Upgrade your self-talk to curb your social anxiety, says Kitchener Psychotherapist

Social anxiety, what is it?

Social phobia, social anxiety disorder, all-consuming fear of interacting with new people – however you want to define it – can be absolutely crippling. The anxiety often stems from a deep insecurity of oneself and a fear of being judged, scrutinized by others, or rejected. 

The anxiety arises in either social or performance-based scenarios, such as giving a speech, playing a sports game, dancing or playing a musical instrument in front of an audience. 

Common anxiety signs and symptoms include:

  • Feeling nervous, restless or tense
  • Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom
  • Increased heart rate, rapid breathing (hyperventilation)
  • Sweating, trembling, feeling weak or tired
  • Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Having the urge to avoid things that trigger anxiety

It may sound strange for those who have never experienced it, but, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), close to 15 million American adults experience social anxiety disorder. 

What is it like having social anxiety?

From being an incredibly outgoing, playful young person who loved people, I stopped knowing how to engage with them post-school. I had absolutely no idea what to say and I was always afraid that if I did say something, it would come out all wrong. My heart would race and I would feel dizzy or sick. Because of this I couldn’t move beyond the “Hi”. “Hi”. “How are you?”. “Good thanks and you?”. “I’m good thanks”. “Good!” [plays with hands before awkwardly shuffling off]. Every time I knew I was going to meet up with someone, I would make sure I had a long list of prepared topics in my arsenal to keep the conversation flowing for however long we would be in one another’s company. Often I relied on alcohol to calm myself, but then I started drinking every day to ease the persistent stress of dealing with new people.

It was exhausting!

I felt a crippling awkwardness around people, so it seemed that the next logical step would be isolation. I believed I didn’t have any positive value to add in social settings, so I retreated and subsequently abandoned what I now know makes up a large part of who I am: being sociable and enjoying shared experiences. In rejecting these big components that made up who I intrinsically was, it wasn’t long after my retreat that depression settled in.

Often confused with shyness, social anxiety is certainly not synonymous with being shy. It is persistent and debilitating, and even makes it hard for you to perform everyday tasks, such as talking to people at work or school, accepting opportunities that require frequent interaction with new people, or going out to new places to name a few. 

People with social anxiety try their best to avoid situations where they can appear visibly awkward, come across as boring, or be viewed as stupid. Despite the availability of effective treatments, less than 5% of people with social anxiety seek counselling services in the year following the onset of symptoms. 

In many cases, when left untreated, anxiety often leads to a parade of chastising thoughts such as I’m no good, Nothing ever goes my way, No one could ever love me or I am a failure. It is not surprising then, that these habitual negative thoughts, otherwise known as cognitive distortions, often result in depression disorder.

Anxiety, cognitive distortions and depression 

Anxiety tends to drive our internal voice to spew out negative thoughts about ourselves. These thoughts then circulate in our minds on a loop until we begin to believe that they are absolute – resulting in cognitive distortions, which are habitual ways of thinking that are mostly negative. 

Basically, any time someone with social anxiety who engages in negative self-talk is thrust into a situation that triggers their anxiety, their innate response will be that of fear and pessimism because their inner voice has convinced themselves that they are not okay.

Where does social anxiety come from?

Social anxiety has different origins for different people, but life experiences such as traumatic events are often found to trigger anxiety disorders in people who are already prone to anxiety. Studies have found inherited traits to also be a factor.

The presence of trauma can impact our anxiety as traumatic memories can become permanently ingrained and connected to particular events. 

Factors that increase the risk of developing an anxiety disorder:

  • Trauma
  • Stress due to an illness
  • Stress buildup
  • Personality type
  • Other mental health disorders i.e. depression
  • Inherited traits (Anxiety can run in families)
  • Drugs or alcohol misuse

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy for treatment of social anxiety

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), a type of psychotherapy developed by psychiatrist Aaron T. Beck in the 1960s, is especially helpful for treating social anxiety disorder. The premise of CBT is that if we think something often enough, we begin to believe it to be true. This can be the case with both negative and positive thoughts.

Our Kitchener, Waterloo psychotherapists often use CBT to teach those struggling with social anxiety how to recognize these negative thoughts and subsequently stop them in their tracks. We help our patients to replace their negative thoughts with more positive, truthful ones so that they can learn to think, behave, and react to situations more positively. 

In turn, our feelings start to change to match what we think. 

Need help silencing your inner critic? Contact COCA Psychotherapy counselling services, the best therapists in Kitchener, Waterloo here to book an appointment or give us a call on 226-336-5787 for a free consultation over the phone.

References

DeSalvo, T. (2021, August 25). Educating Others About Anxiety, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2021, October 13 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2021/8/educating-others-about-anxiet

Heimberg, R. G. (2002). Cognitive-behavioral therapy for social anxiety disorder: Current status and future directions. Biological Psychiatry, 51(1), 101–108. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0006-3223(01)01183-0

Otte, C. (2011). Cognitive behavioral therapy in anxiety disorders: Current state of the evidence. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 13(4), 413–421. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3263389/

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