Social Anxiety Activities to Get Better


Social Anxiety Activities to Get Better

Change Destructive Thinking:  Cognitive Restructuring & Mindfulness for Social Anxiety

Larry Cohen (NSAC cofounder and director of NSAC DC) explains how to use and combine these two very different strategies to overcome our anxiety-inducing hot thoughts.

Changing Perceptions in Social Anxiety (Cognitive Restructuring)

Learning to identify your hot thoughts (upsetting ideas, self-talk and mental images) that contribute to your social anxiety; learning to test these thoughts against real-life evidence; and learning to come up with a constructive attitude about the situation and yourself that is more realistic, helpful and compassionate.

Cognitive Restructuring alone is not always enough to overcome our distressing hot thoughts.

 Often, cognitive restructuring is a first step in preparing for experiments (see below), where we have the opportunity to test out our hot thoughts v. our constructive attitude about a situation and ourselves.

Sometimes we do cognitive restructuring during or after an upsetting situation so we can overcome our distress and learn from the experience.

Mindfulness for Social Anxiety

Learning to acknowledge and set aside your distracting and disturbing thoughts and feelings, and refocus your attention on the conversation and activity in the moment; learning to “get our of your head and into the moment” so that you can interact with others more comfortably and naturally.

Behavioral Experiments (Exposures) for Social Anxiety

Developing a series of learning experiences to help you work on your therapy goals and overcome your social anxiety in small, manageable steps.

 You choose your own experiments your fear and avoidance hierarchy, starting with situations that are only a little uncomfortable, and gradually working on harder things as you build self-confidence one small step at a time.

Generally you will do cognitive restructuring before the experiments, and practice mindfulness during the experiments (see above).  You will also identify safety behaviors (psychological crutches) that you want to limit using during your experiments so that you learn more and build more self-confidence.

Some of these experiments take place during therapy sessions: doing various moderately challenging role plays and other activities with the therapist, as well as going out in public with your therapist to do experiments with strangers.

 If you are in a social anxiety therapy group, you will do many of these in-session experiments together with other member of your group, and occasionally with former members of past groups.

 If you wish, you will have the option of making private video recordings of some of your in-session experiments so you can test out your hot thoughts about how you come across v. how you actually do appear.

You will also do many other experiments as self-chosen homework between sessions, either on your own, with therapy group co-members, or with personal friends.

Most importantly, you will also learn how to benefit from both your in-session and homework experiments, no matter how they turn out.

 You will learn how to identify ways you helped yourself, ways you unintentionally hurt yourself, and evidence you can gather from the experiments that refutes or supports your hot thoughts.

 You will also learn how to treat yourself compassionately about the experiments you do, a good parent or friend would do, so that you build self-confidence and make progress toward your goals more rapidly.

Assertiveness and Problem-Solving for Social Anxiety

Sometimes our social anxiety fears do come true.  Sometimes we do embarrass ourselves.  Sometimes others do judge or reject us, and may even say critical or mean things.

 Sometimes we create a bad impression.  These bad things don’t happen as often as we tend to think they do.  Nor do they usually have as negative or lasting an impact on our lives as we believe they will.

 Still, our fears do sometimes come true.

One important CBT strategy in overcoming social anxiety is learning to figure out what to do in the event our fears come true.  Sometimes that involves asserting yourself with a critical person in a calm and confident tone.

 We practice such assertions in session, using role plays and imagery, and we also practice it in various ways as homework.  Other times we use problem-solving strategies to develop good ways of coping with a situation turning out badly, which we also practice in session and in homework.

 The more confident we feel about being able to cope with a fear coming true with our heads held high, the less socially anxious we feel about the situation.

Changing Attitudes in Social Anxiety (Core Beliefs and Personal Rules)

Why do some people experience troubling hot thoughts and much anxiety about a situation in which many other people experience positive thoughts and feelings?  Some of this has to do with different attitudes (core beliefs and personalrules) that people have learned about themselves and the world as they grew up.  Our attitudes act glasses we wear: we don’t usually think of them, but nonetheless they profoundly affect the way we see the world and the situations we experience.   Change your glasses (attitudes), and the world looks very different to you.

