How to Overcome Eye Contact Anxiety (2022)

Eye contact anxiety can interfere with everyday social interactions. By the same token, the ability to maintain good eye contact is an important aspect of social interaction. People who look others in the eye are perceived as friendly and welcoming. However, many shy and socially anxious people have difficulty with this part of communication.

What Is Eye Contact Anxiety?

Eye contact anxiety refers to the discomfort a person feels when looking at someone directly in the eyes. A person with eye contact anxiety may avoid making eye contact when talking to someone. If they do make eye contact, they may feel like they are being judged or scrutinized.

Why People Avoid Eye Contact

People have eye contact anxiety for many reasons. For those without a diagnosed mental health condition, avoidance of eye contact could be related to shyness or a lack of confidence. Looking someone in the eye while speaking can feel uncomfortable for those without a lot of practice making conversation or who tend to prefer not being in the spotlight.

Eye Contact and Social Anxiety Disorder

Often, people with social anxiety disorder (SAD) describe looking someone in the eyes as anxiety-provoking and uncomfortable. This is likely due, in part, to genetic wiring.

Research has shown that people diagnosed with SAD have a pronounced fear of direct eye contact. If you have SAD, the part of your brain that warns you of danger (your amygdala) can be triggered by eye contact.

A 2017reviewpublished in Current Psychiatry Reportsfound that social anxiety is related to a mixture of being on guard and avoiding processing emotional social stimuli. This means that at a party, you might both be on the lookout for people who seem to be judging you, but also try to avoid situations in which you feel you are being judged.

In addition, the review showed that socially anxious people tend to avoid maintaining eye contact. Again, this is likely due to the fear of being judged.

An Overview of Social Anxiety Disorder

Eye Contact and Autism

Research on autism shows that autistic people are hypersensitive to eye contact such that their brains show higher than normal activity in the pathways that process expressions on people's faces. This means that they may avoid eye contact because it can cause extreme discomfort and even pain.

Recognizing the Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

The Power of Eye Contact

Making eye contact during conversation is an important social skill. It can affect how you are perceived by others both in personal and professional relationships. In fact, researchers have uncovered numerous benefits of maintaining eye contact during a conversation, including:

  • People will be more likely to remember your face.
  • People will be more likely to remember what you said long after the conversation has ended.
  • People are more likely to believe what you're saying.
  • People will perceive you as more confident and intelligent.
  • People will be better able to read and mirror other non-verbal cues.

Overcoming Eye Contact Anxiety

We all have varying levels of comfort when it comes to maintaining eye contact. While some people may be predisposed to fearing or avoiding eye contact, most can learn to improve their skills and become better at making good eye contact, starting with:

  • Reducing anxiety about eye contact
  • Improving skills for making eye contact

Reducing Anxiety About Eye Contact

People with a diagnosed anxiety disorder may benefit from treatment includingcognitive behavioral therapy (CNT)ormedication. Most people with social anxiety disorder can learn to overcome their fear response and maintain better eye contact. In this way, eye contact is just one aspect of social interaction that you can become desensitized to through practice and exposure.

If you've not been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder but still find that eye contact makes you anxious, you can build your tolerance by engaging in increasing amounts of eye contact over time. Gradually, it should feel less uncomfortable as you do it more often.

(Video) Eye Contact Anxiety | How To Improve Eye Contact | Anxiety Recovery Journey

Start small with people who make you feel less anxious, such as a good friend, and work your way up to more anxiety-provoking situations such as holding eye contact with your work supervisor.

You could even try starting with making eye contact with characters on television, in online videos, or over Facetime or other video chats if real-life eye contact feels too stressful at first. If you find your anxiety rising before or during situations in which you must make eye contact, try practicing deep breathing to slow your heart rate and calm yourself down.

Improving Eye Contact Skills

If you are talking to someone one-on-one (or looking at people within a group), choose a spot directly between or slightly above the listener’s eyes.If this doesn’t feel comfortable, try letting your eyes go slightly out of focus, which has the added benefit of softening and relaxing your gaze.

You can and should also look away occasionally. Staring too intensely can make people uncomfortable.

Employing these two strategies to improve your eye contact will make your listeners feel more connected to you and increase the likelihood that you will feel more comfortable when speaking—either to a group or to an individual.

