Proven strategy for social anxiety – Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
Have you seen how many social anxiety techniques are out there? There are tons of them! But which ones actually work?
I struggled with social anxiety for years and years. I had the rapid heart rate, the shaking, the awkwardness, the quiet voice, and I couldn’t hold eye contact to save my life.
Anxiety stole many years from my life. Years of being afraid… It was no way to live.
If you can relate, I feel for you, man! I really do.
Being afraid, ashamed, lonely, and possibly depressed, is no way to live.
So, what solutions are out there that are actually proven to work? In this article, I will go over one of my favorites: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
As I said, there are tons of techniques out there that claim to reduce or even eliminate social anxiety and shyness. There are many potential solutions to overcome social anxiety, but CBT is pretty much the standard go to for psychologists that are trying to help a client.
Why does it work?
Our brains are extremely complex and we don’t really know a lot about them. It was only recently that we discovered that our brains have neuroplasticity. They are not hardwired and fully developed at the end of childhood as we once thought. Our brains are highly adaptable and can create new pathways, new neurons, and new connections.
What does this mean for you? It means that you can reprogram your mind. You can change the way you think about the things you find so uncomfortable! If you have a fear of social situations, you can re-wire your brain to see these social situations as friendly, fun, and exciting.
(I know this may seem impossible right now, but I have been there and I know that this method does hold some validity)
Our brains have become so used to traveling down certain pathways, certain negative pathways, that they are almost hardwired to react that way when faced with a certain situation… it’s like being on autopilot.
Autopilot is the default mode our brains run on in order to use the least amount of energy possible (our brains are huge and use a lot of energy). Autopilot mode is managed by our Amygdala. There is a major problem with letting our brain run on autopilot though.
When we are afraid, we automatically go to fight, flight, or freeze response without really assessing what’s going on. We don’t properly evaluate why we are responding this way. An automatic fight, flight response was a good thing back in the caveman days when danger was all around us, but in today’s world it’s not necessary most of the time.
Talking in front of people triggers these feelings in us because we have developed a fear response to it and that response has become hardwired over time. Now, when faced with a social situation, we automatically go to the default fear response – fight or flight.
The good news is that we can change this automatic response!
By switching our brain from autopilot to the frontal cortex, we can engage the neuroplasticity mode which allows us to reprogram. By doing this, you can change the way you evaluate things, and in turn, change the way you react to situations – you can overcome social anxiety.
Related: Why am I shy
Building new pathways
So, how do we access the frontal cortex to allow for change? How do I re-wire my brain so that I don’t fear or feel anxious about social situations? Via learning, experiences, and our memory.
We have to learn new ways to think. New learning = new connections. We need to learn new ways of dealing with our anxious feelings because the way you are doing it now isn’t working (otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this).
You have to get out of your comfort zone. I know you don’t want to hear that! But, slowly exposing yourself to social situations will teach your brain that you’re not going to die from it. Your brain will learn that the fear you are feeling towards that social activity isn’t warranted – it’s not as scary as you thought it would be. The key is to find a balance between pushing yourself too far and not pushing at all. This is called progressive desensitization.
Doing scary things teaches us that taking action is something we can do instead of our normal go to – avoidance!
Your brain will develop new memories and the next time you are faced with the situation, you will feel like, “yea, I’ve done this before and I can do this again”. Every time you do it, you build a positive pathway and more confidence. Every time you do it, you beat down those thoughts of self criticism and worry that are associated with that social activity.
When in a social situation you’re uncomfortable with, become highly alert and focused on what’s going on in your mind. Learn to build new pathways by trying new things. When you do things that are new and a bit scary, your brain will be on high alert and you can make changes more quickly.
Again, start with something small, that way you don’t overwhelm yourself.
Try this: make a number line 1 – 100. List a variety of social situations that scare you and put them on the number chart (number corresponding to level of anxiety the social situation provokes).
Start with one of the things you feel like you can do and work your way up as you can. It can be challenging, but I promise that it’s worth it.
Step by step process for CBT
1 – Pay attention to your self talk and how it makes you feel. When you catch your negative self-talk, this gives you the opportunity to change the way you think about it. You learn a new way to think about what you’re saying to yourself.
You get out of autopilot mode!
2 – Identify thoughts traps. A lot of the thoughts we have are irrational and exaggerated. identify when you’re doing this. Some examples:
- All or nothing thinking
- Overestimating – thinking something unlikely will occur
- Filtering – only focusing on the negative things and not acknowledging the positives.
- Mind-reading – Assuming that we know what someone else is thinking about us.
- Overgeneralizing – Using “never” or “always”. This locks us into thought patterns like, “I always do bad in this situation”.
3 – Challenge your thoughts. It’s vitally important that once you identify your negative thoughts that you actually challenge them!
Is there any evidence to back up my negative assumption?
Am I falling into a thought trap?
If my friend had the same thought I’m having, what would I tell them?
How many times has it happened before and is it really likely to happen?
Now, this is just a general look at CBT, but by now you can see if it’s something you think would be effective for you. This doesn’t work for everyone, but it has a good success rate. If you want to learn more CBT techniques and a comprehensive system to overcome social anxiety and shyness, I suggest you try the Social Anxiety and Shyness System (listed in the products page above). This system includes many concepts from CBT, but it’s just a part of it. This is the best program out there currently.