Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Social Anxiety: How Does It Work?
Most people love being in the company of others and can’t wait to be around family or friends. Yet this may be a different story for some others living with social anxiety disorder.
If you are struggling with social anxiety, interacting with people on a social level doesn’t always come naturally. Often, it can feel downright frightening.
Social anxiety disorder may cause self-consciousness in addition to excessive worry and fear about social situations. You may fear being judged or humiliated in front of your family, relatives or friends.
Causes of social anxiety disorder
Social anxiety disorder likely happens because of a combination of genetics and environment. For some people, it may be triggered by or start after they experience an embarrassing event. Others may learn or acquire it from a parent.
Other risk factors for developing social anxiety include:
- Having a family history of social anxiety
- Experiencing bullying or teasing as a child
- Having a history of childhood trauma
- Taking on new responsibilities with more public performance or speaking
- A marked fear or dread of social situations. You fear that you will act in a humiliating way and that other people will think you are stupid, inadequate, foolish, etc..
- In some cases the fear is only for certain situations where you will be looked at by others, even if they are known to you. For example, you become very anxious if you have to ‘perform’ in some way, such as giving a talk or presenting, taking part in a discussion at family or friends gathering, at work or school, etc. However, you are OK in informal social gatherings.
- In other cases the fear occurs for most social situations where you may meet strangers. This can even include eating in public places, as you fear you may act in an embarrassing way.
- You may have weeks of anxiety prior to a social event or an event where you have to ‘perform or present’.
- You avoid social gathering situations as much as possible.
- You become very anxious and distressed if you attend the event in question and may even have a panic attack.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Social Anxiety Disorder
Through CBT, patients learn different ways of reacting to thoughts and feelings, and they learn to engage in different reactions that result in decreased fear. CBT also helps patients to learn and practice social skills when there is a deficit. Unlike traditional talk-therapy, CBT for social anxiety is an active and brief treatment, involving the use of skills training and behavioral homework assignments. Through learning and practice of CBT skills, people learn to become their own therapists achieving self- Empowerment.
CBT includes the following interventions:
- Assessment: Learning to analyze and identify what it is about specific social situations that triggers your anxiety.
- Cognitive restructuring: Learning to identify the thoughts responsible for undue anxiety, and taking a scientific approach to examining their veracity, subjecting them to rigorous tests of logic.
- Mindfulness training: Learning to attend and react to the present rather than getting caught up in your negative interpretations about the future.
- Systematic exposure: Learning to reduce anxiety by putting yourself in anxiety-provoking situations while using mindfulness and cognitive skills.
In systematic exposure, you start gradually and begin with situations that trigger the least amount of anxiety or fear. When you master these situations, you work your way into increasingly anxiety-provoking situations until you master them as well. Thus, you can work at your own pace without feeling overwhelmed.
- Getting down to the roots of your social anxiety.
If you’ve been living with social anxiety that impairs your day-to-day functioning, it is important to seek help from a psychologist or therapist. I typically work with my clients to uncover what is maintaining their anxieties: I firmly believe that CBT strategies are a great way to overcome mild social anxiety. However, to make sure it doesn’t recurr or for more deeply rooted cases of social anxiety, I find it essential to dig deeper and remove all the past beliefs that caused the anxiety in the first place. Rapid Transformational Therapy (RTT) along with cognitive behavioral therapy can maximize your results. Let’s set up a time to talk.