What if they don’t like me? What if I say something stupid? What if people look at me? What if I trip and fall? What will people think of me? Are they going to judge me? Can they tell that I’m nervous?
Wouldn’t it be easier if you could just go out with friends or go to a work function without being consumed by the fear of someone else seeing your hands shaking? The good news is that you can, but you’ll need to stop avoiding it first. We can definitely help with that.
You may feel like you’re surrounded by others who don’t have to worry about the things you do, but the reality is that there are millions of others out there who are having a very similar struggle. Social anxiety disorder is so common, that it’s actually the second most commonly diagnosed anxiety disorder.
Social anxiety is more than just being a bit shy, an awkward teenage phase, or having “butterflies in your stomach.” It can greatly affect your day-to-day life that makes going to school or work extremely difficult. Typical tasks that require being out of the house or in public, being seen outdoors, going to events, going on dates, parties, or running the smallest errand can create this horrific thought tornado that you believe sets you up for failure before you even get to the door. Due to this feeling, you tend to avoid most social situations because you’re afraid that you’ll embarrass yourself.
Social anxiety feels like you’re constantly in fear. It’s being afraid that the person you’re talking to thinks that you’re weird or stupid. It’s the inability to feel free because you’re too worried that everyone is watching the way you’re walking or looking at things. Anxiety is the debilitating fear that stops you midway through a sentence and makes you feel clammy while pumping fistfuls of adrenaline through your veins. It’s also the annoying voice that wakes you up at 3 in the morning to remind you of that one thing you did 10 years ago.
While social anxiety disorder (SAD) can be a chronic condition, research has shown that learning coping skills in psychotherapy and taking medications can alleviate symptoms, help you gain greater confidence, and improve your ability to interact with others. Most commonly, we use a combination of cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy to help our client with social anxiety disorder. CBT focuses on recognizing faulty ways of thinking and learning to change distorted thoughts into ones that are more realistic and neutral. Exposure therapy will help you be able to participate in the things that you’ve been avoiding for so long.
See, there’s all these great things we can do to help you get back to enjoying your life!
Try to not get caught up in comparing your anxiety to others because nothing good comes from it, and it’s just going to make you feel worse. People can have a milder case, where symptoms can go away on their own because of the season that they’re in, or it can be life-altering and severe to the point where it interferes with daily functioning that needs more immediate attention.
Due to the stigmatization of mental health most people don’t seek treatment which poses a huge barrier to the overall wellness of the community. Either they’re too scared or believe that it’s a fixed trait of their personality, people may not be aware of the treatment options that are available to them. If I held the false belief that I wouldn’t get better, I wouldn’t see treatment either. We completely understand how the cycle perpetuates itself.
There are several factors that can increase risks of developing social anxiety disorder. Looking at our family history can provide important information that can allow us to see the likelihood of inheriting this condition. Aside from genetics, negative experiences that we’ve encountered during childhood such as bullying or humiliation, or any other types of conflict, abuse, or trauma can make us more susceptible to developing social anxiety. Without proper care or management, social anxiety can get increasingly worse to the point where it affects all areas of life.
This is where we come in!
Time and time again, psychotherapy has shown to be the most effective modalities in managing social anxiety. More specifically, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is at the forefront in leading research for improving outlooks and behaviors. Working with a therapist, individuals can start identifying and changing negative thought patterns to better understand social situations and lessen the magnitude of their fear or worry. Together we can help you identify and correct the beliefs that you hold about social situations that may trigger anxiety. Whether they are unhelpful, distorted, or anxious thoughts, having a nonjudgmental space to process this makes it less overwhelming and intimidating.
Psychoeducation will also be important to get in touch with the biology of things to understand its role and function. Knowing that anxiety is the body’s response to something that is not right, which could be based on past trauma or what is currently happening in one’s life and alleviate the self-blame that we often hold onto. Introducing CBT, we can use the cognitive triangle to grasp the link between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Our thoughts tell us how to feel, our feelings influence how we act, and then our actions play a large role in how we see the world and future thoughts that we may have.
As previously mentioned, exposure therapy is frequently used to help treat social anxiety disorder. You and your therapist will work together to create a list of your fears, and you’ll brainstorm different ways to try to tackle those fears. If avoidance worked long-term, you wouldn’t be reading this, right? Avoidance and reassurance seeking are what we call safety seeking behaviors. These are things that provide great relief in the moment, but they actually make anxiety far worse for the long-term. With exposure therapy, you’ll learn that you’re capable of so much more than you believe.
Don’t let fear keep you from living life to the fullest. Emotional healing is a process, and that process takes time. You can help in the healing process by remembering the importance of nurturing yourself. This means nurturing and growing the strengths that are within you. Recognizing when you make progress, no matter how small, and learning from those times when you feel like you are taking a step backward is what treatment is all about. It means caring for yourself enough to take action. With therapy, we can work on building self-compassion to build resilience against adversity.