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Apr 2023

3 Tips to Tame Pre-Session Social Anxiety

8 min read

Develop an understanding and learn how to handle your pre-session social anxiety with these three actionable steps.

When we understand, we can start to overcome

Millions of people struggle with social anxiety, yet we avoid talking about it, like the plague.

(…oh wait, that’s so 1346.)

We avoid it like brunch during Covid.

forest wedding

Heather Stone

We struggle quietly and feel shame when facing the “simple” task of interacting with other human beings, most of whom are ridiculously nice.

“What are you so nervous about?!” says every magnetic personality, who can walk into a room and befriend every scary creature there.

(Insert jealous/unimpressed eye roll here.)

SOCIALIZING IS SCARY, WHAT DON’T THEY UNDERSTAND?! -as we smile, nod, and look for the nearest exit sign. 

forest wedding

Heather Stone

What is social anxiety?

DSM-5 criteria for social anxiety disorder include: Persistent, intense fear or anxiety about specific social situations because you believe you may be judged, embarrassed, or humiliated. Avoidance of anxiety-producing social situations or enduring them with intense fear or anxiety.

Sound familiar?

But what if we took a different approach and looked at social anxiety as a behavior that can be unlearned, rather than a disorder that will endure a lifetime (which feels pretty heavy)?

outdoor wedding

Heather Stone

Anxiety before a photo session (or all the time for that matter)

Simply put, social anxiety can SERIOUSLY affect our lives (and our businesses).

We anticipate all the things that COULD happen, and our mind and body immediately go into overdrive.

The body reacts to what the mind sees, whether or not it’s happening in reality.

(Read that again just so it sinks in.)

The body reacts to what the mind sees, whether or not it’s happening in reality.

What does that mean?

Well, what if you close your eyes and start thinking about bungee jumping.


You see yourself get suited up, you walk to the edge of the platform, you slowly look down and see nothing below but rocks and water, you feel the cold wind on your face as you inch towards the edge…

I don’t know about you, but my stomach hurts.

Some of us react that way to social situations. We start thinking about what COULD happen during a session or social interaction, and our body reacts as if it’s happening in real time.

couple on bridge

Heather Stone

We are instantly caught in a vicious cycle of stress and worry…all originating from a thought…THAT WE THEN CLING TO.

This constant cycle between our thoughts and our physical reactions can feel completely paralyzing, and never allows us to fully be present.

This is the same feedback loop that can cause panic attacks, which if you’ve had one, you know escalate very quickly.


The Catch 22 with this hyper-vigilance is that, as humans, we crave connection, but this same connection feels really stressful and unsafe…even when we LOGICALLY know we’ll be fine.

The truth of our conditioning

So many of us have been taught to look outside of ourselves for permission, happiness, approval, and acceptance.

We have this core fear that we aren’t good enough, so we naturally look to others for reassurance that we belong, and what we are doing is normal.

wedding couple on beach

Heather Stone

The thought of judgment, humiliation, or embarrassment CREATES REAL STRESS RESPONSES IN THE BODY.

So here are three tips to help you embrace your soul’s work, with (hopefully) a little less stress.

marriage on beach

Heather Stone

#1: Ask yourself what you’re really afraid of

The fear of social interaction (along with ANY other unpredictable situations) causes us to overthink an outcome.

For example, on a small scale, we ask ourselves “what if I say the wrong thing?” On a larger scale, we worry about life things like losing our jobs, our partners, and death.

We fear all of those outcomes and spend a LOT of mental energy playing out these different scenarios.

But when you look a little deeper, you’ll realize that you actually fear how YOU WILL REACT in those situations.

You play out the worst-case over and over trying to find a solution when there isn’t one. 

You envision yourself crumbling in shame if your client is unhappy with their photos.

wedding couple

Heather Stone

This build-up of stress and anxiety is no doubt exhausting, and before you know it, you’re catastrophizing before every single session (kinda like how I anticipate seeing my in-laws).

The more you think about these calamities (judgment, humiliation, embarrassment) that could happen, the more your body reacts to that fear.

Remember, a real OR perceived stress feels the same in your body.

#ShootProofPRO Tip:

Think back to a time when things didn’t go well (photography-related or not), or an unexpected emergency. I’m guessing you’re still alive? The truth is, we handle s#*! just fine when we don’t see it coming.

#2: Create boundaries around your work

Meeting new people is literally a part of our job on a daily basis. This is when you need to get to know yourself and what suits you best.

Does the thought of a 400-person wedding make your knees buckle? Fair enough.

Take it slow and work with clients in more intimate settings.

couple on beach dancing

Heather Stone

Do you absolutely HATE talking on the phone? That’s totally fine! Make it clear you communicate via email, but be the best dang email communicator in town.

Create boundaries that help you manage your social anxiety, and adjust them as you see fit!

couple looking at ocean

Heather Stone

#3: Relax in the present

Preparing for every single “worst-case scenario” isn’t always the right answer. Sure, we can plan for the practical emergencies (by bringing extra batteries, a backup camera body, and 2,387 extra SD cards), but when that planning turns into obsessive fear, that means we are over-preparing.

So don’t plan PAST the basics. 

Trust that you will know how to handle ANY situation that crops up.

The jerky client. The broken camera. The missing SD card. The emotion. The fear or shame.

You can and will handle it all as it comes.

The key is to acknowledge our fear while living our lives free from its control.

The less we prepare, the more we can be present in the beauty of our photography work and fulfilling the responsibility to our clients.

couple at the beach

Heather Stone

And when all else fails, breathe.

The next time you feel overwhelmed with anticipation, take a few slow deep breathes to recenter your mind AND your body.

You’re ok. It’s all ok. We are with you.

***Anxiety and depression are very real. We encourage you to seek help from a mental health professional for any medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment if you ever feel it’s too much to manage alone. 

Written by KELLY ACS | Photographs by HEATHER STONE via Two Bright Lights

2 thoughts on "3 Tips to Tame Pre-Session Social Anxiety"
  • Yara says:

    Thank you! This is a very important topic to talk about and it needs to be talked about more! I started growing anxiety when I was in high school and then it progressed as I got older, especially in a public setting. I did some reading on the topic and came across this read, and I suggest people take a look at it because it is also helpful, at least it helped me. I would love to hear what you think about it and its suggestions.

  • Amanda says:

    I feel it was absolutely necessary and brilliant to post this on our dashboard. I need to read this every day. As an Enneagram 6, this is real life for me while being a full-time photographer. Thank you for this.

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