Tips for managing social anxiety when not drinking

On this blog, we’ll be discussing one of the most common issues we hear about – how to manage social anxiety without alcohol. Many people who experience social anxiety will describe using alcohol to help take the edge off, but then struggle to regulate their intake and often end up regretting the decision to drink, or feeling bad about how things went. Often, learning how to manage social anxiety without using alcohol is really empowering, so here are some tips to get you started: 


1. Understand the source of your anxiety

Most of us have certain things we are worried about and social anxiety amplifies this. It can help to really zoom in on what you’re anxious about. Are you worried about being criticised? Rejected? Or left with nobody to talk to in a social setting? Often social anxiety is about being judged and negatively evaluated, so see if you can consider what you’re worried about being judged for. This can be a tough exercise, but it can also be refreshing to have a bit more clarity about this and what you’re frightened of. 

2. Self-soothing

Any type of anxiety can be addressed with basic self-soothing exercises to put you in the best possible state of body and mind for your event. Depending on the person, this might be some exercise to boost your mood and get rid of excess energy, a hot shower to help you to relax and calm down, taking your time getting ready and feeling comfortable, or listening to your favourite uplifting music to get you into a social mood. Sometimes we even rely on alcohol to make us feel social, so things like music and getting ready with friends can help to make us feel a bit more comfortable. 

3. Visualisation 

Thinking back to the first step, see if you can imagine what the situation will be like, the kinds of things you might find challenging in a social setting (eg. thinking of something to say? Meeting new people? Making conversation?). See if you can make some plans about how to manage these challenges, whether this is a list of ‘conversation starters’, a few easy excuses to get out of a boring conversation, or even temporarily assuming the persona of one of your favourite TV characters and considering how they might be in a social setting. 

4. Be curious 

Curiosity is a silver bullet for anxiety – the more we can be curious and interested in a situation, the more distracted you’ll be from your anxious thoughts. Treat this as an experiment – sober you, in a social situation full of people who are drinking. What will that be like? The good news is that each time you do this it gets easier, so being curious the first few times and gathering information about what works, and what doesn’t, means you’ll gradually get used to this new normal. Many people find that sober socialising actually helps enormously with their social anxiety, since they become experts at interacting with people without any buffer or anxiety management tool – and feel confident because of this. 

5. Reward and celebration

As with any behaviour change, we also need to reinforce to ourselves the value of what we’re doing, and practise self-care so that we can keep up the change. This might be debriefing with a friend about your experience, or even putting away money that you might have spent out drinking, in a savings account for something special. It is also a good idea to keep a journal or record of your experiences with sober socialising, and see if you can track how things improve for you over time and the things you learn about yourself from not drinking in these settings. 

We hope you’ve found these tips useful. If you’re thinking it is time to make some changes to your relationship with alcohol, I’d recommend you visit the Daybreak app at the link below. You can get the help and support you need from a community of people with similar goals to you, as well as help with getting more support if you need it. Changing your relationship with alcohol doesn’t have to be drastic or involve huge changes to your lifestyle – it is more about figuring out what is going to work for you.

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  • All good points. I’d at to the benefits the lovely feeling if waking up the next morning without worrying about (or regretting) things you might have said or done, and knowing that you don’t have to spend the next day slogging across town with a hangover to go and find your car. You should also add the savings from the Uber/cab home to the alcohol savings fun fund.

    By Kb
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    May 22, 2021
  • Excellent recommendations Briony. Really helpful tips. Thank you. The effort some of us put in to stay well and away from boozy events makes me wonder how many are worth attending. Being selective about where I go, what time of day the event will be, makes it easier to form an acceptance or an apology.

    By joanne wilkinson
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    May 22, 2021
  • Great topic. This has been a huge part of my relationship with alcohol. Up until I stopped drinking some 10 years ago I used alcohol to quell the anxiety. Since the age of 15. That’s a deeply learned habit. I’m still unlearning it. And….it’s interesting. In a life changing and awareness wakening way.

    By David
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    May 22, 2021
  • Very helpful for me personally as I’m reducing the amount I drink (from 2 a night to 2 a week) and I even used this to share with someone who has anxiety who doesn’t drink and just omitted the words about alcohol…

    By Kate
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    May 22, 2021
  • Thank you Briony, your points are very encouraging and so on the mark. My new found sobriety since February 1st has served to actually make me stronger socially and psychologically knowing that I’ve summoned the courage to face head on, how I consumed and relied on alcohol to be a different me. I’ve released myself from it’s culturally normalised but dangerously seductive grip. I drive past the grog shop and recall how often I used to waste money there…my love affair with the bottle happily given the flick !

    By Jennifer Douglas
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    May 22, 2021
  • Spot on Briony. I use to drink to easy into a social occasion and sometimes over do it.
    Now not drinking at a social occasion with a lot of new people is challenging but more rewarding because your in the moment. Stay safe Briony

    By Brett
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    May 23, 2021
  • The biggest problem I have is knowing what to drink I don’t like soft drinks and to have just cold plain water or even mineral water gets boring very quickly and you get the feeling of being waterlogged but you have to drink something

    By Val
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    May 23, 2021
    • Hi Val, Being waterlogged is not fun! I find banana and mango over ice – if I feel like a cocktail, or V8 or such with ice if I feel more like a savoury drink. Good for sipping so they help avoid the waterlogged feeling. Keep at it!!

      By Linda
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      May 25, 2021
  • I find just not socializing even more helpful than coming home with a billion stress knots on my back and shoulders and just dying for a drink. It was truly the hardest part of getting sober, but well worth it.

    By Jen C
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    May 24, 2021
  • I learned from this podcast, I believe in an episode on avoidance, that people with social anxiety disorder rarely congratulate themselves on doing something that is very hard for them, and instead often beat themselves up after a social interaction, going over every little aspect. https://www.chrismackey.com.au/podcast-2/

    Since then, I have tried to notice this and keep patting myself on the back mentally. The voice inside says, “I can’t believe you phrased it like that! How embarrassing! What people must think of you!” (Yes, it’s unbelievably harsh and very particular about what is and isn’t acceptable.)

    I now add my own voice saying, “You did it, though, you went to that neighborhood meeting. You did it.” Repeat, repeat. “Everyone liked your comment. That was great.” It’s hard to notice the critical voice showing up but when I do I try to counter it or let it be and not seize on it.

    By Caroline
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    May 26, 2021
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