How do you feel when social anxiety hits? Like a cornered weasel? More frozen than Bernie Madoff's bank account? Or maybe your brain simply gives you a big ol' NOPE. 

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Here's a crazy idea: what if when you felt a little surge of anxiety and felt that urge to hide, INSTEAD you took a deep breath and gave it a shot anyway? What if you took the "nope" as a sign to try that very thing? Then, rather than "nope," you could feel proud of yourself and have an internal celebration.

Illustrations by  Gemma Correll  (whose wonderful work also appears in  How to Be Yourself )

Illustrations by Gemma Correll (whose wonderful work also appears in How to Be Yourself)

I know, I know...that sounds ridiculous. Hear me out. 

Part of rising above social anxiety is to inch your way into the pool. To go forth and do, slowly and safely, the very things you thought you couldn't do.

With that, I invite you to try your own Mountains to Molehills Challenge. I came up with a GINORMOUS list of things that strike fear in the socially anxious heart.

Here's the idea: scroll through and choose just THREE things that strike a chord with you. Then, when you're feeling a little curious and a little brave, try one out. 

Even if you choose something small to start (which you should--remember, we're inching into the pool here), it will feel like a MOUNTAIN at first. But use one of the tools in the 7-day course on how to challenge your social anxiety (sign up at the bottom of any page of the site). You can turn your attention inside out, give yourself a break from perfectionism, remember how you feel isn't how you look, and drop your safety behaviors--the life preservers that hold you underwater. Then give your mountain a shot. The first time is the hardest, but do it a few times and, to your surprise, it will feel like a MOLEHILL.

Then, do it again, until you've conquered three mountains. In my experience, three conquered mountains is enough for your brain to start absorbing the message, "Huh, maybe I CAN do this stuff."

If you think of other examples--and there are zillions--tell me about them at ellen [at] ellenhendriksen [dot] com. I'll add them to the list so we can all be inspired!




  • Walk over to your co-worker’s office, cube, etc. to talk instead of emailing them
  • Give your opinion or a suggestion in a meeting (the earlier, the easier--it’s hard to break in after 59 minutes of silence)
  • Initiate a conversation with a co-worker you don’t know well. It doesn’t have to be deep: ask them how their weekend was or tell them you like their shoes.
  • Introduce yourself to a co-worker you often see but don’t really talk to: “I see you around all the time but we haven’t properly met--I’m Ellen.” They’ll feel relieved, I guarantee.
  • Be the first to wave and say hi when you see an acquaintance on the street rather than pretending you don’t see them.
  • Make a phone call without rehearsing first.
  • Search out a new hire at work and ask how they’re settling in.
  • Search out someone standing or sitting alone at a party or event and say hello. “Mind if I sit here? Parties aren’t really my scene--it’s nice to take a break. Hi, I’m Ellen.”
  • Search out your host at the end of an event specifically to say thank you and goodbye, rather than just sneaking out.
  • Ask a question in class.
  • Approach the professor and ask a question after class.
  • Give someone a compliment.
  • Pick up the phone when you don’t recognize the caller ID. Trust that you can handle whatever it is.
  • Leave a message without rehearsing it first.


  • If you’re forced to dance at a wedding or event, rather than minimizing your movement, try to imitate others who seem like they’re having a good time. (You may feel like you’re hiding by moving as little as possible, but it actually makes you stand out like a sore thumb.) Try going with the flow and seeing what happens.
  • Play a game or sport you’re not very good at (e.g., go bowling, play pool, play darts, go ice skating).
  • Cheer loudly at a sports event (doesn’t matter if it’s a major league game, pick-up basketball, or your kids’ soccer game).
  • Use your terrible high-school foreign language skills to say something to a native speaker (i.e., say hello, introduce yourself, or order at a restaurant)
  • Tell a joke (“Wanna lose some brain cells? I learned a new joke...”)
  • Sing or hum to yourself in public
  • Extra credit: sing or hum something embarrassing, like “My Heart Will Go On,” “Ice Ice Baby,” or “Let’s Get Physical.”
  • Ask for something unusual, like three shrimp at the fish counter, thirty-seven quarters at the bank, or for your sub sandwich to be cut lengthwise.
  • Anywhere in public, put in your earbuds and bop your head, shimmy your shoulders, play air guitar, or otherwise get down and funky.
  • In a public restroom, stop being strategic: don’t wait until the person in the next stall washes their hands and leaves--just come out when you’re done.
  • Brush your teeth, floss, or apply makeup in a public restroom
  • Video chat (this one used to be really hard for me; I was amazed at how few times it took to pretty much get over it)