Tips for Making Eye Contact

  • Establish eye contact at the start. Make eye contact before you start talking to someone.
  • Use the 50/70 rule. Maintain eye contact 50% of the time when speaking and 70% when listening.
  • Look for 4–5 seconds. Hold eye contact for about four to five seconds at a time, or about as much time as it takes you to register the color of their eyes. When you break eye contact, glance to the side before resuming your gaze.
  • Look away slowly. When you look away, do it slowly. Looking away too quickly (darting your eyes) can make you appear nervous or shy.
  • Use the triangle technique. Rather than looking away or looking down (as this shows a lack of confidence), you can also look at another spot on their face. Imagine an inverted triangle connecting their eyes and mouth. Every five seconds, rotate which point of the triangle you are looking at.
  • Make a gesture. Break your gaze to make a gesture or to nod, as this appears more natural than looking away because you've grown uncomfortable with the amount of eye contact.
  • Look near the eyes. If looking someone directly in the eyes is too stressful, instead look at a spot on their nose, mouth, or chin.

When speaking to a group of people, instead of thinking of the group as a whole, imagine having individual conversations with one person in the group at a time.

As you speak, choose one person in the group and pretend that you are talking just with that person. Look at that person as you finish your thought or sentence. As you begin a new sentence or idea, choose another person in the group and look them in the eye as you finish your thought. Make sure that you eventually include everyone in the group.

Managing Public Speaking When You Have Social Anxiety

A Word From Verywell

If you find that the severity of your social anxiety isto the point that looking someone in the eye is overly distressing, seek help from a mental health professional or your family doctor. If you have not already been diagnosed with SAD, your symptoms will be assessed and you and your healthcare provider can develop a treatment plan especially for you.

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10 Sources

Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Schulze L, Renneberg B, Lobmaier JS. Gaze perception in social anxiety and social anxiety disorder. Front Hum Neurosci. 2013;7:872. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2013.00872

  2. Chen NTM, Clarke PJF. Gaze-based assessments of vigilance and avoidance in social anxiety: A review. Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2017;19(9):59. doi:10.1007/s11920-017-0808-4

  3. Hadjikhani N, Åsberg johnels J, Zürcher NR, et al. Look me in the eyes: Constraining gaze in the eye-region provokes abnormally high subcortical activation in autism. Sci Rep. 2017;7(1):3163. doi:10.1038/s41598-017-03378-5

  4. Mason M, Hood B, Macrae CN. Look into my eyes: Gaze direction and person memory.Memory. 2004;12(5):637-643. doi:10.1080/09658210344000152

  5. Fullwood C, Doherty-Sneddon G. Effect of gazing at the camera during a video link on recall.Applied Ergonomics. 2006;37(2):167-175. doi:10.1016/j.apergo.2005.05.003

  6. Kreysa H, Kessler L, Schweinberger SR. Direct speaker gaze promotes trust in truth-ambiguous statements. Paterson K, ed.PLoS ONE. 2016;11(9):e0162291. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0162291

  7. Murphy NA, Hall JA, Colvin CR. Accurate intelligence assessments in social interactions: mediators and gender effects: accurate intelligence assessments.Journal of Personality. 2003;71(3):465-493. doi:10.1111/1467-6494.7103008

  8. Prinsen J, Bernaerts S, Wang Y, et al. Direct eye contact enhances mirroring of others’ movements: A transcranial magnetic stimulation study.Neuropsychologia. 2017;95:111-118. 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2016.12.011

  9. Jefferson JW. Social anxiety disorder: More than just a little shyness. Prim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry. 2001;3(1):4-9. doi:10.4088/pcc.v03n0102

    (Video) Social Anxiety: Eye Contact (Stop Being Awkward)

  10. Weick M, Mccall C, Blascovich J. Power moves beyond complementarity: A staring look elicits avoidance in low power perceivers and approach in high power perceivers. Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2017;43(8):1188-1201. doi:10.1177/0146167217708576

Additional Reading

(Video) Social Anxiety: How To Make Eye Contact

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FAQs

Why does eye contact cause anxiety? ›

Psychopathy, PTSD, and alexithymia (sometimes known as “emotional blindness”) are often associated with greater discomfort with eye contact. So are neuroticism, shyness, social anxiety, and autism.

Can anxiety make you avoid eye contact? ›

Conclusions: Self-reported fear and avoidance of eye contact are associated with social anxiety in both nonpatient and social anxiety disorder samples. Preliminary psychometric analyses suggest that the GARS has utility in the assessment of gaze anxiety.

Why do I find eye contact uncomfortable? ›

Eye Contact And Social Anxiety

A person with social anxiety may feel extreme discomfort and outright fear from making eye contact with others. The act causes the amygdala – the part of the brain responsible for fear responses – to warn the person of danger when there is no real threat.

