Overcoming Social Anxiety: Get Started Guide

Version 1.0. Updated 25/10/23

πŸ‘‹ Welcome

We help you overcome social anxiety. We do it by providing a proven process, amplified by the support of a group (who you have hopefully met by now).

Groups are at the heart of our approach. They give you the wisdom to understand your anxiety and the confidence to try new things, rewiring your habits for good.

The key to overcoming social anxiety is to approach situations in new ways, seeing what happens and reflecting on what you learn. Doing things differently means:

  1. Dropping your ‘safety behaviours’
  2. Focusing outwardly (rather than inwardly)

It’s not easy, but you are capable. Exercises below will help you prove it to yourself. This easy-to-follow guide and templates, together with the support of your group, will give you the know-how and confidence to maintain it.

As you embark on this journey, remember that change takes time. Be patient with yourself and celebrate each small victory along the way. With perseverance and dedication, you can reclaim your life from the clutches of social anxiety and live with greater confidence and freedom.

Let’s get started!

How to use this guide

The WalkTheTalk process is a self-guided programme that is based on cognitive therapy for social anxiety disorder (CT-SAD). It’s adapted for a group setting and includes additional exercises and resources that have been found to be helpful by WalkTheTalk members. The process emphasises continued maintenance, not just a limited number of sessions.

If you have completed CBT previously and recognise some of the exercises, that’s great! It may be helpful to do them again. If you have not completed CBT previously, you can still self-guide yourself through the WalkTheTalk process.

Here are some general tips:

  • Recognise that we are each on a spectrum. No two people with social anxiety are the same. You have your own unique experiences, situations, signs and symptoms and pace of development. All of that is fine.
  • Resist the compulsion to compare. Only compare yourself to your own progress from yesterday.
  • The most important thing is that you make progress. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t see results immediately. Just keep working at it.
  • Try to not set expectations. The goal of the process is to avoid avoiding situations (‘overcome’ social anxiety) and not to suddenly enjoy being the centre of attention at a party or asking a stranger for something.

The process is self-paced, divided into four sections:

  1. Understanding your anxiety: This section will help you to learn about the symptoms of social anxiety disorder, your triggers and avoidant behaviours, and the cognitive distortions that contribute to your anxiety.
  2. Trying things differently for the first time: This section will help you to start experimenting with new behaviours in social situations. You will experience what it’s like to approach situations in a new way.
  3. Putting all of this into practice to overcome social anxiety: This section will help you to apply what you have learned to real-world social situations. This is where the hard but worthwhile work comes in.
  4. Optional extras to go even further and give back: This section is for people who want to go above and beyond, and to help others with social anxiety. 

You can take as long as you need in each section. There is no right or wrong way to go through the guide. The most important thing is that you are making progress.

Each section includes exercises, practices and resources.

  • Exercises: Exercises are prescriptive steps to follow. Each exercise has a suggestion for how long it might take. You can do these exercises once or more often if it is helpful. Some exercises can be done in a group or with the assistance of members of your group, and some can be done outside of the group, either alone or with a friendly person.
  • Practices: Practices are more like habits. They can help you to build a ‘muscle’ like focusing your attention outwards, or they can be routines like daily challenges and experiments. We provide aids such as a journal and daily email to help you ingrain these habits.
  • Resources: Resources are video, audio and written articles to help you learn more about a topic.

We encourage you to use these in the way that works best for you. There is no one-size-fits-all approach.

Remember, everyone’s journey is different. Be patient and persistent. Overcoming social anxiety takes time and effort. But with hard work and dedication, it’s possible!

1. Understand what needs changing

The first step to overcoming social anxiety is to understand what triggers it and how its grip takes hold for you. Everyone’s anxiety is unique to them. This exercise is designed to help you identify your unique imprint of anxiety. You can do this exercise alone or use the questions you’ll be asked at meetings to develop it.

Once you have a good understanding of your social anxiety, the rest of the process to overcoming it will fall into place. You can think of the output of this exercise as a ‘map’. It’ll help you discover the landscape of your anxiety, where you’d like to get to and the roads you’ll need to travel to get there.

Most importantly, you’ll understand your safety behaviours and therefore what you need to try differently to break the cycle of social anxiety.

