Social anxiety is broadly understood to be the fear of being judged by other people. It can involve concerns about making a mistake, being anxious in front of others, or doing something that might be embarrassing.
Understanding Social Anxiety
In Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), our thoughts, behaviours and emotions interact, such that our interpretations of social situations directly affect how we feel and what we do in them.
In fact, we can have anxious thoughts in many different points of a social interaction:
- Prior to the interaction, we worry about how the event will go (e.g., “Will I find someone to talk to?” or “I’ll say something stupid and embarrass myself”).
- During the interaction, we focus on how the interaction is going, often monitoring how we think we are coming across (e.g., “They can see that I look nervous”), and how others are reacting to us (e.g., “She didn’t find that joke funny”).
- After the interaction, we replay the event, often finding those moments that didn’t go as we hoped (e.g., “I think she was being polite when she laughed at my joke”).
Addressing Our Thoughts
In CBT, however, our thoughts don’t always present an accurate impression of a social situation, especially when we are already anxious. A key way to challenge these thoughts is to look at the evidence. Often, we are only focused on one side of interaction – the evidence that supports our thought. If we examine the evidence on both sides, including the evidence that doesn’t support that thought, we might get a more accurate picture.
For example, if you have the thought: “I think she was being polite when she laughed at my joke,” you would start to look at the evidence that might support that thought, such as:
- She only chuckled instead of having a belly laugh.
- She didn’t laugh for very long.
Analyzing Our Thoughts
Those facts could lead you to believe that she didn’t find the joke funny.
But what if others also laughed? What if she laughed at other jokes you made? That might suggest that there’s more to what happened, and that she may have found the joke funny after all?
It can often be hard to examine the evidence when we are anxious, as the emotions can be quite strong. A psychologist has the training to help you work through these thoughts, and lessen the anxious response.
The content of this blog is for informational purposes only, and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical or psychological advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your mental health provider or physician with any questions that you have regarding mental health concerns. If you think you have an emergency, please call 911 or visit your nearest emergency room.