Posted 6th of October, 2021 at 1:14pm by Sharyn Kennedy
What is social anxiety?
Social anxiety — which at its worst can be a social phobia — is feeling fearful around people. While some may feel a little nervous in social situations, people with social anxiety feel intense and irrational fear when interacting with others.
The three core aspects of social anxiety are:
The fear of being judged negatively by others.
Excessive self-focus or being extremely self-conscious of how one is perceived.
Avoidance of most social interactions and quickly escaping social situations.
For people suffering with this problem, almost any social interaction can trigger anxiety:
Attending a party or social event
Talking to strangers
Meeting new people
Entering a crowded room
Initiating a conversation
Sitting, eating, or doing anything with others around
The difference between social anxiety and the normal ‘nervousness’ one may experience in social situations is the intensity and duration of symptoms.
Those of just being nervous do not cause extreme fear, are not debilitating, and quickly go away.
Social anxiety symptoms, on the other hand, are felt intensely in the body and the mind and don’t go away. Because even the mere thought of interacting with others can bring on debilitating physical symptoms like:
And, as if the physical symptoms weren’t enough, the mind starts acting up too.
Talking incessantly, playing over and over self-deprecating thoughts, it makes the anxiety even worse.
What are they thinking about me?
I’m going to embarrass myself.
Did I say the right things?
What did I say? (I can’t remember!)
Did I make a good impression?
Why can’t I relax?
I just know they can see how awkward I feel!
I hate feeling this way.
I can’t wait to get out of here.
Imagine feeling this way every time you’re around people.
And because life demands that we constantly interact with others, now imagine feeling this way ALWAYS.
The Negative Impact of Social Anxiety in Quality of Life
Having social anxiety is exhausting and debilitating, and if you don’t do something about it, it’ll negatively impact the quality of your life.
People suffering from social anxiety want to be social.
They desperately want to interact with others and be included. But their fear of people makes them avoid most social situations, which negatively impacts their relationships and eventually leads to social isolation.
The low self-esteem, the painful loneliness, and the deep sense of hopelessness felt by those suffering with this condition can lead to substance abuse, suicide, and to develop other anxiety problems.
They’re also at a higher risk for developing depression.
But here’s the thing:
As bad as it is, you don’t have to live with social anxiety.
You can learn to manage it, and soon you’re going to learn how.
But before we dive into it, let’s talk a little bit about what causes it and find out if you may be suffering from it.
What causes social anxiety and how do you know if you suffer from it?
No one knows for sure what causes social anxiety.
Like all the things that go on inside our heads, anxiety results from a combination of genetics and environmental factors.
If someone in your family tends to be anxious, you’re more likely to learn anxious behaviors from them. It could also be that your fight-or-flight programming is quickly activated in certain situations. Or it could be that constantly avoiding interacting with people keeps you from developing strong social skills.
Regardless of what causes it – the important thing to remember is that you can learn to manage it, and the first step in doing it is finding out if you’re suffering from it.
Getting evaluated by a mental health specialist (more on this later) is the best way to find out.
But, if you don’t want to wait and would like to know now, there are free online screening tests you can take. Here’s a link to one of them.
And now, let’s talk about the best way to get social anxiety under control
The Proven Method for Social Anxiety
Today, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the most widely used form of therapy for social anxiety.
Developed in the sixties by Aaron T. Beck, CBT was primarily used for depression, and in the eighties, it began to be used for anxiety too.
Based on the premise our thoughts influence the way we feel, one of the goals of CBT is to help you identify the irrational thoughts that contribute to your anxiety and replace them with more realistic ones.
Through an organized process, your therapist will teach you how to gradually rewire your brain to think in a new way.
You’ll learn to:
capture the automatic negative thoughts triggering anxiety.
examine them against real-life evidence for accuracy.
come up with a more realistic way of thinking.
The second goal of CBT is to lessen or eliminate the fear.
Through systematic exposure, you put yourself in anxiety-provoking situations starting with those that trigger the least amount of anxiety.
Slowly building self-confidence with each exposure experience, moving at your own pace, and with your therapist’s guidance, you gradually put yourself in more anxious situations so over time they elicit less (or no) fear.
CBT is undoubtedly the best way to deal with social anxiety.
However, its effectiveness depends on two things: 1) working with the right therapist and 2) active participation from you.
Why You Need to Work with the Right Therapist
To get the maximum benefit from CBT, you need to work with the right therapist.
You need to work with someone who has experience helping others overcome social anxiety. Someone you can trust. Someone you can talk to about anything and will partner with you through your recovery journey.
That’s why it’s important to take your time finding the right one.
Here are some things to consider:
Psychologists vs. Psychiatrists. Knowing the difference is important, especially when medication is needed. Psychologists are therapists who have a doctoral degree in psychology but cannot prescribe medication. Psychiatrists are doctors who specialize in mental health. And because they are medical doctors, they can prescribe medication.
Social Anxiety Experience. Because there are different anxiety conditions (generalized, panic, OCD, etc.), you want to make sure you’re working with a therapist who’s experienced in treating social anxiety.
CBT Experience. Not all therapists are certified in cognitive behavioral therapy. And even if they are, they may not be experienced using CBT for social anxiety. For example, CBT for depression is different from CBT for anxiety
Don’t assume anything.
Therapists who have a lot of social anxiety and CBT experience won’t mind answering your questions.
Take your time finding the right therapist.
The quality of your life is at stake so don’t be afraid to ask questions.
And now, let’s talk about the second and most important aspect of recovery.
The Key to Overcoming Social Anxiety is YOU
Working with the right therapist is an important aspect of overcoming social anxiety. But at the end of the day, what you do is what matters most.
CBT is hard work and requires active participation from you.
Changing the negative thinking of anxiety requires learning a unique set of skills. Those you will need to practice over and over until you rewire the mind. And only YOU can do the exposure work to build selfconfidence and improve your social skills.
Yes, it’s hard work.
But remember…It’s worth it!
Because, if you believe wholeheartedly it’ll help you, and you’re willing to do the work, your chances of overcoming social anxiety are huge.
Many others have done it and are now living happier lives.
And soon you will too.
So, are you ready to take your social life back?
Of course, you are!
Then — it’s time to…
Free Yourself from Social Anxiety
Having read this, you’ve taken the first step in freeing yourself from the prison of social anxiety.
You now have a better understanding of what social anxiety is. You know it’ll wreak havoc on your life if you don’t do something about it. You know the best way to deal with it. And you also know the two things required for a successful outcome.
Give yourself credit for having taken the first step!
You deserve it!
Now it’s time to take the next one.
Make an appointment with your primary doctor to discuss your symptoms to make sure other physical problems are not causing them. Then, ask for a recommendation for a competent therapist, or book directly with your preferred therapist without seeing your doctor.
Whatever you do…Just do it!
The sooner you get on the road to recovery, the sooner you’ll be able to experience the joys of making wonderful social connections.
I help my patients in many ways...one of them is to encourage small, positive actions. Investing in yourself (be it time, therapy … or this book) is an excellent first step. There’s no risk (I have a money-back guarantee) to you so you’re assured a positive outcome. I look forward to hearing your story of transformation! Read more about Dr. Sharyn
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Western-trained therapist offering individual and couples therapy in Abu Dhabi. Learn more.
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