Top Ten Tips To Alleviate Social Anxiety

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Guide To Self, Inc.

Anxiety is the third largest psychological problem in the world today. Some folks with anxiety aren’t even aware when they become anxious. If those with anxiety aren’t even aware of it, how do we begin to fix the problem?


A young man wastes time sitting in front of the telephone, agonizing because he’s afraid to make a call. He’s afraid to call a stranger in a business office about the phone bill because he’s afraid he’ll be imposing and they’ll be mad with him. It’s very hard for him to take rejection, even over the phone, even from someone she doesn’t know. He’s especially afraid to call people he does know because he feels that he’ll be calling at the wrong time — the other person will be busy — and they won’t want to talk with him. He feels rejected even before he makes the call. Once the call is finished, he overanalyzes and thinks about the words that were used, the tone it was said in, and how he was perceived by the other person….his nervousness and speeding thoughts concerning the call prove to him that he “screwed” this conversation up, too, just like he always does. Just thinking about the call is enough to call us his anxiety.



A young lady resists going to work since a meeting is scheduled the next day. She knows that such meetings always include her co-workers discussing their current projects. The mere thought of talking in front of her peers spikes her anxiety. Sometimes she loses sleep the night before due to the anticipation of her upcoming nervousness. In other words, she becomes nervous about the prospect of being nervous. When the meeting is finally finished, a huge wave of relief comes over her as she begins to let go of the anxiety. Yet the memory of the meeting remains in the forefront of her mind. She is convinced she embarrassed herself and that everyone present saw how nervous she was when she spoke, and how foolish she acted in the meeting. She recalls that in front of the boss she stammered, paused too long, her face turned red, and she won’t remember what to say. The movies are replayed in her mind over and over and over again.



Another individual would like to go to out socially— and, in fact, he is truly lonely—yet he never goes out as he is unbearably nervous when meeting new people. Groups of people make things worse for him. The idea of talking to unknown people scares the daylights out of him. He is certain people will stare at him and expose him as an imposter. He is afraid they will reject him and humiliate him. Even if they act nice, they’ll surely notice his flushed face, frozen look and stuttering speech. They’ll sense his discomfort, mistake it for arrogance and dislike him. He feels he has no way to win. And so he spends the night alone again. He is in his comfort zone at home. Home is the only area in which he feels totally at ease. Home is the only place he can relax. He hasn’t gone out in seven years.



In public, people with social anxiety feel that everyone is scrutinizing their every move and judging them, despite the rational knowledge that this is not the case. Socially anxious people cannot relax in public. They cannot enjoy themselves when they are out. They can never truly settle down when others are around. To them, it always seems like other people are negatively judging them. Regardless of their rational thoughts, they still feel extremely self-consciousness while they are in the presence of others. For many, it is nearly impossible to relax and focus on anything other than the anxiety and the fear. The anxiety is agonizing, making it easier to avoid social situations and other people completely.



Social anxiety is an extreme fear of social situations and conversing with other people which creates feelings of self-consciousness, fear of judgment, evaluation, and criticism. This often leads to feelings of inadequacy, humiliation, and depression. Social anxiety disorder (or social phobia) causes relationship problems for millions of people all over the world every day of their lives. In the United States, studies have recently shown social anxiety disorder to be the third largest psychological disorder in the country. Such anxiety affects approximately 15 million Americans each year. In general, social anxiety is not well understood by the mental health care field. As a result, people with social phobia are frequently misdiagnosed. Socially anxious people have been misdiagnosed as “schizophrenic”, “manic-depressive”, “clinically depressed”, and “personality disordered” to name a few. Often, anxiety exists together with depression or bipolar disorder.



An example of a specific social phobia is the fear of speaking in front of groups. On the other hand, generalized social anxiety makes a person anxious, nervous, and uncomfortable in the vast majority of social situations. People who suffer from social anxiety disorder typically experience considerable emotional distress in situations such as:

  • Introductions to other people
  • Criticism and Judgments
  • Being the center of attention (e.g., birthdays)
  • Having someone watch while doing something
  • Talking to people in positions of authority (e.g., doctors, Ph.D.s and police)
  • Social encounters, especially with strangers
  • Making “chit-chat” at social engagements

The physiological symptoms that are associated with social anxiety frequently include intense dread, a quickening heart rate, blushing face, dry throat and mouth, shaking, difficulty swallowing, and muscle tension. Constant, pervasive, ongoing and intense anxiety is the most common symptom.


