Go with your gut.

The most common advice given to sufferers of social anxiety is to just push through and force yourself to take part even though your instinct identifies that this advice is not helpful.

Your instinct is correct, because immersion in social situations doesn’t lessen social anxiety symptoms.

Growth Zone vs Danger Zone

The 3 zones

Comfort Zone

Our Comfort Zone is where we feel safe, relaxed. It’s where we understand how things work and we do not learn anything new in this zone.

Growth Zone

Our Growth Zone is a small, safe step or distance outside our Comfort Zone that allows us to learn, experience and understand different or new social situations.

Moving into this zone allows us to grow or increase our Comfort Zone.

Spending too much time in our Growth Zone can make us want to retreat to our Comfort Zone.

It requires energy to learn new things and stay safe, so taking one small step at a time into our growth zone may be manageable.

Danger Zone

This exists as an ‘unsafe’ distance from our Comfort Zone where the risk of a negative experience is very high and outweighs any potential growth. After a negative experience, we might want to run straight back to our Comfort Zone.

It is ok to say “No” to the Danger Zone. We can take steps to transform a dangerous situation into a growth situation, which is only a little bit outside our Comfort Zone

3 Types of Social Anxiety Experiences 

There are 3 scenarios you may come across when in a social situation:

1. I don’t know what to do

Solution: Knowing what to do (I need knowledge and skills)

How do we do this? By:

  • Finding out more information about the event.
  • Getting more information about the expectations of the event.
  • I know the boundaries of what I’m going to be asked to do.
  • I know I have the capacity to do that.

2. I don’t want to be in this situation and I’m only here because I feel I must

Solution: I need a choice (a good back-up plan)

Ask yourself:

  • Am I choosing to go? Making a choice is much less anxiety-producing than having no choice.
  • Can I can choose to leave? Ensure you are able to choose to go at a set point and not have to stay the whole time. Then you will be less anxious to start.

3. I’m afraid of rejection or a bad experience

I’m worried that:

  • I may be judged – others may not be nice
  • There is a high risk of a bad experience.

Solution: I need good experiences

We can increase the chance of having a good experience and building confidence by:

  • Give ourselves choices – allowing ourselves to choose to go or stay for only part of the time.
  • Having a backup plan – leave when you want to leave.
  • Strategies to calm down – knowing what works for you – is there a way you can calm down?
  • Having an exit strategy.

Good experiences increase confidence and coping skills

Like any skill you are learning, practice and confidence can help you develop the skills you need.

To learn a skill requires practice.

For example: you cannot learn how to play the piano by watching others play, or by reading a book about how to play. You actually have to play it and practice to get any good at it.

Here are some real life examples:


16-year-old Paul transformed was boring, shy and awkward in social situations. He decided to grow dreadlocks and so by chance became the “cool guy with dreadlocks”

He didn’t change, but his hair style did.

This change resulted in social interactions becoming very predictable.

Everyone asked about dreadlocks: “How are they made? Can you make one for me?”

Because of this predictability in conversations, he was able to practice his social skills and become confident. The more he practised, the more confident he became.

Taxi Driver

Another young autistic man learnt how to interact with people by becoming a taxi driver.

He would have the same conversations over, and over again with each passenger.

This allowed him to practice and build his confidece.

Confidence Comes from Practice

It requires lots of positive experiences and practice which reassures us that there is no need to be afraid. Here are some key tips to building that confidence and developing social skills:

  • We cannot learn social skills by watching from the sidelines. You need to practice “the real thing”, make mistakes, do some simple exercises to build your confidence.
  • Try harder and harder things slowly to build your confidence.
  • Move slowly from your Comfort Zone to Your Growth Zone by practising lots of conversations, in a way that you are comfortable. This will allow you to feel prepared for future situations.
  • Social anxiety is real, don’t ignore it. Pushing through it or ignoring it can make things worse.
  • Forcing yourself into the Danger Zone is not helpful and is likely to result in a bad experience which will send you directly back to your Comfort Zone.
    Instead, the goal is to extend and expand our Comfort Zone.
  • We learn confidence through positive experiences. This requires that we take social anxiety seriously, facing our fears, and turning something that was fearful or dangerous into something that is safe and comfortable.
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