CBT helps you identify the unhealthy core beliefs and rigid personal rules that contribute to your social anxiety.  You then learn various skills and strategies to test and weaken your unhealthy attitudes, and to develop and strengthen alternative, healthy attitudes.

The National Social Anxiety Center is a national association of regional clinics with certified cognitive therapists specializing in social anxiety and anxiety-related problems. We have compassionate therapists who can help you to reduce social anxiety.

Currently, we have regional clinics in San Francisco, District of Columbia, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, New York City, Chicago, Newport Beach / Orange County, Houston / Sugar Land, St.

Louis, Phoenix, South Florida, Silicon Valley / San Jose, Dallas, Des Moines, San Diego, Baltimore, Louisville, Philadelphia, Montgomery County, Maryland / Northern Virginia, Long Beach, Staten Island, North Jersey, Brooklyn, and Santa Barbara.

Contact our national headquarters at (202) 656-8566 or visit our Regional Clinics contact page to find help in your local area.


Social Phobia

Social Anxiety Activities to Get Better

It's natural to feel self-conscious, nervous, or shy in front of others at times. Most people get through these moments when they need to. But for some, the anxiety that goes with feeling shy or self-conscious can be extreme.

When people feel so self-conscious and anxious that it prevents them from speaking up or socializing most of the time, it's probably more than shyness. It may be an anxiety condition called social phobia (also called social anxiety).

What Happens When Someone Has Social Phobia?

Extreme feelings of shyness and self-consciousness build into a powerful fear. As a result, a person feels uncomfortable participating in everyday social situations.

People with social phobia can usually interact easily with family and a few close friends. But meeting new people, talking in a group, or speaking in public can cause their extreme shyness to kick in.

With social phobia, a person's extreme shyness, self-consciousness, and fears of embarrassment get in the way of life. Instead of enjoying social activities, people with social phobia might dread them — and avoid some of them altogether.

What Causes Social Phobia?

other phobias, social phobia is a fear reaction to something that isn't actually dangerous — although the body and mind react as if the danger is real.

This means that someone feels physical sensations of fear, a faster heartbeat and breathing. These are part of the body's fightflight response.

They're caused by a rush of adrenaline and other chemicals that prepare the body to either fight or make a quick getaway.

This biological mechanism kicks in when we feel afraid. It's a built-in nervous system response that alerts us to danger so we can protect ourselves.

With social phobia, this response gets activated too often, too strongly, and in situations where it's place.

Because the physical sensations that go with the response are real — and sometimes quite strong — the danger seems real too. So the person will react by freezing up, and will feel unable to interact.

As the body experiences these physical sensations, the mind goes through emotions feeling afraid or nervous.

People with social phobia tend to interpret these sensations and emotions in a way that leads them to avoid the situation («Uh-oh, my heart's pounding, this must be dangerous — I'd better not do it!»).

Someone else might interpret the same physical sensations of nervousness a different way («OK, that's just my heart beating fast. It's me getting nervous because it's almost my turn to speak. It happens every time.

No big deal.»).

What Fears Are Involved?

With social phobia, a person's fears and concerns are focused on their social performance — whether it's a major class presentation or small talk at the lockers.

People with social phobia tend to feel self-conscious and uncomfortable about being noticed or judged by others.

They're more sensitive to fears that they'll be embarrassed, look foolish, make a mistake, or be criticized or laughed at. No one wants to go through these things.

But most people don't really spend much time worrying about it. The fear and anxiety are proportion to the situation.

How Can Social Phobia Affect Someone's Life?

With social phobia, thoughts and fears about what others think get exaggerated in someone's mind. The person starts to focus on the embarrassing things that could happen, instead of the good things. This makes a situation seem much worse than it is, and influences a person to avoid it.

Some of the ways social phobia can affect someone's life include:

  • Feeling lonely or disappointed over missed opportunities for friendship and fun. Social phobia might prevent someone from chatting with friends in the lunchroom, joining an after-school club, going to a party, or asking someone on a date.
  • Not getting the most school. Social phobia might keep a person from volunteering an answer in class, reading aloud, or giving a presentation. Someone with social phobia might feel too nervous to ask a question in class or go to a teacher for help.
  • Missing a chance to share their talents and learn new skills. Social phobia might prevent someone from auditioning for the school play, being in the talent show, trying out for a team, or joining in a service project. Social phobia not only prevents people from trying new things. It also prevents them from making the normal, everyday mistakes that help people improve their skills still further.

