If your stomach does backflips just thinking about walking into a room full of strangers (it me!), you may be one of the millions of Americans dealing with social anxiety disorder. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, social anxiety is “an intense, persistent fear of being watched and judged by others”—to the point where it starts to affect your everyday life. It can be easy to write off those nerves as typical shyness, but if you’re experiencing physical symptoms, or making life decisions based on whether you’ll have to interact with people, there’s probably something bigger at work.
Fifteen million American adults suffer from social anxiety disorder (that’s nearly seven percent of the U.S. population), according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). And per the ADAA, over a third of people who have it say they dealt with the symptoms for 10 years or more before seeking help.
The good news: With treatment, social anxiety can be completely manageable. Cognitive behavioral therapy has been shown to be especially effective at breaking the negative thought patterns that cause you to doubt yourself around others, and if needed, medication can help alleviate some of your worst symptoms.
In the meantime, if you’re hoping to learn more about your (or a loved one’s) social anxiety—and pick up some additional techniques for addressing it—these top-rated social anxiety books are a great place to start. They’re not a replacement for therapy, but they can be a helpful additional tool for you to have in your arsenal.
Keep reading for six of the best social anxiety books (they come with high reviews on Amazon, no less).
1. If you’re not sure where to start: Overcoming Social Anxiety: Step By Step, by Thomas A. Richards, Ph.D.
Written by a leader in the field—who started the Social Anxiety Institute after suffering from it himself—this book is a great starting point for anyone feeling totally overwhelmed with their symptoms. As the title implies, Dr. Richards’s tome is more of a workbook—every page consists of a different assignment or strategy to get you thinking about your interactions with people in a more rational way. One enthusiastic Amazon reviewer wrote that they wish “someone told me to read this eons ago. It can set you free from a bunch of crap.” (Social anxiety or no, isn’t a crap-free existence what we’re all really after?)
2. If you’re looking for super-practical advice: Overcoming Social Anxiety and Shyness, by Dr. Gillian Butler
Dr. Butler, who works for the UK’s National Health Service, lays out an easy-to-follow, self-help program for facing your anxiety. Comb through the book’s glowing reviews and a pattern emerges: People describe it as “life-changing” and appreciate the action items Dr. Butler prescribes. “It’s not just ‘take risks and be social,’” one reviewer says, “but really practical tips.”
3. If you want to be a better leader: The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism, by Olivia Fox Cabane
That friend who seems to light up a room whenever she enters it? The coworker who immediately puts everybody at ease during meetings? You too can learn to be like them, Cabane argues. Drawing on tons of research across a variety of disciplines, the Fortune 500 executive coach demonstrates that charisma isn’t innate—it’s a skill you can cultivate by making small changes to your behavior, but more importantly, by changing the negative thought patterns that keep you from feeling confident around others. “It’s so good that I have recommended it to several of my colleagues and it has already changed the way I manage my team and relate to my coworkers,” said one reviewer about the book.
4. If self-love is your biggest goal in 2019: How to Be Yourself: Quiet Your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety, by Dr. Ellen Hendriksen
That voice telling you you’ll never be funny/interesting/smart enough can be deafening when you’re dealing with social anxiety. Dr. Hendriksen’s approach focuses on reprogramming—or at least learning to ignore—your inner naysayer and practice self-compassion instead. Throughout the book, the psychologist and podcast host is candid about her own struggles with social anxiety, which makes her writing feel “like getting good advice from a friend,” as one Amazon reviewer puts it.
5. If you want something more radical: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life, by Mark Manson
Manson’s book isn’t about social anxiety per se, but the main takeaway is that you should stop wasting time and energy on the stuff that doesn’t matter—for example, what the friend’s cousin’s friend you talked to for five minutes at that party thought of you—and instead, give a f*ck about the things that actually matter (what you think of you). Manson himself has struggled with social anxiety, which makes his advice feel especially relevant to those of us who care way too much about what other people think. As he put it in a 2016 interview, “I think people with social anxiety tend to create a fantasy in their head where everyone around them is this confident, badass person, and they’re not … everyone feels the same nerves and awkwardness around people they don’t know — it’s just that most people don’t judge themselves for it.”
6. If you like things served with humor: We’re All Mad Here: The No-Nonsense Guide to Living With Social Anxiety, by Claire Eastham
Eastham, a beloved British blogger and author, mixes humor and in-depth research with #realtalk about her own anxiety, making it a great (and approachable) pick for somebody just starting to come to grips with their mental health struggles. One reviewer wrote that after finishing, he immediately went back and started again: “It’s brutally honest, funny and educating. It gave me a better insight into the struggles I have myself and the struggles of others.”
You might not ever be 100 percent confident around other people, but with these titles on your shelf and a regular appointment with a therapist on the calendar, you’ll have the tools you need to show your inner critic (and that knot in your stomach) who’s boss.
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