If you have social anxiety, the way in which you process information (thoughts, memory, interpretation, perception, etc.), or said better – the ways in which we think, are at the heart of your social anxiety problem. The way in which you think about yourself, your environment, and your future are the cause of your anxiety.
We hold a lot of negative beliefs and assumptions about ourselves and life in general. The way to get out of this hole is to first realize how these beliefs are causing our negative emotions. As the saying goes, you don’t know what you don’t know. So, first, you must become aware of your thinking patterns and beliefs. (see types of anxious thinking).
Next, we must take those negative and unrealistic thoughts, beliefs, and interpretations and turn them into more realistic ones. (see strategies for changing anxious thoughts).
Interpretation and Assumptions
How you interpret a situation dictates how you will feel! For example,
Situation: Let’s say that your friend hasn’t returned your call.
The way you interpret this event will determine your emotional reaction.
Interpretation = emotion
My friends isn’t respecting me = anger
My friend doesn’t care about me = sadness
Something bad has happened to my friend = anxiety or worry
My friend must be busy with other things. We all get busy from time to time = neutral
Different people interpret different events differently, so this really points to the fact that it isn’t the event that needs to be changed, it is your interpretation that needs to be changed.
You can see how critically important your assumptions and interpretations are. They really determine your reaction, your emotions, and your life!
Positive vs Realistic
Keep in mind, you are not trying to simply interpret everything as positive… that’s not the goal. The goal is to see things more realistically. If the situation is a real threat, then of course, the fear is real and that will help protect you. But, if the event is simply being exaggerated in your mind and not really a threat, then that assumption must be changed.
How do you interpret social situations? Do you see certain events as threatening or dangerous without examining the evidence? Do you jump to conclusions quickly? We can change our assumptions by examining the evidence.
Examining the Evidence
Think about what you give more weight to. Do you pay more attention to the negative experiences and judgments than the positive ones? Do you balance the positive and negative experiences and judgments?
For example, let’s say you have a good work performance but have one bad incident. Do you focus on the one negative thing without considering all the good performances? People with social anxiety seek out the information that support their beliefs, so be aware of that. More to come on this topic later.