(Simon) Chi Chan
Social anxiety is a disorder that puts those who suffer from it in a position of struggle when it comes to socializing with others or being in social settings. This is from a deep-seated fear of embarrassing oneself and therefore having to deal with rejection.Over the years, this disorder has been widely misunderstood as people with social anxiety were thought to be merely shy and to extremes even thought to be anti-social. Nothing could be further from the truth.
As humans, we are made for connection, and those who struggle with social anxiety yearn to develop and maintain meaningful relationships. When one has had social anxiety for a long time, they might feel like this is the way their life is meant to be, and they might not know anything different. For those struggling, this article wishes to show that there is hope.
As with many other anxiety disorders, there is a treatment for social anxiety. The method of treatment will depend on how social anxiety manifests in individuals. People can be treated for social anxiety through psychotherapy (also called talk therapy or psychological counseling), medication, or a combination of both. In this article, we are going to focus on talk therapy and specifically its use of a technique called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Social Anxiety
Philippians 23:7 KJV says, “As a man thinketh, so is he.” This verse works on the same premise as CBT in that whatever we think we ultimately become, our thoughts shape the reality of who we think we are and hence will act in that way. Since most of the people who struggle with social anxiety suffer from negative perceptions of certain social interactions which bring about anxiety, employing CBT starts to challenge those thoughts and beliefs.
The battle begins in the mind. If the battle is won there, feelings of safety follow, reducing the feelings of anxiety and fear. With CBT, the belief is that if there is any change done to either our thoughts or behaviors, our feelings towards that situation will ultimately change.
Since changing how we feel is difficult to begin, the focus is first on thoughts and behaviors. Our thought, feelings, and behavior are all interconnected. This means that if any change is made in one of those areas, it will have a positive effect on all the other areas. Through CBT a person can change their thoughts and behaviors to change their emotional responses to social interactions.
Working on Thought Patterns
A lot of the work we do when it comes to personal development or changing ourselves for the better starts with our minds. Below are some techniques that can be employed specifically for those working through social anxiety.
Challenging Negative Core BeliefsWhen one has anxious thoughts about a social situation before they even arrive at the event, this means that their ability to function at the event has been diminished by their thoughts. Dr. David Bans is believed to have said, “The moment you have a certain thought and believe it, you will experience an immediate emotional response.” Your thoughts actually create the resulting emotion.
In the case of most social anxiety cases, thoughts and beliefs are responsible for causing anxiety, not what is actually happening. If we suffer from social anxiety, our role is to present our minds with alternative and true thoughts so that our anxiety can be alleviated.
Most negative core beliefs are repetitive, so this challenging process must be done over and over again. It has taken a long time for us to be wired for fear and anxiety, and it will take time to rewire us for safety and freedom. This means those who are walking this path must be patient with their progress and healing journey.
Challenging cognitive distortions like an overgeneralization, all-or-nothing thinking, discounting the positives in life, having unrealistic expectations of perfection, and blaming takes a lot of internal work.
This work is done by starting to question and interrogating every thought, seeking evidence to support the response of fear and anxiety, knowing that there always are alternatives to that way of thinking, and being brutally honest about the damage caused by these negative core beliefs.
It’s not an easy process, but it is doable. Those who are struggling with social anxiety can have hope because of renewed thinking, which empowers them to move forward no longer marred by self-critical interpretations of interactions, events, and gatherings.
Developing Curiosity about Others The struggle with social anxiety puts a great deal of focus on the individual. The individual is concerned mostly about how the world is viewing them and their actions. They feel they are constantly being scrutinized.
One way of trying to get out of thinking of oneself so much is shifting the focus onto others and being curious about them and their lives. In any gathering or setting, if we are intent on being present with those with whom we are conversing, it takes the focus off ourselves and our anxieties. We make others the center of attention and not us.
When we honestly care for those around us and are truly interested in them, we stop caring about their judgments. We feel good about ourselves because we have participated in making someone else feel heard and seen.
This can be done with just one person or a few people at an event. This means that the person with social anxiety does not feel the pressure of talking to everyone, in a room full of people, an evening can be fulfilling for them by just having spoken or interacting with one or two people.
Working On Unhealthy Behavior
We’ve looked at changing our thoughts, and now let’s look at changing our behaviors related to social anxiety.
Identifying Unhelpful Behaviors
When someone suffers from social anxiety, they exhibit certain behaviors related to the disorder. This behavior can either be a defense to avoid anxiety-provoking situations altogether or behaviors that feel safe if they must engage in social situations. Below are some examples:
- Arriving late and leaving early at events
- Not applying for a job for which you meet the requirements
- Declining invitations
- Wishful thinking
- Alcohol or drug abuse
- Not answering questions or contributing to meetings
- Not answering your phone or replying to messages or emails
This is just a sample of the behaviors related to social anxiety. Knowing one’s default behavior helps to know what needs to change.
Do First, Then Feel
Most times when we dare to face our fears and anxieties, only then can we find the freedom to live our life fully. This means that those who suffer from social anxiety do not have to wait for their feelings to align before they try new things. They can break the habitual habit that has developed over the years and has contributed to the anxiety they have. This can only be done by building tolerance and slowly but surely facing frightening situations instead of avoiding them.
An example could be when it was their habit to show up late and leave early at gatherings, they will do the opposite, even though they feel terrified. This will in turn build tolerance and eventually show that there is nothing to fear.
It might feel scary at first, but the fact that they would have done it will encourage them to do it the next time. Having done something you were anxious to do can make one change their thoughts about that situation and in turn reduce their anxiety when confronted with a similar situation.
Like many other forms of anxiety, we have seen that social anxiety can be treated when we focus on what we are thinking about and how those thoughts can be changed. However, it is not the only form of treatment, because other people will require medication.
Even though it might be tough to overcome social anxiety, the battle can be won. If you or someone you know is suffering from social anxiety and would need help navigating the journey, please do not hesitate to get in touch with our reception. We have trained therapists who will walk the journey with you.
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