What Is Selective Mutism?

Some kids and teens are so extremely shy and so fearful about talking to others, that they don't speak at all to some people (such as a teacher or students they don't know) or in certain places ( at someone else's house). This form of social phobia is sometimes called selective mutism.

People with selective mutism can talk. They have completely normal conversations with the people they're comfortable with or in certain places. But other situations cause them such extreme anxiety that they may not be able to bring themselves to talk at all.

Some people might mistake their silence for a stuck-up attitude or rudeness. But with selective mutism and social phobia, silence stems from feeling uncomfortable and afraid, not from being uncooperative, disrespectful, or rude.

Why Do Some People Develop Social Phobia?

Kids, teens, and adults can have social phobia. Most of the time, it starts when a person is young. other anxiety-based problems, social phobia develops because of a combination of three factors:

  • A person's biological makeup. Social phobia could be partly due to the genes and temperament a person inherits. Inherited genetic traits from parents and other relatives can influence how the brain senses and regulates anxiety, shyness, nervousness, and stress reactions. wise, some people are born with a shy temperament and tend to be cautious and sensitive in new situations and prefer what's familiar. Most people who develop social phobia have always had a shy temperament.

    Not everyone with a shy temperament develops social phobia (in fact, most don't). It's the same with genes. But people who inherit these traits do have an increased chance of developing social phobia.

  • Behaviors learned from role models (especially parents). A person's naturally shy temperament can be influenced by what he or she learns from role models.

    If parents or others react by overprotecting a child who is shy, the child won't have a chance to get used to new situations and new people. Over time, shyness can build into social phobia.

    Shy parents might also unintentionally set an example by avoiding certain social interactions.

    A shy child who watches this learns that socializing is uncomfortable, distressing, and something to avoid. 

  • Life events and experiences. If people born with a cautious nature have stressful experiences, it can make them even more cautious and shy. Feeing pressured to interact in ways they don't feel ready for, being criticized or humiliated, or having other fears and worries can make it more ly for a shy or fearful person to develop social anxiety.

    People who constantly receive critical or disapproving reactions may grow to expect that others will judge them negatively. Being teased or bullied will make people who are already shy ly to retreat into their shells even more. They'll be scared of making a mistake or disappointing someone, and will be more sensitive to criticism.

The good news is that the effect of these negative experiences can be turned around with some focused slow-but-steady effort. Fear can be learned. And it can also be unlearned, too.

Dealing With Social Phobia

People with social phobia can learn to manage fear, develop confidence and coping skills, and stop avoiding things that make them anxious. But it's not always easy. Overcoming social phobia means getting up the courage it takes to go beyond what's comfortable, little by little.

Here's who can support and guide people in overcoming social phobia:

  • Therapists can help people recognize the physical sensations caused by fight–flight and teach them to interpret these sensations more accurately. Therapists can help people create a plan for facing social fears one by one, and help them build the skills and confidence to do it. This includes practicing new behaviors. Sometimes, but not always, medications that reduce anxiety are used as part of the treatment for social phobia.
  • Family or friends are especially important for people who are dealing with social phobia. The right support from a few key people can help those with social phobia gather the courage to go outside their comfort zone and try something new.

    Putdowns, lectures, criticisms, and demands to change don't help — and just make a person feel bad. Having social phobia isn't a person's fault and isn't something anyone chooses.

    Instead, friends and family can encourage people with social phobia to pick a small goal to aim for, remind them to go for it, and be there when they might feel discouraged.

    Good friends and family are there to celebrate each small success along the way.

Overcoming Social Phobia

Dealing with social phobia takes patience, courage to face fears and try new things, and the willingness to practice. It takes a commitment to go forward rather than back away when feeling shy.

Little by little, someone who decides to deal with extreme shyness can learn to be more comfortable. Each small step forward helps build enough confidence to take the next small step. As shyness and fears begin to melt, confidence and positive feelings build. Pretty soon, the person is thinking less about what might feel uncomfortable and more about what might be fun.


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