How Do I Practice Mindfulness Meditation for Social Anxiety Disorder?

Mindfulness and Social Anxiety — Does it Work?

How Do I Practice Mindfulness Meditation for Social Anxiety Disorder?

By: Regan Vercruysse

by Yadid Berman

In today’s modern world social anxiety is on the rise, driven by a reduced sense of belonging and a rise in stress, anxiety and depression.

Anxiety disorders are becoming a common mental health issue, with the charity Anxiety UK reporting that one in 10 of us are ly to have one at some point in our lives. 

Could mindfulness, a mental health intervention gaining popularity, be a possible answer? 

What is Social Anxiety?

Having fears and insecurities around socialising is not abnormal. Most of us experience this at some point, such as when starting at a new school or workplace.

But if it is a constant issue for you, which affects your daily life and ability to cope, you might have social anxiety.

Social anxiety can have many symptoms, both physical, mental and emotional. This can look :

  • fear of scrutiny by others
  • avoidance of social situations
  • difficulty with eye-contact
  • flushing, hand tremors, nausea
  • self-imposed isolation
  • a reduced number of friendships and intimate relationships.

Read more in our article, ‘What is Social Anxiety Disorder?’

Why do I have social anxiety?

To understand why mindfulness and social anxiety are such a perfect fit, it can help to understand why you have social anxiety.

Social cognition, or our ‘social mind’, involves how we take in, analyse, and use information from our interactions with others. We make decisions, such as on how others perceive us, and ‘store’ these decisions as ‘truths’.

By: Julie Jordan Scott

Of course our social mind is useful and even crucial. If we don’t have a sense of how others perceive us, or care about it, then we can be socially difficult, or even with social conduct disorder.

But if we had difficult experiences in the past, especially in childhood, and our brain stored certain ideas about how we are perceived? We can have strong fear and shame the isn’t helpful.

For example, if Alex was teased by his big family for being the ‘baby’ who is ‘shy and never has anything to say’? He can believe he is place and a poor addition to social gatherings, even when as an adult he is highly educated and not shy. 

Do you have negative thoughts? 

Back in our cave man days, it aided our survival to always be searching for signs of a predator in the jungle. Always searching for danger was a good thing. 

Enter the ‘negativity bias’. The idea is that evolution has caused negative information, comments or events to be stored and remembered better than positive events.

As explained in an abstract by psychologist Dr. Amrisha Vaish et al,We dwell on something negative, even if something positive is equally or more present.”

This cognitive bias adds to being hyper-sensitive, and perceiving signals of rejection or lack of care and acceptance in situations where these are actually not present.

Social phobia and low self-esteem

It is also very common for people with social anxiety to experience frequent thoughts and feelings of unworthiness, inadequacy and self-judgment.

Low self-esteem affects your ability to remain present and centred while interacting with others. 

Social anxiety and mindfulness

By: Nickolai Kashirin

Mindfulness, as explained by Jon Kabat-Zinn (known for introducing mindfulness to the modern world and psychology), is, “The awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally”.

Through the practice, you explore, investigate and develop acceptance and curiosity towards the thoughts, feelings and body-sensations that make up your moment-to-moment experience.

You learn to develop a kind and compassionate attention towards the unconscious deep-seated fears that prevent you from getting close to others.

Mindfulness also helps you notice the good things around you and not just the negative.

A pilot study looking at the effects of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), a talk therapy that integrates mindfulness into its approach, found that it did help social anxiety, mostly because it raised the participants ability to see positives.

[Ready to try mindfulness? Try our free and easy ‘Guide to Mindfulness‘ now.]

How to use mindfulness to help social anxiety

So how does one overcome social anxiety with the use of a mindfulness practice?

1. Accept that it is a process.

Where you are right now when it comes to socialising and anxiety is not static. It can definitely be changed and moulded over time. Don’t believe thoughts such as “this is just who I am” which may be running through your head.

2. Tune into your desire for change and connection.

Keep your highest aspiration and goals in mind – such as wanting to have more meaningful, loving and supportive connections in your life.

3. Start small and work upwards.

Trying to do big 40-minute mindfulness sits right off the bat will just lead to frustration.  Try ten minutes a day, then raise it 15, and then 20.

And this is true for your social exposure, too. Take challenging but manageable steps, bit by bit putting yourself into experiences which feel outside of your current comfort zone.

4. Keep a mindfulness journal.

Track and write down exactly how you felt and what you were thinking before, during and after your meditations. This will help you gain more insight into the process and journey you’re going through.

You can also use your mindfulness journal to record your achievements with your social anxiety. Seeing the small steps keeps us moving forward. Did you have an easier conversation with a colleague? Manage to look your difficult boss in the eye?

5. Find a therapist, mentor or coach to work with

Working with a skilled therapist or mentor who is experienced in mindfulness-based approaches such as MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) or MBCT (mindfulness-based cognitive therapy) can be a tremendous help. He or she can help you see the blind spots in your perception and help you develop your practice.

