Those who suffer from social anxiety are familiar with the most common symptoms. You have felt the unease when being introduced to people you don’t know. The bull-sized butterflies of anxiety have beaten the inside of your stomach when you felt you were the center of attention. Thoughts that others were judging you negatively in social situations have flooded your minds. You’ve felt like you were being watched critically when doing something.
More than almost anything you’ve wished and longed for a way out of this social anxiety overwhelming you. Avoiding social situations is draining.
There is a way toward relief.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy
Cognitive Behavior Therapy, or CBT, is possibly the most effective treatment approach for social anxiety sufferers. This approach essentially helps those with social anxiety get in touch with the negative and inaccurate thoughts that fuel the emotion generated by the anxiety. It also puts them in behavioral situations that enable them to begin seeing the anxiety isn’t as devastating as they think.
CBT for social anxiety works in a step-by-step fashion to alleviate the anxiety that seems so crippling. The step-wise progression is an individualized treatment program.
This is not a one-size fits all program. It isn’t the same as CBT for depression or any of the other anxiety-based conditions.
The General Procedure in CBT for Social Anxiety
All of the steps in CBT for social anxiety are directed toward one overall goal: to get rid of the foundational beliefs that drive negative thinking and substitute more positive thoughts to relieve the person from anxiety. Changing these foundational beliefs will bring a long-lasting decrease, if not a cessation, in anxiety feelings.
Step One: Identify automatic thoughts.
In many ways, this can be the hardest step. Identifying the negative thoughts that indicate the foundational beliefs underlying social anxiety requires a lot of effort. These thoughts often center around one or more of the following:
- Wrong ideas about appearance, ability, or worth
- Anger, guilt, or embarrassment about past social situations
- The need to be perfect in order to be acceptable
- Worries and doubts about being able to change
These negative thoughts have become deeply ingrained in your mind over usually many years of reinforcement. They have become automatic, also. That is, you don’t have to consciously think about them, they just show up in certain situations.
Not only are these thoughts automatic, they also aren’t realistic. They are products of faulty perceptions of social situations you’ve been in at some time.
These thoughts also lead to significant anxiety. You probably only have to think about being in a social situation in order for these automatic thoughts to pop up and lead you to feel anxious.
One goal of CBT for social anxiety is to substitute other, more positive automatic thoughts for these negative ones.
Examples of Negative Thinking
The categories of negative thinking are many and varied. Here are a few of them:
- Thinking unclear events mean something negative about you
- Deciding mildly negative comments have absolutely the worst meaning
- Always assuming you must be the best in order for other people to like you
- Watching for indications you’re being evaluated negatively
- Paying so much attention to yourself that you miss cues others give you
- Over-emphasizing your feelings of anxiety
- Thinking others know you’re anxious and think less of you
- Evaluating your past actions with a negative bias. This just makes you more likely to feel anxious in those situations in the future.
Step Two: Make Changes in Your Thinking.
While the ultimate goal of CBT for Social Anxiety is to alleviate the negative thinking that leads to anxiety and replace it with positive thoughts, this isn’t a quick cure. Your mind simply will not accept that you need to think positively and then do it.
Rather, there is an intermediate step. Once you have become aware of your negative thoughts, you then make a list of them and counter-thoughts that are just neutral for each one. It’s important that you write these down. If you try to think of them on the spur of the moment, you probably won’t be able to do so. Carry this list with you all the time.
As soon as you have this list written down, you begin monitoring yourself to see when one of the negative thoughts occurs. When you become aware of one of the negative thoughts, pull out the list you’ve made and actively substitute one of the neutral thoughts for the negative one. Challenge the negative thinking. Practice substituting the neutral thought over and over.
Gradually, you begin substituting the neutral thought for a more positive one and practice it. Over a period of time, this becomes your automatic thought in that social situation. At that point, you have stopped most, if not all, of your anxiety.
Step Three: Group participation.
Most of the time, this step is integrated with step two. The purpose here is to put you in a social situation in which everyone has the same issue. This does several things. One, you see you’re not the only one suffering from social anxiety. Two, it allows you and others to share your stories with others in a safe atmosphere. Three, it allows you to practice becoming aware of your negative thinking and substituting neutral and then positive thoughts. Four, you gain positive reinforcement for the effort and progress you make.
In a CBT for social anxiety group, you’ll be given multiple handouts to remind you of several things. It will tell you:
- Exactly how to stop negative thoughts
- How to distract yourself from anxiety more quickly
- How to substitute neutral thoughts
- How important it is to practice
- How to change thinking to be more positive and realistic gradually
Social anxiety is a very limiting condition. One thing most sufferers do is isolate themselves. This only makes the anxiety worse. Seeking help and getting involved in the most effective treatment program for this condition will open up your life and allow you to interact with others again.
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Social Anxiety Disorder. https://www.verywell.com/how-is-cbt-used-to-treat-sad-3024945
Common Cognitive Biases Addressed in Social Anxiety CBT. http://www.aliceboyes.com/cbt-social-anxiety/