Exercises and resources

We may think we know our social anxiety inside and out, having experienced its telltale signs countless times. The rapid heartbeat, the sweaty palms, the stammering words, the overwhelming urge to run away or hide – these are all familiar friends.

But unless we take the time to sit down with these experiences and really think about them, our understanding remains shallow. By digging deeper into the roots of our fears and identifying the safety behaviours that keep them alive, we gain the insights needed to break free from their hold.

Develop your map

✍️ Exercise

The first step to overcoming social anxiety is to understand what triggers it and how its grip takes hold for you. Everyone’s anxiety is unique to them. This exercise is designed to help you identify your unique imprint of anxiety.

Safety behaviours

πŸ“– Read

Safety behaviours are things you do to avoid anxiety in social situations, but they keep you from overcoming it. Follow our guide to learn more about them and to discover yours.

Group principles

πŸ“– Read

We hope they’re common sense, but our principles exist to help us all feel safe, welcomed and looked after in group settings. How we design for safety.

2. Discover what happens when you try things differently

The key to overcoming social anxiety lies in two crucial steps:

  1. Dropping safety behaviours: These are the actions we take to avoid or minimise anxiety in social situations. Examples include avoiding eye contact, rehearsing conversations beforehand or staying on the sidelines at gatherings. While safety behaviours may provide temporary relief, they ultimately reinforce our fears and prevent us from gaining confidence in our ability to handle social interactions.
  2. Focusing outward: This involves shifting our attention away from ourselves and our own anxieties and towards others and the present moment. By paying attention to the people we are interacting with and the conversation at hand, we can reduce self-consciousness and engage more fully in social situations.

The core of growth lies in challenging ourselves to try things differently. By stepping outside of our comfort zones and experimenting with new behaviours, we can gain new insights into our own patterns and reactions. As we do this, it is important to approach our experiences with open curiosity, recording our observations without judgement.

In a way we become scientists conducting experiments in the laboratory of our own lives. By carefully observing the results of our actions, we can learn to identify which behaviours are helpful and which are not. Over time, this process of experimentation and learning can lead to significant reductions in social anxiety.

The following exercises and practices will help you to discover, for the first time, what happens when you drop safety behaviours and focus outward. As you engage in these activities, remember to approach them with a spirit of curiosity and openness. The more you are willing to experiment, the more you will learn about yourself and your social anxiety.

A final word before experimenting yourself – use your WalkTheTalk group as a practice ground and go at a pace that feels right to you. When you feel you’ve experienced what it’s like to drop your safety behaviours and focus outwards, it’s time to move to the next section.

Exercises and resources

Follow these ideas to bring to life your safety behaviours, practice focusing outwardly and see what happens. Your group can be a safe place to practice.

Before and after

✍️ Exercise

In this exercise, you will compare the effects of using and not using safety behaviours, as well as the effects of focusing on yourself and focusing on others in social situations. Try it in your group.

Video feedback

✍️ Exercise

In this activity, you will record yourself interacting with someone in a social situation. You will make predictions about how you will come across, and then watch back the video to see if you were right. Ask a member for help.

Outward attention

πŸ‹οΈ Practice

Focusing outward attention in social settings means paying attention to the people around you and the environment, rather than focusing on yourself. It’s a skill to learn.

3. Now it’s time to keep going

The path to overcoming social anxiety is not a sprint, but a marathon. It requires commitment and dedication to continuous experimentation. With each experiment, you gather valuable insights into the nature of your anxiety and the impact of your behaviours.

As you embark on this journey, it is crucial to maintain an attitude of open curiosity and neutrality. Avoid attaching yourself to outcomes or expecting specific results. The goal is not necessarily “achieve” anything in particular or even to start enjoying situations (though you may), but to simply engage in social situations without avoidance.

Remember, progress will be lumpy, with ups and downs along the way. There will be moments of triumph and moments of struggle. But if you persevere, you will gradually move in a positive direction.

How long will I need to do this?

This step may vary in duration, as we all begin from different starting points with unique experiences. Be patient and kind to yourself; there is no rush, and your group is there to support, motivate and encourage you.

