Coping Strategies for Social Anxiety

Robert F Mullen, PhD

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The distinction between social anxiety disorder and social anxiety is a matter of severity; reference to one includes the other. The recovery tools and techniques provided apply to most emotional malfunctions, including depression, substance abuse, ADHD, PTSD, generalized anxiety, and self-esteem and motivation issues. These malfunctions originate homogeneously, their trajectories differentiated by environment, experience, and the diversity of human thought and behavior.  

“Dr. Mullen is doing impressive work helping the world. He is the pioneer of proactive neuroplasticity utilizing DRNI – deliberate, repetitive, neural information.” – WeVoice (Madrid, Málaga)   

Coping Strategies for Social Anxiety

“Success depends upon previous preparation,
and without such preparation, there is sure to be failure.”
– Confucius

Social anxiety disorder is culturally identifiable by the persistent fear and avoidance of social interaction and performance situations, which causes us to miss the life experiences that connect us with the world. Our recovery goal is the general outcome we mean to achieve. The objectives are the actions or measurable steps taken to achieve our goal.  

Our goal, then, is the dramatic moderation of our fears of social interconnectivity. To achieve this, we identify three objectives: To (1) replace or overwhelm our negative thoughts and behaviors with healthy, productive ones, (2) produce rapid neurological stimulation to restructure our neural network, and (3) regenerate our self-esteem.

Coping strategies are the methods or approaches we devise to execute these objectives. Coping mechanisms are tools and techniques that implement our strategies. The distinction is important.

We are at war, and social anxiety is the enemy. Successfully challenging our fears/anxieties requires an adaptive plan of action. A military strategist is skilled in designing a plan to overwhelm the enemy. As strategists for our recovery, we are responsible for developing a cohesive plan to meet our three objectives. These can involve multiple strategies.


A situation is a set of circumstances – the facts, conditions, and incidents affecting us at a particular time in a specific place. A feared situation provokes fears/anxieties that negatively impact our activities and associations.

Two Types of Situations

Two types of situations concern us. Anticipated situations include those that we know, in advance, will provoke our fears/anxieties.  Examples range from restaurants and the classroom to job interviews, family gatherings, and social events. They can be one-time situations like a job interview or social event. They can be recurring situations such as the classroom or work environment.

Unexpected situations are those that catch us by surprise. An accident, an unexpected guest, and losing your wallet are unexpected situations. 

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Automatic Negative Thoughts

Automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) are the immediate, involuntary, emotional expressions that occur when our situational fears/anxieties confront us. They are the unpleasant, self-defeating things we tell ourselves that define who we are, who we think we are, and who we think others think we are.

ANTs are borne of our negative core and intermediate beliefs and the symptoms of our social anxiety, e.g., “No one will talk to me.” “I will do something stupid.” “I am a loser.” Adverse behaviors consequently accompany these self-maligning thoughts.

Identifying situations and unpacking associated fears and corresponding ANTs are crucial to recovery. Our issues are as distinctive as our environments and experiences.

9-Step Process for Rational Response

Moderating our associated fears/anxieties and corresponding ANTs demands an integrated approach. Through what we call the 9-Step Process for Rational Response, we learn to: 

1. Identify our Feared Situation. Where are we when we feel anxious or fearful and what activities are involved? What are we thinking? What might we be doing? Who and what impacts these insecure feelings? 

2. Identify our Associated Fear(s). One way to identify our associated fears/anxieties is to ask ourselves the following: What is problematic about the situation? How do I feel (physically, intellectually, emotionally, spiritually)? What is my specific concern or worry? What is the worst thing that could happen to me? What might happen to me?

3. Unmask our Corresponding ANTs. How do we express our fear/anxieties? What are our involuntary emotional expressions or images? How do we negatively self-label? What do we tell ourselves?

4. Examine and Analyze Our Fear(s) and ANTs. What are the stimuli to our fears/anxieties? How do we express them? Discovery approaches include cognitive comprehension, introspection, psychoeducation, and the vertical arrow technique.

5. Generate Rational Responses. We become mindful of the irrationality and self-destructive nature of our associated fears/anxieties and corresponding ANTs. We unmask, examine, and analyze the cognitive distortions and maladaptive behaviors that validate or reinforce them. Then, we devise rational responses to counter our false assumptions.