People with social anxiety know that their anxiety does not make rational sense. We know now that each one of us has two “types” of brain – the emotional brain and the thinking brain. These account for our emotional intelligence and traditional intelligence. Therefore, knowing something is not the same is not the same as feeling it. Sometimes we have feelings that are inconsistent with our thoughts. This is frequently the case in anxious people. They feel anxious despite their rational knowledge that there is nothing to be afraid of.


If some of the situations resonate with you, feel free to implement some of the tips below to help alleviate your anxiety…

1. Think of the brain as a computer. In order for a computer to run any program at peak efficiency, it must have sufficient memory, disk space and processing speed. Many individuals with problems of impulsivity, disorganization, and distractibility do not have sufficient RAM (i.e., short-term memory), disk space (i.e., long-term memory) or processing speed in their brains due to underactivity in the prefrontal and temporal lobes of the brain. To best run the programs, the hardware (the brain) must be first optimized and then the programs (the information) need to be reinstalled (as it wasn’t properly received the first time through). Once the brain is running efficiently, strategies need to be introduced to help them be more effective at home, at work and in social relationships. It is essential to improve the brain (biological), the outlook of the individual (psychological), and the intersections between the person and their environment (social) (Amen, 2001). One particular part of the brain has been shown to be involved in shifting from one thought to another – the anterior cingulate gyrus. When the anterior cingulate is too active, it results in people getting stuck in certain thought patterns and behaviors. Many difficulties with anxiety and depression have to do with a lack of flexibility of thought (or obsessing on certain negative thoughts) and may be related to an overactive anterior cingulate. If the rigidity of your thoughts and behaviors are causing difficulty in your relationships, you may want to discuss with your doctor the possibility of a serotonergic medication such as Prozac, Zoloft or Paxil which has been shown to be helpful in calming down the anterior cingulate gyrus (Amen, 2001).

2. Eliminate all toxic elements from your lifestyle. This includes caffeine, alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamines, nicotine, and sugars. For instance, marijuana use damages the physiology of the brain decreasing blood flow to key areas and reducing overall effectiveness. Marijuana use is especially harmful to the temporal lobes, which play an important role in memory, emotional stability, learning and temper control. Substance abuse of all kinds is particularly harmful to brain functioning. For example, a study done at UCLA demonstrated that cocaine addicts had 23 percent less brain activity overall compared to a group of people who had never used drugs (Amen, 2001).


3. Get Your Protein. The recommended diet according to many experts, including Barry Sears, PhD (author of The Zone) is a higher protein – lower carbohydrate diet with a minimum of sugars. This helps promote a more even mood, better focus, and improved cognitive ability. However, this is precisely the opposite form of diet that most of us are on currently.


4. Exercise. All of us benefit from intense aerobic exercise 30-45 minutes 5 times a week. Exercise increases blood flow to the brain. It also improves the availability of serotonin in the brain which provides a calming effect and allows individuals to shift their focus from one are to another more easily. This helps those who tend to obsess on certain thoughts or ‘overfocus’ on areas of interest.


5. Stop the ANTs!

Work on correcting Automatic Negative Thoughts, or ANTs. Negativity haunts us all at different times. This habit, when particularly strong, can lead to depression and social withdrawal. There are seven primary types of ANTs as laid out below:


Type of ANT

How to counter the ANT

“I’m the worst at sports.”

“All or nothing” thinking.

This is not a rational thought. I’m not the worst. I just need more practice. Then, I’ll improve.

“She is always mad at me.”

“Always” thinking.

Watch for words like “always,” “never,” “no one,” “everyone,” “every time,” and “everything.”

“Others will just laugh at me and I’ll look stupid.”

Fortune telling.

Predicting the worst possible outcome. Replace negative thought with a positive image in your head (“They might like what I have to say.”). Learn deep breathing techniques (e.g., diaphragmatic breathing).

“I know she doesn’t like me.”

