Do you feel anxious in social situations? Does your heart beat faster when you walk into a room filled with people or when attention is directed your way? Do your palms get sweaty when you meet new people? Does your voice get shaky when you speak in public. If you’ve answered yes to these questions, then you may be experiencing social anxiety.
Now, social anxiety comes in many forms. Feeling nervous about speaking in public is completely normal, whereas experiencing panic attacks when you are in social situations is much more severe. We all have a bit of social anxiety, or should I say social nervousness, but usually it does not stop us from socializing or doing the things we were going to do. When the anxiety interferes with your life, that is when you need to take action and learn how to control this fear. Luckily there are different tools out there that may help. One extremely helpful tool is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?
CBT is a therapy form that focuses on how thought, feelings, body and behavior affect each other, and how they are all connected. In CBT you realize that the only thing you are able to control is your thoughts, as these are the cause of your emotional and bodily reaction. You may not even be aware of the thoughts that enters your mind in a certain situation. These thoughts that originate from your subconscious mind and which come immediately in a certain situation are called “Automatic Thoughts”, as they come automatically and often without the knowledge of the person. These thoughts stem from your schemas, which are your deep rooted beliefs about yourself and the world. This is your personal perspective and determines how you view situations, as they are based on experience from either childhood or earlier in your life.
So if you have had a bad experience speaking in public, that will generate negative self destructive automatic thoughts whenever you are in a similar situation, as that belief has been programmed into your mind from a previous situation.
How to Use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Social Anxiety?
So how exactly do you use CBT to help fight your social anxiety. Here is a method you can use to take control of your thoughts and actively work on creating alternative and more rational thoughts in situations where you’ve felt anxious and uncomfortable.
Thoughts and Situations
Take a piece of paper and divide it into 5 categories, situation, thoughts, feelings, body and behavior. Then recall a situation not too long ago, where you felt anxious and uncomfortable. Describe the situation under the “situation” category. Then write down the feelings you had in that very moment. Now write what effect that had on your physical body. And lastly, how did that affect your behavior.
Situation – I was waving at someone I knew, and she ignored me.
Thought – I am worthless. She does not like me. I am embarrassing myself.
Feelings – sad, inferior, worthless, rejected.
Body – increased heart rate, eyes tearing up, hands are shaking.
Behavior – I walked away feeling down for the rest of the day.
Now turn the paper around and make 4 categories, alternative thoughts, feelings, body and behavior. Come up with alternative thoughts that seem more rational and logical. Our thoughts are normally influenced by our emotions, so step out of the frame for a moment and find more rational thoughts to replace the negative automatic thoughts. Then write down how that would make you feel if that was your new truth. How would that affect your body. And lastly how would that affect your behavior.
Alternative Thought – She probably didn’t see me. Maybe she was in the middle of something.
Feelings – understanding, no major change in feeling.
Body – No bodily reaction.
New Behavior – I went over to her and said hi.
By using this cognitive behavioral therapy technique for anxiety, depression and social anxiety, you will learn to evaluate each situation and adjust your thoughts so that they are more rational and not holding you back. Don’t let your negative thoughts keep you in fear and anxiety, but choose to take control of your mind.
Love and Light!