Safety behaviours are actions that people with social anxiety use to avoid or reduce the perceived negative consequences of social situations. They can be subtle or overt and while they can feel helpful in the short term they can maintain and worsen social anxiety in the long term.

Some common examples of safety behaviours in social anxiety include:

  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Speaking softly or quickly
  • Overpreparing for social situations
  • Avoiding certain topics of conversation
  • Diverting attention away from yourself
  • Not saying anything in a meeting or conversation because you think you have nothing to offer
  • Leaving social situations early
  • Drinking alcohol before social situations
  • Relying on friends or family members to support them in social situations

Safety behaviours can be helpful in the short term because they can reduce anxiety and make social situations more bearable. However, in the long term, safety behaviours can actually make social anxiety worse. This is because safety behaviours reinforce the negative thoughts and beliefs that we have about ourselves and social situations.

For example, we may avoid eye contact because we believe that others will judge us negatively. This actually reinforces the belief that we are inadequate and unlikeable. The more we avoid eye contact, the more we’ll believe that we’re right.

Over time, safety behaviours can make it difficult or feel impossible for people with social anxiety to engage in the social situations that they need to in order to live a full and meaningful life. For example, someone who avoids giving presentations at work may miss out on opportunities for promotion. Or, a person with social anxiety who avoids social gatherings may have difficulty making friends and maintaining relationships.

Identifying your safety behaviours is a key part of discovering your social anxiety ‘map’.