Mind reading.

Belief that you know what someone else is thinking. Remind yourself you can’t know another’s thoughts. Reframe the situation more positively. “She might like me. Maybe she is having a bad day.”

“I’m worthless.”


I may do some dumb things, but I’m not worthless. Similar to ‘All or nothing’ thinking.

“It’s all my the fault of my boss.”


What part did I play in creating the problem and how can we best solve it?

“I should do better in school.”

Guilt obsessions.

Watch out for the words “should,” “ought,” and “have to.” Reframe thought as “I want to…,” “It would be helpful to…”, or “It’s in my best interests to…”


6. Deep breathing is essential in reducing temper flare-ups, anxiety, impulsivity, restlessness, insomnia, and lack of focus. Diaphragmatic breathing is a method of deep breathing where you breathe into the stomach or diaphragm. The emphasis is on exhaling all air in your lungs with each breath. The purpose of exhaling is to rid your body of waste products in the lungs, such as carbon dioxide. This allows the lungs to fill more completely with new air, which increases the flow of oxygen to all cells in your body, particularly the brain cells. Brains cells are among the most sensitive to oxygen deprivation. Slight variations in oxygen availability can change the way an individual thinks and behaves. When you get angry or anxious, your breathing becomes shallower, and oxygen content in the bloodstream is reduced. Less oxygen is then available to the brain, possibly resulting in increased irritability, impulsivity, anxiety, or confusion. To account for this, you must learn to breathe slowly and deeply with your stomach, not your chest.


7. Smile. When we are happy we smile and when we smile, we feel happier. One of the most significant emerging principles in the neurology field in the 1990’s is the idea that the feedback between levels of the brain is bi-directional. In other words, messages travel both ways between various levels within the brain. So if you activate a higher level, such as the cortex, you will be priming a lower level, such as the cerebellum. And vice-versa. Thus, smiling, even when you don’t feel like it, can improve your mood!

8. Socialize with other intelligent and interesting people. This is one of the best ways to keep expanding the networks in your brain, in your social life and in the business world. The verbal interaction with other capable individuals challenges your brain to create new connections and pathways.

9. Challenge your brain daily with vocabulary exercises, quizzes, puzzles, crosswords, debates, anagrams and brainteasers. Attend current events seminars. Write in a journal. Axons and dendrites (i.e., neural pathways), which would normally shrink with age, branch out and make new connections. Given enough intellectual stimulation, you create an increased backup capability in your brain. In other words, the intellectual stimulation creates alternate pathways by which chemical messengers can communicate. Thus, if old pathways fail or are damaged, you are more likely to be able to reroute the necessary messages to essential parts of the brain. Studies shave shown that people who taught, continued learning and constantly challenged their brains into old age lived longer and resisted Alzheimer’s better than those who did not.

10. Practice self-compassion. Self-compassion is how you speak to yourself when things go wrong. It is a hallmark of resilient individuals. The best way to practice self-compassion is to speak to yourself as if you were three years old. In other words, treat mistakes as learning opportunities, be gentle with yourself, no screaming at yourself in your own head, and treat yourself with kindness.


By following these tips, you will slowly but surely begin to turn down the volume on your anxiety while turning up the level of contentment and peace in your life.


About John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Dr. John Schinnerer is in private practice teaching individuals the latest proven methods to manage emotions such as anger, anxiety and depression. Using positive psychology, he helps clients achieve happy, thriving, meaningful lives. His practice is located in the Danville San Ramon Medical Center at 913 San Ramon Valley Blvd., #280, Danville, California 94526. He graduated summa cum laude from U.C. Berkeley with a Ph.D. in educational psychology. Dr. Schinnerer has been an executive and psychologist for over 12 years. Dr. John Schinnerer is President of Guide To Self, a company that coaches clients to their potential using the latest in positive psychology, emotional management, mindfulness and attentional control. Dr. John Schinnerer hosted over 200 episodes of Guide To Self Radio, a prime time radio show on positive psychology, in the San Francisco Bay Area. Dr. Schinnerer wrote the award-winning, ‘Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide To Managing Emotion and Thought,’ which is available at, and He is currently collaborating with the University of New Zealand in a longitudinal positive psychology study called The International Wellbeing Study ( He sits on the Advisory Board of, one of the top psychology sites on the web. He may be reached via email at


Recommended Reading


To address overall health of the brain:

Healing ADD: The Breakthrough Program That Allows You to See and Heal the 6 Types of ADD. Daniel G. Amen, M.D. Berkeley Press, 2001.
Change Your Brain, Change Your Life. Daniel G. Amen, M.D. Random House, 1999.


