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What is Social Anxiety?
Anxiety in social situations is something lots of people can relate to. To a great extent most of us like to feel accepted by others and viewed in a positive way. It is when these drives to be accepted and liked are threaten that problems with social anxiety can develop.
Social anxiety involves feeling nervous or uncomfortable in social situations. People who suffer with social anxiety worry that they will do something embarrassing or humiliating, or that others will think badly of them. This in turn leads to the individuals feeling very self-conscious and a sense of being the main focus of people’s attention. Common symptoms of social anxiety include the following:
- Excessive worry before and after to social situations about what might or what did go badly. People with social anxiety tend to focus their attention on what they don’t want to get out of social situations.
- Thoughts of imminent social disaster in the social situation e.g. “I’m going to say something stupid”, “I’m going to freeze/not know what to say”, “people will notice I am anxious” or “People will think I look odd/weird”
- People with social anxiety have an internal focus of attention during social situations. They focus on how they might appear to others, what people think of their behaviour and how anxious they feel and look
- People with social anxiety are often feel quite intense feelings anxiety before and during social situations. Symptoms include racing heart, sweating, blushing, shaking, racing mind/or mind going bank, dizziness, lightheadedness, and feeling of being frozen or unable to move.
- People with social anxiety will often avoid or leave social situations. When they face social situations, they often get into behaviours designed to avoid social disaster or drawing attention to themselves. Examples include avoiding eye contact, saying very little or the opposite trying to fill silences
People who suffer with social anxiety can experience the above symptoms in a wide range of social situations. These can include more formal situations such as work meetings or job interviews, to more informal situations such as just talking with friends and family.
What keeps Social anxiety going?
The cognitive behavioural approach to understanding social anxiety suggested that it is kept going by the following factors
- Unhelpful and rigid beliefs, expectations and assumptions about how to perform in social situations and perception of self in others eyes.
- Over-estimation of the likelihood and negative consequences of social mistakes.
- Excessive internal focus of attentions and biased negative perception of self
- Use of avoidance and unhelpful safety strategies to try and reduce the distress caused by social situations. These ultimately serve to increase anxiety, self-consciousness and fears and can also interfere with social interaction itself
How can CBT help?
CBT for Social anxiety tends to focus on the following areas:
- Recognising and understanding the cycle of unhelpful cognitive and behavioural responses to anxiety in social situations
- Identifying and challenging unhelpful beliefs, expectations and assumptions about social interaction and perceptions of self
- Experimenting with dropping unhelpful avoidance and safety strategies
- Learning to focus attention externally in order to overcome self-consciousness
- Challenging distorted negative self-image through video feedback of social performance
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