  • Ask for a little bit of extra service at a deli or bakery counter: “Would you mind cutting that cupcake in half for me?” “Can I get an extra fork with that?”
  • Ask someone on the street for the time or directions (yes, we all have the time and directions on our phones, but remember, it’s just an exercise).
  • Ask someone on the bus or subway, “What stop is this?” or, when you first get on, “What direction is this train going?”
  • Ask your co-worker if they’d mind grabbing you a coffee, too
  • Either stop and talk with sidewalk fundraisers or say “Not today, but good luck to you,” rather than just avoiding eye contact and scurrying by.
  • Gently disagree with whomever you’re talking to (“That movie wasn’t my cup of tea.” “You didn’t like that restaurant? Next time try the fajitas--they won’t fail you.”)
  • Change your order midway through at a restaurant or cafe (“I’ll have a medium hot chocolate and a ham and cheese croissant--oh wait, you have chai! That’s even better. Never mind, I’ll have a medium chai. ”
  • Extra credit if you request an obscure variation: “Do you have cashew milk? No? That’s fine--then soy is OK.”
  • Take a deep breath and hear out constructive criticism--try to defer getting defensive or explaining yourself (this is a tough one!)
  • Turn down an invitation without acting awkward--just say you’re so sorry, but you’re not able to make it. No long explanations or bending over backwards to accommodate.
  • Ask your roommate or partner to please remember to clean her hair out of the drain or to change the toilet paper roll (Extra credit: do this in person, not with a note).
  • If you must leave a note, refrain from adding lots of exclamation points and smiley faces to prove you’re not annoying.
  • Ask to talk to a manager at a store (if you want an easier modification of this one, ask for the manager so you can compliment the worker who helped you rather than complaining).
  • Ask for help finding something (even if you already know where it is--remember, these are exercises)
  • Browse in a small store or a farmers’ market table where the vendor can see you and might strike up conversation--bonus points if you leave without buying anything. 

MAKING DELIBERATE MISTAKES (to realize it's OK to make mistakes)

  • Do something minor but wrong: go in through the out door, use the wrong utensil, hand over insufficient money for a purchase and wait for the cashier to correct you.
  • Do something that mildly inconveniences others--push the wrong button in the elevator, stage a facepalm, and then press the correct one.
  • Stop walking suddenly, slap your forehead or pat your pockets as if you’ve forgotten something, and then reverse direction.
  • Send out an email with a small but deliberate typo: “the the,” “form” instead of “from,” “fro” instead of “for.”
  • Ask a bank teller for a roll of stamps.
  • Tell the post office or UPS Store clerk you'd like to FedEx something.
  • Ask a grocery store stocker to direct you to an item you’re standing right next to (I once did this unintentionally: Me: “Excuse me, can you tell me where the coconut milk is?” Her: [silently points right next to me]. Me: “Well, that was easy.” That’s literally all that happened. It was awkward, but it was over in less than ten seconds and I found it oddly hilarious.)


  • Give your honest opinion, not the one you think the person you’re talking with expects.
  • Initiate a hug.
  • Reveal something about yourself. If you’re really uncomfortable with this, it can be as small as, “Boy, am I hungry,” or “I love this weather.”
  • Say a little more than "fine" when someone asks how your day was. 
  • Actually say what restaurant you’d like to go to or what movie you want to see rather than deferring.
  • Tell your barber or hairstylist about your vacation, a problem at work, or something you're newly obsessed with.


  • Walk the most direct route rather than taking the long way around
  • Say “thank you” when you receive a compliment rather than trying to deflect or brush it off. You may think you’re being modest, but it comes across as rejecting the compliment, and by extension, the person offering it.
  • Stretch conspicuously at the gym.
  • Position yourself in the front row of a group exercise class rather than the back.
  • Sneeze, cough, or blow your nose in an otherwise quiet room (church, a museum, class, a classical music concert).
  • Say “bless you” when a stranger near you sneezes
  • Talk on your cell phone in public without trying to hide or lower your voice.
  • Extra credit: talk on your cell phone using earbuds or a bluetooth so it looks a bit like you’re talking to yourself.
  • Carry a full tray across a fast food restaurant or cafeteria.
  • Offer to work out the check and tip for your group at a restaurant.
  • Tell a story or long joke to a group of friends, family, or coworkers.
  • Be one of the last to walk into class or a meeting (Extra credit if you walk past everyone and plop down in the front row or near the leader of the meeting).
  • Get up and leave briefly in the middle of class or a meeting.
  • Look around the room when introducing yourself to a new group, class, or workshop rather than staring at your lap or the instructor.
  • Yell out your window, across the street, or in any other public venue (A client and I once cracked ourselves up by deliberately yelling across the street: “What did you want me to get for you? “A tuna sandwich!”)
  • Give a toast.
  • Get a haircut or your nails done in a crowded salon (Bonus points if your chair is near a window).
  • Parallel park in front of a busy sidewalk, cafe, etc.
  • Parallel park on a narrow street where people have to wait for you to finish.

If you think of more, tell me about them at ellen [at] ellenhendriksen [dot] com. I'll add them to the list!

Take care of others and yourself!