To improve self-assertiveness skills:


Managing Assertively: How to Improve Your People Skills. Madelyn Burley-Allen. John Wiley and Sons, 1995.

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Stephen Covey, Ph.D. Franklin Covey Co., 1990.

Goals and Goal Setting. Larrie Rouillard. Crisp Publications. 1998.


To increase tolerance to stress and reduce anxiety:


The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook. Edmund Bourne, PhD. MJF Books, 1990.


To address emotional sensitivity:


Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide To Managing Emotion and Thought. John Schinnerer, Ph.D. Authorhouse, 2007.

The Heart of the Soul. Gary Zukav. Simon & Schuster, 2002.

Self-Coaching: How to Heal Anxiety and Depression. Joseph Luciani. John Wiley & Sons, 2001.

Undoing Depression: What Therapy Doesn’t Teach You and Medication Can’t Give You. Richard O’Connor. Berkeley Pub. Group, 1999.


Which Is Your Most Important Sense – Sight, Smell, Taste, Touch, Hearing?

Amazing new research is coming out showing the fundamental importance of your sense of touch. It is the first sense available to you as a baby. A variety of positive and negative emotions can be understood through brief one second touches to the forearm, even when you cannot see the person touching you.

It may be that touch sends more information than gestures, body language or facial expressions. Touch varies widely in its expression – a hug, a gentle touch on the shoulder, a scratch on the face, a hip check, a high five, a punch to the bicep, a desperate clutch to the forearm. All of these are expressions of touch filled with social and emotional meaning for the person whom receives the touch.

While I follow the latest research on emotion and psychology, I was surprised and delighted to see a study on touch appear in the latest issue of Sports Illustrated (The Metaphysical Significance, Staggering Ubiquity and Sheer Joy of High Fives by Chris Ballard). The study which looked at the effects of touch on performance in the NBA is entitled Tactile Communication, Cooperation and Performance: An Ethological Study of the NBA and comes out of the greatest university in the world – U.C. Berkeley (okay, I’m biased!). Lead researchers of the project are Michael Kraus and Dacher Keltner.

The researchers observed nearly 300 NBA players (across all 30 teams) over a period of 2 months. They catalogued and recorded every touch between players during games. The touches were classified in one of 12 areas including categories such as high fives, head slaps, and jumping shoulder bumps. The results were nothing short of awe-inspiring. The more touches between teammates, the more wins the team had.

The teams that touch the most? The Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics. Both of these teams surpassed the 60 win mark last season. And both teams averaged more than 100 seconds of touching during games. The results held even when the lofty expectations are taken into account for these elite teams.

The teams that touch the least? The Sacramento Kings and the Charlotte Bobcats. They averaged a measly 16.5 seconds and earned only 52 wins last season combined.

How about individual players? Does the power of touch hold at an individual level?

The ‘touchiest’ players (i.e., most high fives, chest bumps, head slaps) are also among the NBA’s elite players including Kevin Garnett of the Celtics, Chris Bosh of the Toronto Raptors, Kobe Bryant of the Lakers, and Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks. Garnett averages 15.7 seconds of touching per game which is over two times as much as the entire Sacramento Kings entire team.

Apparently, it’s the leaders of the team that initiate most of the touching in the form of hugs, low fives, fist bumps and more.

Why is there such a powerful effect for the sense of touch?

We know that massages from loved ones not only reduce pain, they also reduce depressive symptoms. Students who are given a compassionate pat on the shoulder are 200% more likely to volunteer for an in class assignment. When your doctor offers a sympathetic touch, it makes you feel as if he has spent twice as much time with you during the visit.

How can one sense be related to such varied and significant events as wins in the NBA, reduction in depression, perception of time, reduction in pain, and promotion of altruistic behavior?

