxiety, it’s good for you and good for your child. For example, if you can go to social events with your child, your child gets the chance to develop friendship skills, conversation skills, confidence, self-esteem and a sense of independence as they get older. Your child also sees you managing your anxiety in healthy ways, which sets a great example.
Preparing for social events
Preparing for social interactions and events can help you feel more confident and ease your worry about them. Here are ideas:
- Find out what to expect. For example, if you’re going to your child’s end-of-season sports presentation, find out where you need to go and what you need to do.
- Connect with other people before events. For example, if you’re going to a class information night, you could say hello to another parent at a school drop-off or even introduce yourself.
- Offer to do specific tasks at events, like putting up decorations or setting up equipment. Offering beforehand also gives you the chance to connect with people who are going.
- Think about what to say in social situations. For example, you could make a list of questions for parent-teacher interviews, medical appointments and other meetings. When you’ve worked out your ‘script’, you can practise.
- Write a note if you need to share information but don’t feel up to a long conversation. For example, if you’re dropping your child off at their friend’s party, you can write a note with your contact details and give it to the parent.
- If it’s appropriate, plan to give yourself a short break from socialising at an event. For example, take a book to read in the car at school pick-up or go to the toilet at a school information night.
- Make sure you have enough time between social events to recover and prepare. And if your child wants to attend an event but you need a break, ask a trusted family member or friend to go with your child.
Taking a gradual approach to social situations
It’s good to face situations that make you anxious, rather than avoiding them. But it usually helps to do this gradually.
For example, a gradual approach might start with going to small social events or going to social events with people you trust and feel comfortable with. As you feel more confident, you can build up to a broader range of events and people.
You could also try the stepladder approach. This gentle technique can help you gradually tackle more challenging social situations.
Here’s an example of how you could use the stepladder approach for school drop-offs and pick-ups. Once you feel comfortable with a step, move on to the next step:
- During a school drop-off, smile at one parent.
- At a later drop-off, smile and wave at the same parent.
- At a later drop-off, approach the parent and introduce yourself.
- At a later drop-off, introduce yourself to a new parent or a teacher.
- At a later drop-off, talk with a parent or a teacher.
Reframing thoughts about social situations
Reframing your thoughts about social situations can reduce symptoms of social anxiety. Here’s how to reframe thoughts.
Before a social event, you might say to yourself:
- ‘It’s OK to be anxious about this, but I don’t want it to stop me going.’
- ‘I can always leave early. I don’t have to stay long.’
- ‘I didn’t want to go last time, but it was OK when I got there.’
- ‘I can do this for my child even if I’m feeling anxious’.
During a social event, you might say to yourself:
- ‘It’s OK to feel anxious.’
- ‘I’ll just stay a bit longer. I can leave when I need to.’
- ‘Lots of people will be anxious here. I don’t have to be perfect.’
- ‘I’m doing this because I believe it’s important for my child.’
After a social event, you might say to yourself:
- ‘I did it even though I felt uncomfortable.’
- ‘It was hard, but I got through it.’
- ‘I’m proud of myself for going with my child and seeing them have fun.’
- ‘Good on me for not letting worry stop me from going with my child.’
- ‘I’m exhausted because that was a big effort, but it was worth it.’
Working on wellbeing
These tips for everyday wellbeing can help you feel good. When you feel good, you’re better able to manage social anxiety:
- Practise self-compassion. It’s important to be kind to yourself as you learn to manage social anxiety. Remind yourself you’re doing the best you can.
- Commit to doing a small mindfulness activity each day. Practising mindfulness regularly is great for reducing anxiety.
- Try breathing exercises or muscle relaxation.
- Eat well and do some exercise. Being fit and healthy is good for your overall wellbeing.
- Establish a weekly routine. This can give you a sense of predictability, which can reduce anxiety. Make sure the routine includes time to relax and do things that you enjoy.
- Talk to someone about how you’re feeling. This could be someone you trust and feel comfortable with, like your partner, a family member or a close friend.
- Set goals that are important to you and your child. For example, you could work up to taking your child to their friend’s house more often.
It’s a good idea to talk to your child about your social anxiety and how you’re managing it. For example, ‘I was nervous about that meeting, but it helped to write down what I wanted to say’. This sends the message that it’s OK to talk about feelings and shows your child how to handle social challenges.
Professional support for social anxiety
If your social anxiety is stopping you from doing things you need to do for yourself or your child, it’s important to get professional support as soon as you can.
Here are more ways to get support:
- Call Lifeline on 131 114 or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.
- Check Head to Health to find online programs and information on social anxiety.
- Contact a psychologist through Australian Psychological Society – Find a Psychologist.
- Call a parenting hotline.
- Go to your local community health centre.
Some people develop social anxiety disorder. This is when a person’s social anxiety causes severe distress or significantly affects their daily life, and this goes on for more than 6 months. If you think you might have social anxiety disorder, it’s important to seek professional help.