26 Sep 2019

Social Anxiety, Tips to Help from Dr Harry Barry

During his recent talk on Young People and Anxiety, Dr Harry Barry focused on a particular topic that is affecting more and more young people, social anxiety. He highlighted why this is happening plus gave some tips to help counter it. 

A Growing Epidemic

Social anxiety is more serious than many would think, to the extent that young people have taken their lives because of it. It is something that Dr Barry has seen continuously in people who have come to him for help. It looks set to become an epidemic in young people. 

Why? Because young people aren’t building basic one to one empathy resilient skills. Smartphones and the virtual environment they create is one of the key reasons for this.

Social anxiety is a very crippling and disabling condition for young people where they suffer terrible anxiety in social situations over a long period of time.

All adolescents can be anxious, it’s a part of life. But anxiety is where this becomes extreme and they get paralysed about the fear of being judged by others (especially their peers) in a social situation.

It’s something that also affects adults as wellThe really frustrating thing is that it is something that can be readily treated and doesn’t have to go down the road of tragedy. 


Where it can occur

There are several situations where it can occur:

  • When performing in front of people – One of the biggest pieces of advice Dr Barry gave for parents and for teachers is to never criticise a young person publically in a classroom as this can set them up for social anxiety for life. Many don’t understand this one moment can have such long term consequences
  • Social interactions – This is the most common one. This is where the person becomes extremely anxious when interacting with others in a social setting, especially their peers. They go out with their friends and they’re absolutely paralysed. The danger for the socially anxious person is that others will see some seemingly obvious physical symptoms of anxiety and judge them accordingly (e.g. blushing, sweating, fidgeting).

They worry others will think they’re very poor with conversation. The commonest phrases used were:

“They’ll think I’m boring”

or for girls

“They’ll think I’m weird”

Weak, useless & failure are the thoughts people with social anxiety have when they worry about what others are thinking about them. 

They also create a list of behaviours to try and avoid this from happening. This can include rehearsing conversations before they even leave their home. When they are in a group they’ll stay on the fringes and if someone asks them a question they’ll start rehearsing what to say so that others won’t think they’re stupid. They’ll monitor people’s faces and when they go home they do a post mortem of how bad they did. This can go on day after day and week after week. Over a long period of time, this can be absolutely paralysing and the trouble is with smartphones so widely used this creates social anxiety as they lose those one to one verbal skills.


How to resolve Social Anxiety

The anxiety inspector – 5% to 8% of people in a group setting are socially anxious, the person has to walk around and see if they can spot the physical symptoms. Instead of worrying about what other people are trying to think about them they’re busy thinking about others.

The moral of the story is if you can’t find them, they can find you.

This kind of exercise is to get them to see the two rules of social anxiety:

  1. Social anxiety is about perception vs reality – The perception they have in social situations is false. The reality is
  2. People are self-obsessed and see nothing


People with social anxiety believe they’re walking with a high vis jacket, the reality is the other people are wondering:

“What’s for dinner tonight?”


“Who won the match?”

People don’t see these things the person thinks they do.

The conversation exercise is another one that can be used to help young people with anxiety.

Key Takeaway from the Talk

One of the most important things to remember about social anxiety as highlighted by Dr Barry is that it is eminently treatable in a short period of time.

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