The primary theory is that touch activates the autonomic nervous system which has two branches – the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).  One helpful metaphor to understand these two is the idea of a car in which the accelerator is like the sympathetic nervous system and the brakes are akin to the parasympathetic nervous system. Positive touches (e.g., kind, compassionate, tender, gentle, sympathetic, etc.) seem to activate the PNS, or the body’s brakes, which helps the body to relax, to experience positive emotions. Negative touches (e.g., a punch, a pinch, scratch or a bite) seems to activate the SNS, or the body’s gas pedal, which prepares the body for the fight or flight response.

In many of us, the SNS is chronically active as if the gas pedal is being pushed continuously. Due to the fast pace of society, the financial demands, the pressure of balancing work, home and personal health, many get into a cycle of chronic low level stress. In this case, the PNS, the relaxation response, is rarely, if ever, activated.

In sports psychology, it is known that the zone, where optimal human functioning occurs, requires a balance between stress and relaxation. In other words, there needs to be a balance between the functioning of the SNS and the PNS. Touch seems to be one way to activate the PNS thereby balancing the pressure of performing in the moment with the relaxation response, allowing athletes to perform at their peak.

Hope you enjoyed this one! I sure enjoyed writing it!

All the best,

John Schinnerer Ph.D.

Guide To Self, Inc.

Positive Psychology Coach

How to Transform Your Outlook from Pessimistic to Realistically Optimistic – Positive Psychology

I received an email today from a highly qualified individual who works with adolescents. She asked how I changed my own temperament from pessimistic to optimistic.


Here is her email…


Hi John - Hope I am not a nuisance. I would like to follow up to the email I sent last night with some thoughts I had overnight. Since you don't know me at all(!) and you may be uncomfortable responding, I thought I would share just to let you know I do have some credentials for doing what I do - I have a Masters in Counseling/Sport Psych, certifications in hypnotherapy/neuro-linguistic psych/life coach, and a Gallup University Strengths Performance certification. I have been a NCAA Tennis coach as well. I’ve been working with young adults and professionals on tour for fifteen years.


More importantly - I am wondering how you transformed your outlook from black to white…I read that it was a conscious decision, attitude is a choice, however many individuals (mainly kids) are not strong enough to do this movement from bleak to bright (of course so they say… however are very resilient so the corollary should apply! may be excuse too as it takes hard work). What did you do daily to see and feel the glass half full?


Thanks for your attention and consideration of responding. Think positive as you never know when something like this could lead to a speaking engagement across country!






And here is my response…


Dear Jeanne:


No nuisance at all. A pleasure.


The primary ways that I have altered my own temperament overlaps with the exercises that I share with others …Forgiveness a la Fred Luskin, Gratitude a la Robert Emmons, Mindfulness a la Jon Kabat-Zinn, Curiosity a la Todd Kashdan, Resiliency via Bonnie Bernard at WestEd, self-compassion via Duke University,  identifying strengths, values, purpose and meaning (Chris Peterson, Martin Seligman, William Damon), and then a large amount of time spent on awareness of and tools to manage emotions – both mitigating ‘negative’ emotions and fostering ‘positive’ emotions. The biggest help, I believe, came from the notion of radical acceptance of emotions and thoughts that comes with the practice of mindfulness.


This combined approach has been immensely helpful to numerous clients, in particular adolescent males.  Most of the men I see come in with complaints of depression, anger, irritability, anxiety and/or lack of purpose. I'm continually amazed at the results that clients achieve after learning and applying these tools. 


To keep younger folks engaged in the process, I often insert rewarding breaks such as short clips of stand up comics (laughter open us up to new learning), BMX trick riding videos (facilitates awe), and so on. I also reveal a lot of my past to clients to a) normalize their current situation and b) make the dynamic more of a two-way relationship. I believe it is difficult and unnatural to ask an adolescent male to come into an office and spill their stories to a stranger.  To improve upon the traditional therapeutic model, I often tell young men that they don’t even need to speak in the first session if they so choose. The simple act of giving them the choice and the power over how much to divulge and how quickly empowers them and makes them feel comfortable.  And we know that  roughly ½ of positive emotions have a prerequisite of feeling safe and comfortable before one has a chance of experiencing them.