Why is eye contact so hard? ›

Research suggests there's a good scientific reason why some of us struggle to look someone in the eye and hold a conversation with them. It turns out we're not just awkward, our brains actually can't handle the tasks of thinking of the right words and focussing on a face at the same time.

How do you get comfortable with eye contact? ›

How to get comfortable with eye contact
  1. Remind yourself of the benefits of eye contact. ...
  2. Practice looking at yourself in the mirror. ...
  3. Study vloggers. ...
  4. Practice relaxation during conversations. ...
  5. Change the way you talk to yourself. ...
  6. Practice when listening first, then when speaking. ...
  7. Realize that it's not a staring contest.
18 Dec 2020

What is gaze anxiety? ›

The Gaze Anxiety Rating Scale (GARS) assesses one's perceived avoidance of eye contact as a trait across various social situations (Schneier et al. 2011). A recent study found it to have a medium negative correlation with gaze at the face of a conversation partner during a video conference (Mansour and Kuhn 2019).

Why can't I maintain eye contact when talking? ›

Reduced eye contact, for example, can be the result of shame, embarrassment, sadness, shyness, or social anxiety. On the other hand, we might increase eye contact when we're talking to someone we like or admire, or someone who has more power than we do.

Why do people with social anxiety avoid eye contact? ›

The avoidance of eye contact in social anxiety may be understood as an attempt to avoid signs of social threat and to regulate excessive fears of being evaluated. This avoidance behavior may contribute to the maintenance of SAD by negatively reinforcing expectations and fears of social encounters.

What is the phobia of eye contact? ›

Scoptophobia, also known as scopophobia, is the fear of being stared at. It varies in severity from person to person. Some people are afraid only when a stranger stares for a long period of time, while others fear even passing eye contact with a friend.

How long is too long for eye contact? ›

Johnston and his colleagues found that, on average, the subjects liked the actors to make eye contact with them for 3.2 seconds, but the subjects were comfortable with a longer duration if they felt the actors looked trustworthy as opposed to threatening.

How do I stop staring at people? ›

I suggest you need to start focusing your gaze on things rather than people and make an active effort to remove your gaze from people to other objects. Besides, if you make eye to eye contact do not hesitate to have a slight smile on your face.

Why do people look at me in public? ›

People often stare at you in public because they're curious to know why you are in an unexpected place or situation. For example, if you're wearing a costume or are in a place that's not normally frequented by people like you, people may stare at you because they want to find out what's going on.

What does it mean when someone won't look you in the eye? ›

Lack of eye contact can be an indication of many things. For one, when a person constantly avoids looking you in the eye, it could suggest that they don't want to engage with you (or whatever is in front of them) or that they would rather be somewhere else.

Why do I make eye contact with so many people? ›

Simply put, most people like some external validation. Using a direct gaze can convey your interest in what someone else is saying. For many people, it's a sign of interest when people maintain good eye contact with them while they listen to them talk.

What does it mean if someone looks away when you look at them? ›

Looking away from your eyes may mean they like you a lot. They are probably afraid of revealing their feelings to you. If you can get a glance at their eyes, try to look at their pupils. they typically grow bigger when they are around someone they are attracted to.

How Do I Stop overthinking eye contact? ›

Tips for Making Eye Contact
  1. Establish eye contact at the start. Make eye contact before you start talking to someone.
  2. Use the 50/70 rule. Maintain eye contact 50% of the time when speaking and 70% when listening.
  3. Look for 4–5 seconds. ...
  4. Look away slowly. ...
  5. Use the triangle technique. ...
  6. Make a gesture. ...
  7. Look near the eyes.
30 Jul 2021

How is Scopophobia treated? ›

Treatment for scopophobia may include: Medications: A doctor may prescribe antidepressants and antianxiety medications. Psychotherapy: A medical professional may recommend cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or exposure therapy.

What is gaze avoidance? ›

Gaze avoidance: Personality and social judgments of people who avoid direct face-to-face contact.

How are people with social anxiety perceived? ›

Because of our anxiety, our faces may "freeze," we may be unable to smile, and we tend to be too shy and inhibited. Other people see this, incorrectly, as being unfriendly, aloof, and sometimes even arrogant. They read our faces and evaluate us negatively because they cannot see inside us.

Why is it hard for me to have a conversation? ›

Social anxiety and fear of public speaking are two types of anxiety that make it difficult to speak in public. But those with all forms of anxiety may also find that they have difficulty finding words as a result of racing thoughts, distractions, fear of being judged, and more.

