Safety Behaviors to Stop Using if You Have Social Anxiety
What’s a safety behavior? In clinical psychology, and with respect to social anxiety, when we talk about safety behaviors we are talking about things you do to help you feel “safe” around other people.
This usually means something that hides your anxiety, doesn’t draw attention to yourself, makes you blend in, or just generally avoid disapproval from others.
The problem with some (but maybe not all) safety behaviors is twofold:
1) If you use them they can actually make your anxiety worse in the long run (because they keep you thinking about the anxiety); and
2) They can be off-putting to other people when you use them too much.
For example, if you never look people in the eye, they might find you unfriendly or hard to get to know.
This means that the best thing to do is usually the opposite of what your social anxiety is telling you.
If it tells you to look down, look up.
If it tells you to cut a conversation short, keep going.
And if it tells you that you can’t wear a brightly-colored top. Wear it.
However, there are some safety behaviors that we are starting to learn may be helpful. If they help you do things you wouldn’t do otherwise and are a stepping-stone to feeling less anxious, they could be considered adaptive or a coping strategy.
Examples include bringing a friend places with you or sitting in the back of the room of a large college class.
However, the majority of safety behaviors you are better off without. Because they keep you focused on how difficult things are and how you have to avoid danger and stay safe. They don’t let you live in the moment and you miss out.
They make things worse in the long run.
Here’s a list of 100 safety behaviors. How many do you do regularly? Feel free to share your number in the comments.
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- Avoiding eye contact.
- Looking down.
- Talking quickly.
- Not taking breaks/breathing while talking.
- Shortening what you say.
- Saying as little as possible.
- Avoiding drawing attention to yourself.
- Sitting in the back of the room.
- Pretending not to be interested in what’s happening.
- Being a spectator of a situation.
- Pretending not to see someone.
- Walking with your head down.
- Putting your hands in your pockets.
- Stopping what you are doing because someone is watching.
- Trying to look at ease.
- Laughing to hide being nervous.
- Checking how you look constantly.
- Keeping distance from people you talk with.
- Trying to hide shaking.
- Trying to hide sweating.
- Trying to hide blushing.
- Overthinking about what you say.
- Asking a lot of questions to avoid talking about yourself.
- Keeping busy in social situations (e.g., setting up equipment).
- Drinking alcohol or taking drugs.
- Wearing neutral clothing.
- Wearing hair covering your face.
- Avoiding things that make anxiety worse (e.g., caffeine, spicy food).
- Covering your face with your hands.
- Doing things differently when other people are around.
- Detaching from conversations or daydreaming.
- Avoiding writing in front of people.
- Avoiding trying new things.
- Avoiding leaving the house if you see a neighbor.
- Carrying a comfort object.
- Pretending to look at your cell phone.
- Sitting by the door.
- Always bringing a support person with you.
- Taking quick-acting anti-anxiety medication.
- Avoiding driving during rush hour.
- Wearing headphones in public.
- Avoiding going to certain places.
- Only talking to certain people.
- Only going out at certain times of the day.
- Pretending not to like doing something.
- Pretending to like being home all the time.
- Wearing sunglasses.
- Always having a reason to leave/escape plan.
- Always leaving early.
- Rushing through everything instead of stopping to chat for a few minutes.
- Ending conversations early.
- Pretending to be sick.
- Not eating in front of people.
- Wearing a lot of makeup.
- Growing a beard to hide your face.
- Carrying something to blot off sweat.
- Wearing dark clothing to hide sweat stains.
- Trying not to catch anyone’s eye.
- Crossing your arms in front of you.
- Not touching people when it would be normal to do so.
- Being standoffish.
- Wearing a hoodie.
- Wearing intimidating clothing.
- Pretending to watch TV.
- Speaking quietly.
- Only talking about surface-level topics.
- Never sharing your opinions.
- Never disagreeing with anyone.
- Being a people pleaser.
- Talking to avoid uncomfortable silence.
- Being overly self-deprecating.
- Checking how you look in mirrors constantly.
- Monitoring what you are doing.
- Not being spontaneous.
- Over-researching upcoming events.
- Seeking reassurance from others about how you appear.
- Always trying to say the right thing.
- Pretending to be busy at work to avoid small talk.
- Avoiding brightly lit areas.
- Not raising your hand in class.
- Talking in a monotone.
- Avoiding upsetting people by being careful what you say.
- Remaining silent.
- Using short sentences.
- Avoiding asking questions.
- Keeping still so as not to draw attention to yourself.
- Trying to always be in control of your behavior.
- Avoiding using certain words due to stuttering.
- Rehearsing what you are about to say.
- Saying you are sick or unwell.
- Thinking of reasons why a person is inferior to you.
- Watching others’ reactions to you closely.
- Imagining you are somewhere else.
- Saying you didn’t have time to prepare if you flub a performance.
- Saying it’s hot out to explain sweating.
- Explain away anxiety as something else.
- Say that you’re not usually like this.
- Doing things in private rather than public (e.g., making phone calls).
- Going along with things that aren’t really what you like.
What can you do if you use too many safety behaviors?
The first step is to ask yourself whether they are helping or hindering you.
For example, crossing your arms in front of you might make you feel safe, but it sends a signal to other people that you don’t want to talk.
If you’re trying to make friends, then that hinders you in that goal. You’d be better off finding a less off-putting stance that still allows you to feel comfortable.
Similarly, if you speak too quickly, then people will feel uncomfortable in your presence. Your anxiety will make them anxious.
Instead, try practicing slow talk to get rid of this safety behavior.
On the other hand, a safety behavior like wearing headphones in public might be adaptive if it allows you to do something like shopping that you would otherwise avoid.
Related Articles about Safety Behaviors
- How to Understand Body Language
- Talking to Strangers Without Feeling Awkward
- Tips for Managing Phone Anxiety
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100 Safety Behaviors for Social Anxiety
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