I think Positive Psychology is necessary but insufficient to get many to a happier, more meaningful place in the sense that negative emotions are ‘stronger’ than positive ones. So the best bang for the buck in terms of increasing life satisfaction comes from teaching others to turn down the volume on the major negative emotions (anger, fear, sadness). This idea was well laid out in a recent paper by Todd Kashdan.


However, it’s also useful and necessary to teach people to identify and foster positive emotions as we are oftentimes unaware of many of them and they pass us by quickly. We know the positive emotions are fragile and fleeting so we need to train ourselves to be mindful of opportunities for the cultivation of positive emotions.


And of course, there are the more common sense interventions as well – proper diet, adequate exercise, hanging out with supportive, nonjudgmental people and appropriate assertiveness (to nip festering irritation before it escalates to anger or rage).


I hope that is helpful.


Feel free to email back!


All the best,





John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Positive Psychology Coach

Author of the award-winning book Guide To Self:

The Beginner's Guide To Managing Emotion & Thought

Guide To Self, Inc.

913 San Ramon Valley Blvd. #280

Danville CA 94526

(925) 575-0258 - Web site - Award-winning Blog

@johnschin - Twitter




What’s Coming Next With Well-Being Per Daniel Kahneman

The Well-Being Explosion and What’s Next

Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman states that increasing interest in life satisfaction and well-being is reaching critical mass throughout the world now that economists are involved with measuring Gross Domestic Happiness (GDH) and other key metrics. In a clip from Gallup’s series, “Next Steps: Transforming Americans’ Health and Well-Being,” Kahneman looks at why the study of emotions is likely to be the future of well-being research.


It’s a fantastic, uplifting feeling to know that the rest of the world might be beginning to realize the importance of the work on which I’ve been spending the past 15 years of my life. Ever since 1995, I’ve been studying, practicing and teaching the best scientifically-proven methods to alleviate destructive emotions (e.g., fear, anger, sadness) and cultivate more constructive emotions (e.g., awe, pride, love, contentment, curiosity, and more). I’ve written award winning book (Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide To Managing Emotion and Thought), spoken to tens of thousands of people and done a daily prime time radio show. It is so rewarding to think that some folks might be understanding the power, importance and ubiquity of emotions.


I’ll check in with you soon!


All the best,


John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Positive Psychology Coach

Guide To Self, Inc. 

Happiness, Greater Well-being Related to Less Chit Chat & More Deeper Conversations

Press release from Association of Psychological Science…

Talking Your Way to Happiness: Well-being Is Related to Having Less Small Talk and More Substantive Conversations

Is a happy life filled with trivial chatter or reflective and profound conversations? Psychological scientists Matthias R. Mehl, Shannon E. Holleran, and C. Shelby Clark from the University of Arizona, along with Simine Vazire of Washington University in St. Louis investigated whether happy and unhappy people differ in the types of conversations they tend to engage in. Volunteers wore an unobtrusive recording device called the Electronically Activated Recorder (EAR) over four days. This device periodically records snippets of sounds as participants go about their lives. For this experiment, the EAR sampled 30 seconds of sounds every 12.5 minutes yielding a total of more than 20,000 recordings. Researchers then listened to the recordings and identified the conversations as trivial small talk or substantive discussions. In addition, the volunteers completed personality and well-being assessments.

As reported in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, analysis of the recordings revealed some very interesting findings. Greater well-being was related to spending less time alone and more time talking to others: The happiest participants spent 25% less time alone and 70% more time talking than the unhappiest participants. In addition to the difference in the amount of social interactions happy and unhappy people had, there was also a difference in the types of conversations they took part in: The happiest participants had twice as many substantive conversations and one third as much small talk as the unhappiest participants.

These findings suggest that the happy life is social and conversationally deep rather than solitary and superficial. The researchers surmise that — though the current findings cannot identify the causal direction — deep conversations may have the potential to make people happier. They note, “Just as self-disclosure can instill a sense of intimacy in a relationship, deep conversations may instill a sense of meaning in the interaction partners.”

News Release

March 4, 2010
For Immediate Release

Contact: Barbara Isanski
Association for Psychological Science