Meditation for Social Anxiety: How to Do It – PsychCentral.com

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by social anxiety, meditation could help you gain a sense of calm.

Living with social anxiety can be exhausting.

When you’re around others, you might feel like you’re constantly performing, trying to avoid saying the wrong thing or behaving the wrong way. Fear of humiliation might cause you to avoid social situations, which can create feelings of isolation and shame.

Social anxiety disorder is common — an estimated 12.1% of U.S. adults experience it at some time in their lives.

It’s also manageable. Many people use therapy, medication, or a combo of the two to reduce their symptoms. But these approaches may not be the right fit for everyone and take some time to work. Not to mention, talk therapy in particular can be challenging when you live with social anxiety.

You can use self-help and self-care techniques to help relieve some of your social anxiety symptoms in the moment.

Meditation is an excellent place to start. It’s accessible — all you need is your own breath plus a few moments to yourself — and can provide powerful relief.

At its core, meditation is about making peace with your thoughts and learning to sit with them rather than trying to fight them. For this reason, it can be a useful tool if you live with social anxiety disorder.

Social anxiety can cause you to be hard on yourself or assume others are thinking the worst of you.

A neutral thought — for example, “I’m nervous about attending this party” — can quickly snowball into a negative thought: For example, “There’s something wrong with me” or “Everyone at the party thinks I’m weird.”

These overly self-critical thoughts can create a negative self-image. Many people with social anxiety want interconnectedness, but a negative self-image can make this harder to achieve.

If you have a negative self-image, you might worry your perceived flaws will be exposed in social situations, which can contribute to social anxiety.

By teaching you to approach your thoughts with curiosity rather than judgment, meditation can help to improve self-image and reduce symptoms of social anxiety.

Research suggests that a mindfulness-based meditation practice can be as effective as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for treating social anxiety.

Specifically, meditation could give you more power over negative self-beliefs, such as “I’m not normal” or “I’m socially awkward” and help you foster self-compassion. In turn, this could reduce feelings of defensiveness around others and encourage more positive social interactions.

One study in 2009 suggests mindfulness meditation can reduce rumination, anxiety, and depression in people with social anxiety, while also increasing self-esteem.

Research in 2011 suggests that meditation helps reduce mind-wandering, which is often associated with being less happy.

Meditation can even change the structure of the brain in ways that appear to boost memory and learning, while decreasing anxiety and fear. You can read more about that here.

You don’t need any particular equipment to start meditating — all you need is a few minutes of downtime, a quiet location where you won’t be distracted, and a focus on your breath.

It’s also a good idea to try and approach meditation with an open, curious attitude, and not to spend too much time worrying if you’re doing it “right.”

Much of the research on meditation and mental health focus on mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR). This form of mindfulness meditation can involve techniques like:

  • sitting meditations
  • incorporating mindfulness into your daily routine
  • breathing exercises
  • body scanning
  • yoga

Here are a few short meditation exercises to try if you’re looking to manage social anxiety:

Sitting meditation

If this is your first time, you might start with just 3 to 5 minutes of meditation:

  1. Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit down.
  2. Close your eyes.
  3. Try to focus on your breath.

The goal isn’t to clear your mind — instead, try allowing your thoughts to come and go without judgement. It’s OK to get distracted, and managing these distractions are actually a part of meditation. When a thought comes up, let it glide away like a cloud.

Body scan

Research in 2017 found that 20 minutes of body scanning a day for 8 weeks helped people become more aware of their bodies in a nonjudgmental way. Other benefits include stress reduction and emotional regulation.

Here’s one way to get started:

  1. Find a place to lie down where you’re comfortable.
  2. Focus on your toes — wiggle them, and let them tense and relax.
  3. Use the same process on different body parts, moving up from your toes to your head.

Your body scan can include (or exclude) any part of your body, like your:

  • ankles
  • calves
  • knees
  • thighs
  • buttocks
  • lower back
  • abdomen
  • chest
  • shoulders
  • arms
  • wrists
  • hands
  • fingers
  • neck
  • head

Here’s a guided body scan meditation for anxiety if you want help getting started.

Deep breathing

There are many deep breathing exercises out there, so it’s likely you’ll find one that works for you. This 4-7-8 exercise is one good way to start:

  1. Find a calm, quiet spot to sit or lie down.
  2. Place one hand on your stomach.
  3. Take a deep breath in through your nose, counting to 4 and feeling your stomach expand.
  4. Hold your breath for a count of 7 seconds.
  5. Breathe out for a count of 8 seconds, letting your stomach compress toward your spine.

Some people find it helpful to listen to music or white noise as they meditate, or to recite a short mantra. If you’re a visual person, you may want to choose a calming mental image to focus on as you meditate, like ocean waves going in and out, or trees rustling in the wind.

Many meditation apps have guided meditations that are specifically geared toward helping you manage anxiety, reducing rumination, and improving self-confidence. Most apps have a free trial option, so you can see which works best for you.

As with any treatment, outcomes will vary from person to person, and results may not come immediately.

It’s common to get frustrated early on due to trouble focusing. You might feel like you can’t quiet your thoughts when you start meditating, or even feel like you’re failing. Over time, it generally becomes easier to let your thoughts peacefully come and go.

If you have social anxiety, you might find meditation:

  • reduces the severity of your symptoms
  • makes social situations easier to navigate
  • helps you feel grounded before entering a social situation

Over time, you may find your anxiety feels less overwhelming and you’re more able to recognize when anxious thoughts are out of step with reality.

But meditation isn’t a magic bullet. You may need to use it along with other treatments like CBT, medication, or other self-care strategies like journaling and physical activity.