What does it mean when a girl makes eye contact and then looks away? ›

Making Eye Contact

If she looks at you and then instantly turns away, it may be because she is shy or doesn't want to get caught looking at you. If she looks back at you and smiles, that's an invitation for you to go introduce yourself.

Can social anxiety be cured? ›

Social anxiety is very treatable, with strategies for overcoming social anxiety depending on your individual personality and how much the disorder affects your life.

What mental illness causes no eye contact? ›

"Lack of eye contact" is a well-known symptom of autism. People with autism are less likely to look directly at another person's eyes, which suggests they're less engaged with others or less responsive to people in general.

Is social anxiety autism? ›

Autism and social anxiety are two separate conditions. Autism is neurodevelopmental condition and presents in early childhood, whereas social anxiety disorder is a mental health condition that can develop in childhood or adulthood. People can have one or both.

What does 3 second eye contact mean? ›

Eye contact

With eye contact, there's a three second rule. If you hold someone's gaze for longer than three seconds, you enter a situation known as "kiss or kill". Longer eye contact signals one of two things - either you are attracted to the person or you want to attack them.

What happens when you stare at someone for too long? ›

Well, things can get weird. Really weird. A new Italian study finds that when people look into each other's eyes for a long period of time, they often experience symptoms of dissociation -- including feelings of detachment from one's body and from reality -- and full-on hallucinations.

How can you see love in someone's eyes? ›

“Eye contact is an intimate and vulnerable act, so intense eye contact can be very meaningful,” says Fraley. “Deep eye contact, or holding your gaze for at least four seconds, may indicate feelings of love.” Bonus points if they smile in your presence too.

How do I stop looking at girls boobs? ›

Focus on making eye contact.

To keep your eyes focused on hers, try noticing the color of her eyes or what shape they are. If you're having trouble maintaining eye contact, try looking at the space in between her eyes instead. Remember to look away every so often and don't stare at them in a creepy way.

Why do people stare psychology? ›

A new study by University of London's Hannah Scott and colleagues (2018) is based on the idea that people stare, because “faces, and in particular, the eyes, provide lots of useful non-verbal information about a person's mental state.” The eyes contain “socially relevant information,” they go on to explain, because ...

What does it mean when everyone stares at you? ›

It's their way of reading the room and trying to gauge what everyone is thinking. We often call it “people watching”. If you often find people are staring at you (not just friends and family), then it may suggest you have one of those faces people can't work out.

Why do strangers stare at me? ›

Often, staring is used as a way to get an individual's attention. Using the eyes in this manner can actually be quite effective as many of us seem to have a sixth sense for when another individual - either a stranger or not - is trying to catch our eye.

What is it called when you think everyone is looking at you? ›

Paranoia is the feeling that you're being threatened in some way, such as people watching you or acting against you, even though there's no proof that it's true. It happens to a lot of people at some point. Even when you know that your concerns aren't based in reality, they can be troubling if they happen too often.

What does it mean when someone won't look you in the eye? ›

Lack of eye contact can be an indication of many things. For one, when a person constantly avoids looking you in the eye, it could suggest that they don't want to engage with you (or whatever is in front of them) or that they would rather be somewhere else.

What does it mean if someone looks away when you look at them? ›

Looking away from your eyes may mean they like you a lot. They are probably afraid of revealing their feelings to you. If you can get a glance at their eyes, try to look at their pupils. they typically grow bigger when they are around someone they are attracted to.

What does it mean when a girl makes eye contact and then looks away? ›

Making Eye Contact

If she looks at you and then instantly turns away, it may be because she is shy or doesn't want to get caught looking at you. If she looks back at you and smiles, that's an invitation for you to go introduce yourself.

Is eye contact disrespectful in Japan? ›

In fact, in Japanese culture, people are taught not to maintain eye contact with others because too much eye contact is often considered disrespectful. For example, Japanese children are taught to look at others' necks because this way, the others' eyes still fall into their peripheral vision [28].

Videos

1. Jordan Peterson - Use your eyes to overcome social anxiety
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2. Social Anxiety I can't make eye contact and look down
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3. Why and How to maintain a Good Eye Contact | Overcome Eye Contact Anxiety |
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4. My simple eye contact rules, when you’re feeling social anxiety
(Thomas Smithyman, PhD)
5. How Feel Comfortable With Eye Contact | Rubin Naidu | Heal My Social Anxiety
(Rubin - Heal My Social Anxiety)
6. How to Overcome Paranoia Over Blushing, Making Eye Contact, and Trembling
(Rubin - Heal My Social Anxiety)

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