Do you shy away from social, work-related and other situations because you are afraid you might embarrass yourself? Are you terrified at the thought of having to participate in office meetings? Have you turned down a job or other opportunity because you fear that people will notice your anxiety and judge you poorly? Do you dread going to a party or giving a presentation and worry about it for weeks in advance?
If you have these thoughts and feelings, you probably suffer from Social Anxiety Disorder. And if this sounds like you, your anxiety no doubt interferes with your work and social life. How can you distinguish between a normal level of anxiety and social anxiety?
Feeling nervous about making a speech is normal. In fact, public speaking is the most common fear people have. But turning down a good job offer that entails speaking up at meetings could be a sign that you need therapy for social anxiety.
Similarly, if you feel somewhat uncomfortable walking into a room full of people you don’t know, that’s normal. But if you avoid attending gatherings altogether you may want to look into social anxiety therapy.
The physical and psychological aspects of social anxiety are very unpleasant. You may experience symptoms such as blushing, sweating, shaking, trembling voice, nausea or upset stomach. You may have full-blown panic attacks, or just experience a high level of anxiety in anticipation of and during your feared situations. Often people also feel depressed and have low self esteem.
People with social anxiety sometimes “self-medicate” with alcohol, marijuana or other drugs to try and cope with their anxiety.
Social anxiety may be confined to a specific situation, like public speaking, or it can be generalized to many situations. If you suffer from this form of anxiety, you probably recognize at some level that your fears are exaggerated. But knowing this and conquering your fears are two different things.
Fortunately, you don’t have to live this way. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – – paired with Exposure Therapy – – have been shown to be extremely effective for Social Anxiety Disorder.
The cognitive part teaches you to identify and correct unrealistic thoughts that cause you to avoid people and situations. For example, if you are afraid you will embarrass yourself by speaking up in a meeting, we would find evidence that probably disproves your belief that you’ll make a fool of yourself.
The behavioral aspect of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for social anxiety entails facing your feared situations. Using the same business meeting example, I would help you work up your nerve to speak up. This aspect of the treatment, understandably, scares people. But it’s the only way to overcome your fear. We would tackle it in stages to build your confidence. Together we would devise experiments to prove to yourself that you could tolerate any disapproval that might occur. You will also learn techniques to help manage your physical symptoms and improve your concentration and focus in anxiety-provoking situations.
To summarize, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for social anxiety teaches you to change your thoughts so they are more objective. But facing your feared situations is crucial, because that’s the only way you’ll learn that either what you’re afraid of doesn’t happen, or – – if it does – – you can handle it.