Cognitive distortions are exaggerated or irrational thought patterns that interpret experiences in ways that don’t represent reality. We twist it to reinforce or justify our toxic behaviors and validate our destructive thoughts and conduct. Rational Responses are self-empowering statements we devise to counter our situational fears/anxieties and ANTs.

6. Reconstruct Our Thought Patterns. Through proactive neuroplasticity and cognitive approaches, we reframe or convert our thought patterns by replacing or overwhelming them with healthy productive ones. This is an essential component of recovery.

7. Devise a Structured Plan. Utilizing our learned tools and techniques, we develop our coping strategies and mechanisms to challenge our situational fears/anxieties, irrational thoughts, and maladaptive behaviors.

8. Practice the Plan in Non-Threatening Situations. We strengthen our rational responses by repeatedly implementing our plan in simulated situations and practicing exercises, including role-play and other workshop interactivities.

9. Expose Ourselves to the Situation. We challenge our fears/anxieties on-site in real-life situations. This transpires after a suitable period of graded exposure to accommodate the reconstruction of our neural network and ensure familiarity with our strategies and coping mechanisms.

Coping Strategies

Coping strategies are processes or tools to help us manage stress. Since maladaptive is particular to social anxiety disorder, we emphasize adaptive strategies to counter our negative thoughts and behaviors. Researchers claim over 400 coping strategies designed to address emotional malfunction, including problem, emotion, social, and meaning-focused.

Our recovery programs emphasize response-focused and solution-focused strategies, but we consider multiple approaches in an individually targeted recovery program.

Emotion-focused coping strategies focus on managing or regulating our emotional response to feared situations. Identifying the emotions associated with a stressor is essential to moderating them. In the first three of our 9-Step Process for Rational Response, we identify the feared situation, associated fears/anxieties, and corresponding ANTs.

Problem-focused coping strategies employ the same tools and techniques as our solution-focused strategy. One crucial distinction: the pathographic disease model of mental health focuses on the problem, whereas the wellness model we favor emphasizes the solution.

Recovery is a here-and-now process. The past is immutable. We have no control over it beyond our response to it. It is the here-and-now and how it reflects on the future that is of value in recovery.

Meaning-focused coping strategies entail rationalizing or delegating responsibility for our thoughts and behaviors to a moral or religious code or influence, which can encourage negatively valanced emotions like shame, guilt, and blame. The more rational approach emphasizes personal accountability and self-determination.

Social coping strategies are essential to counter our fears of human interconnectivity and avoidance of social situations. Graded exposure includes practiced cognitive-behavioral techniques that reduce sensitivity to our feared situations. The 9-Step Process for Rational Response encourages systematic desensitization of our fears/anxieties in non-threatening workshop environments before exposure to real-life situations.

Avoidance-focused coping strategies pursue alternate activities to avoid situations that endanger our emotional well-being. They are short-term solutions. In the long term, we moderate our fears/anxieties by learning to respond rationally to them, allowing us to engage in feared situations at our discretion.

Avoidance is a major symptom of our social anxiety, and our primary goal is to moderate our anxieties/fears rather than avoid them.

Restructuring, replacing, and regenerating comprise the framework for recovery and self-empowerment. A coalescence of coping strategies is needed to accommodate these goals as well as the diversity of human thought and experience.

Best Strategies for Social Anxiety

Response-based coping strategies, which we focus on in our recovery programs, pay particular attention to generating rational responses to our maladaptive thoughts and behaviors. We facilitate this component of recovery in the first four of the 9-Step Process for Rational Response. Further consolidation is achieved through cognitive comprehension, introspection, psychoeducation, and other psychological and scientific approaches.

Solution-based strategies keep our attention centered on finding solutions rather than researching the origins of our problems. Recovery is a here-and-now and how it reflects on the future process. We define ourselves by our character strengths, virtues, and attributes rather than our symptoms. Delving into the origins and early trajectory of our negative thoughts and behavior, if deemed necessary, is the purview of psychoanalysis.

Recovery relies on self-reliance and self-motivation. The onus rests with the recovering individual. A comprehensive recovery program is individually targeted and emphasizes the solution, rather than the problem.

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