It is important to resist comparing yourself to others (easier said than done, we know) and instead focus on your own progress against where you were yesterday or before.

Tools to make it easier

To help you on your journey, WalkTheTalk offers several aids: your group, daily challenges, experiment ideas and a journal.

The group sessions provide a supportive environment where you can share your experiences, gain encouragement, and learn from others. Celebrate your wins, no matter how small they may seem. And in moments of difficulty, your group will be here to help you become unstuck.

The journal with experiment templates is a valuable tool for tracking your progress (which will come, by the way, and it’s easy to forget how far you’ve come). By recording your observations and reflections, you’ll begin to feel more confident and capable. The most rewarding moments come when you take a situation in your stride, only afterwards remembering that it previously panicked you.

The daily challenges are designed to help you build confidence, both socially and generally. As you step outside of your comfort zone and try new things, you will develop a sense of self-efficacy that will empower you to face social situations with greater confidence.

Exercises and resources

Overcoming social anxiety is a challenging but rewarding journey. With commitment, dedication, and a willingness to experiment, you can reclaim your life from the clutches of anxiety and live with greater freedom and confidence.

Your Journal

πŸ‹οΈ Practice

Experiment and grow, guided by pen and paper with your WalkTheTalk journal, as you overcome social anxiety. Emphasises forming healthier habits and to show you far you’re going. Every challenge is an opportunity.

Daily challenges

πŸ‹οΈ Practice

Take on new challenges each day, venturing outside your comfort zone and embracing the unfamiliar. As you overcome these challenges, you will build confidence and gain a deeper understanding of yourself.

Group sessions

πŸ“– Read

You’ll discuss things you’ve perhaps not told many others and ditto them to you. Here’s what to expect and how to make the most of your new connections. Who knows, they might turn into friendships.

Acceptance and surrender

πŸ“– Read

What role do acceptance and surrender play in social anxiety. A short read on what we think.

Working through trauma

πŸ“– Read

For some traumatic social experiences or perhaps other traumatic experiences may have started or made social anxiety worse.

Need more help? You’re not alone

πŸ“– Read

If you’re experiencing feelings, emotions and thoughts that make it seem like you need some extra help. then here are some places open to you.

4. Stepping things up a level: when you’re ready!

As you progress on your journey with social anxiety, you may be looking for a sense of ‘completion’ or even find yourself drawn to the act of giving back to others. Especially if your group peers and facilitators have helped you grow. Perhaps you will choose to share your experiences and insights with those who are still struggling, offering them hope and guidance along the way. Or perhaps you will dedicate your time and energy to creating your own WalkTheTalk group – a supportive space where others can connect and find solace in shared understanding.

While living with anxiety is a lifelong journey and ‘completion’ is probably not the healthiest way to look at it, there are opportunities you can take to prove to yourself that you capable of anything.

Likewise, giving back to others is a powerful way to both honour your own journey and feel a sense of the highest achievement with your social anxiety. It’s also a way of challenging yourself in ways you never thought possible when you first started out. By stepping outside of your comfort zone and sharing your vulnerabilities with others, you are demonstrating the courage and resilience that you have cultivated through your own journey.

Exercises and resources

Ready to go beyond? Take the sting out of your social anxiety fears or help others overcome it.

Decatastrophising

✍️ Exercise

Face your fears head-on by trying out the worst-case scenarios in your mind. This will help you see that they are not as bad as you think they are.


Become a buddy

πŸ‹οΈ Practice

Lend a hand to those starting out on their journey, offering support and guidance as they navigate the challenges of social anxiety.





Lead a group

πŸ‹οΈ Practice

Take on the important role of a group facilitator, creating a welcoming and supportive space for those struggling with social anxiety. Through your guidance and encouragement, you will help others on their journey.

Something missing?

If you have tips, resources or anything to add, let us know.

With thanks to all the sources referenced and linked to for producing such helpful guidance and resources available to the public and in a way that we’ve been able to use them to create the WalkTheTalk guide. Most notably OxCADAT. Any errors and omissions are our own. Please note the information provided shouldn’t be taken as medical advice. We’re a peer support group sharing content and support that we hope will prove useful. If you feel you need it, always seek professional support from your GP/the NHS and/or therapist.