Ready to try mindfulness to help your social anxiety? We connect you with highly experienced, London-based MBCT therapists. Or use our online booking site to find a registered therapist in your area of the UK. 

Still have a question about mindfulness and social anxiety? Post below. 

Yadid Berman is a Mindfulness teacher, who has practiced and trained for over 14 years in both Europe and Asia. He currently helps people overcome Social Anxiety mainly using Mindfulness practice at and his channel at

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How Do I Practice Mindfulness Meditation for Social Anxiety Disorder?

–I don’t know what to say. What do I say next?

–I might say something stupid / offensive.

–S/he’ll think I’m boring / stupid / unattractive / socially inept, and will dis me.

–What I have to say isn’t good enough. No one will be interested.

–They can tell I’m anxious and will think I’m weird or weak.

–I might embarrass myself.

These are just a few of the many distressing and distracting hot thoughts that make us feel socially anxious. If only we could silence them!

If only. Have you ever tried to push an annoying thought your mind? Typically that effort backfires and ends up strengthening and prolonging the thought. Try this experiment: tell yourself that you must stop thinking about a pink elephant.

Or, when you have a melody in your mind, try very hard to stop thinking about that tune.

Most people find that trying to stop thinking about a thought paradoxically leads us to think about it even more! That’s because our efforts to stop thoughts are really telling our brains that these thoughts are very important.

What is Mindfulness for Social Anxiety?

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) teaches that it is more helpful to train our brains to treat these hot thoughts as unrealistic and unhelpful than it is to try to get rid of them. One strategy to do this is called MINDFULNESS: paying attention to the present moment with interest, rather than judgment.

I have the impression that most people think mindfulness means meditation. Even many therapists who teach mindfulness training are really just teaching meditation. That’s especially unfortunate because meditation, despite it’s many benefits for other concerns (eg.

stress management, pain management, spiritual development), has been demonstrated to be a very ineffective strategy to overcome social anxiety. Meditation is certainly one place to practice mindfulness.

But for dealing with social anxiety, it is much more useful to practice mindful focus during conversations and other situations around people in which we are uncomfortable.

Curiosity Training: Practicing Mindfulness for Social Anxiety

I call this type of mindfulness practice while we are interacting with others—or even while we are simply around others—curiosity training. We are learning to get our heads and into the moment.

Instead of focusing our attention on ourselves—criticizing our performance or appearance, trying to guess what others are thinking of us, struggling to script out what to say—we learn to treat all those thoughts asbackground noise—something we’re aware of but not paying attention to—and instead return our attention to taking interest in the situation, the person, and the conversation.

We’re not trying to stop or silence any distressing thoughts. Remember, doing so tends to backfire and strengthen the thoughts and increase our distraction.

We are instead learning to gently put those thoughts into the background— we do with noise—and refocus our attention on taking interest in what is happening outside of ourselves. Some people find it helpful to silently say something very short and non-critical—eg.

“mindful,” “present,” “focus”—to briefly interrupt our thoughts and then refocus our attention on the conversation, persons or situation in the moment.

Curiosity training takes frequent, ideally daily practice. It’s easiest to start practicing in situations in which you are calm, and working your way up to more anxiety-provoking situations as you get better at it.

An additional tool that some people find helpful in learning mindful focus when anxious is the Attention Training Technique, a 10-minute recording created by Adrian Wells, PhD, in which you practice focusing on one sound while putting several other sounds into the background.

(Email me and I’ll send you a copy:

Cognitive Restructuring for Social Anxiety

But what if my hot thoughts are too distressing to treat background noise? Worse yet, what if they are true, or at least partly true? I can’t just ignore them then, can I?   Fortunately, there is another strategy used by cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to deal with distressing thoughts called COGNITIVE RESTRUCTURING.   In contrast to mindfulness, which helps us change our relationship with our thoughts, cognitive restructuring helps us learn how to test our thoughts against real world evidence, and change their content so that they are more realistic and helpful.   I will describe how to do cognitive restructuring in my next blog post. In the mean time, I suggest reading Mind Over Mood by NSAC Newport Beach / Orange County director, Dennis Greenberger, PhD, for an excellent description of how to do cognitive restructuring to help with anxiety and depression.

Larry Cohen, LICSW

Cofounder, National Social Anxiety Center; Director, NSAC District of Columbia; 202-244-0903


The National Social Anxiety Center is a national association of regional clinics with certified cognitive therapists specializing in social anxiety and anxiety-related problems. We have compassionate therapists who can help you to reduce social anxiety.

Currently, we have regional clinics in San Francisco, District of Columbia, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, New York City, Chicago, Newport Beach / Orange County, Houston / Sugar Land, St.

Louis, Phoenix, South Florida, Silicon Valley / San Jose, Dallas, Des Moines, San Diego, Baltimore, Louisville, Philadelphia, Montgomery County, Maryland / Northern Virginia, Long Beach, Staten Island, North Jersey, Brooklyn, and Santa Barbara.

Contact our national headquarters at (202) 656-8566 or visit our Regional Clinics contact page to find help in your local area.


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