Tips for Managing Social Anxiety
Do you feel self-conscious in social settings? Do you avoid meeting new people or new social situations because of a fear of being negatively judged by others? If so, you may have social anxiety. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 12% of adults experience social anxiety disorder at some point in their lifetime, with women being nearly twice as likely to experience social anxiety as compared with men.
Here at CTWPS, we recognize the negative impact that social anxiety can have on a woman’s capacity to develop and sustain friendships and romantic relationships, as well as her career growth. In treatment, we help women overcome their social anxiety by identifying their “thinking traps” and changing the behaviors that prevent them from achieving their goals. If you struggle with social anxiety, consider whether you may engage in any of the below thinking traps:
1. Fortune-Telling Error: The fortune-telling error occurs when a woman assumes that a future event is going to have a negative outcome. Instead of considering the probability of the negative outcome, or evaluating the evidence that either supports or contradicts the occurrence of such an outcome, the woman instead believes that this prediction is already an established fact. For example, before going to a networking event in New York City, a woman with social anxiety may engage in thoughts such as: “My mind will go blank and I won’t know what to say” or “I will say something embarrassing.” After the event, this woman might continue to engage in distorted thoughts about the interaction, such as: “What’s the point of putting myself out there, I will continue to mess up when I meet new people.” Engaging in these types of distorted thoughts may result in negative feelings such as anxiety, sadness, or hopelessness, which in turn may cause this woman to avoid or dread future social interactions. In treatment, we would work with this woman to consider alternative outcomes and evaluate past data from social interactions to help her arrive at a more realistic, neutral narrative about the upcoming networking event. For example, we might ask her to consider past social interactions in which her mind did not go blank and she was able to have a “successful” conversation with a colleague or friend. We would also help her generate alternative predictions for how the upcoming event might unfold, such as “I may not always have the perfect thing to say but that doesn’t mean I’m not a good conversationalist” or “Even if my mind goes blank momentarily, it is okay to have lulls in a conversation.”
2. Mind Reading: The mind reading error occurs when a woman assumes that she knows what other people are thinking without investigating whether or not her assumption is true. Often, women with social anxiety assume that others are perceiving them in a negative manner when in fact this may not actually be the case. For example, during a perfectly pleasant conversation on a date the above woman may think to herself: “He notices that I’m blushing and sweating and can tell how nervous I am” or “He thinks I’m awkward.” In treatment, we might help this woman generate a list of alternative possibilities for how her date may have experienced her. For example, he may not have actually noticed that she was blushing or sweating, or he may have thought she was sweating because she was warm. We would also invite her to consider how catastrophic her “worst case scenario” would actually be - what if her date did notice that she was nervous? Would that necessarily make her awkward or unlikable? Or, is it possible that he could find her nervousness endearing, or even relieving in light of his own nervousness?
3. Labelling: Labelling occurs when a woman generalizes a single error or negative event into a negative global judgment about herself. For example, a woman attending a networking event for work may engage in distorted thoughts about how she will perform, such as: “This is not going to go well because I’m incompetent.” After the event, this woman may engage in distorted thoughts about her social interactions, such as: “I didn’t network with the people I should have. I’m a failure.” Such thinking traps are likely to make this woman feeling sad, or even angry, at herself. In treatment, we might approach such critical self-labelling by asking the woman how she would interpret the same situation if it happened to a friend. For example, if a friend of hers went to a work event and did not talk to people she would have liked to network with, would that mean she was as failure? Most likely the woman would not judge her friend as harshly as she judged herself, and she may even be able to generate evidence of times when her friend was successful at work. If we wouldn’t label someone else a failure for such a mistake, than we shouldn’t label ourselves!
Most women have experienced some social anxiety at some point in their lives, and for some women it can be debilitating. While social anxiety can be distressing it does not have to prevent you from achieving your goals or developing fulfilling relationships! CBT has been shown to be the most effective treatment for relieving social anxiety and helping women feel more comfortable and competent in social situations. If you’re experiencing social anxiety, and you’d like to make a change, please reach out to us for support.