Do you shy away from social situations because you are afraid you might embarrass yourself? When you are out, say, at a restaurant, do you worry that people are watching how you eat? Have you ever turned down a job or other opportunity because you fear that you’ll be judged poorly? Do you dread going to a party or meeting and worry about it for weeks in advance?
If you have these thoughts and feelings, you may suffer from Social Phobia. If this sounds at all like you, your anxiety no doubt interferes with your work and social life. How can you distinguish between a normal level of anxiety and Social Phobia?
Feeling nervous about making a speech is normal. In fact, public speaking is the most common fear people have. But turning down a good job offer that entails speaking up at meetings could be a sign of Social Phobia.
Similarly, if you feel somewhat uncomfortable walking into a room full of people you don’t know, that’s normal. But if you avoid attending gatherings completely you may be suffering from Social Phobia.
The physical and psychological aspects of Social Phobia are extremely unpleasant. You may experience symptoms such as blushing, sweating, shaking, trembling voice, nausea or upset stomach. You may have full-blown panic attacks, or just suffer from a constant state of anxiety. Psychologically, you may feel depressed and have low self esteem.
People who suffer from Social Phobia sometimes “self-medicate” with alcohol, marijuana or other drugs to cope with their anxiety
Social Phobia may be confined to a specific situation, like public speaking, or it can be generalized to many situations. If you suffer from this form of anxiety, you probably know that your fears are irrational. But knowing it and conquering your fears are two different things.
Fortunately, you don’t have to live this way. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – – paired with Exposure Therapy – – have been shown to be extremely effective for Social Phobia. There are two aspects to CBT for Social Phobia.
The cognitive part teaches you to identify and correct unrealistic thoughts that cause you to avoid people and situations. For example, if you are afraid you will embarrass yourself by speaking up in a meeting, we would find evidence that probably disproves your belief that you’ll make a fool of yourself.
The behavioral aspect of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Social Phobia entails facing your feared situations. Using the same business meeting example, I would help you work up your nerve to speak up. This aspect of the treatment, understandably, scares people. But it’s the only way to conquer Social Phobia. We would tackle it in stages to build your confidence. Together we would devise experiments to prove to yourself that you could tolerate any disapproval that might occur. I also teach you methods, such as abdominal breathing, to help manage your physical symptoms of your anxiety.
To summarize, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Social Phobia teaches you to change your thoughts so they are more objective. Facing the feared situation is crucial, because that’s the only way you’ll learn that either what you’re afraid of doesn’t happen, or, if it does, you can handle it.