affecting approximately 13.7% of Irish adults at any one point in time.
Self Help Treatment Guide
The following material outlines some initial step and understanding around social anxiety and it’s model. The material contain some of key step used within the Group Treatment for social anxiety.
If you have applied for a position on the Group. This is a good place to start to get your head around some of the motivations and behavious behide social anxiety and how it perpetuats it self through the indiviaduals thoughs and beliefs.
Another source of information for potential participants is the book ‘Overcoming Social Anxiety & Shyness’ by Gillian Butler (Robinson Publishers). This book is employed as a basic reader for all participants and tends to supplement the work we do within the Group.
#1 Challenge Negative Thoughts
Social anxiety sufferers have negative thoughts and beliefs that contribute to their anxiety. If you have social anxiety disorder, or social phobia, you may find yourself overwhelmed by thoughts like:
Challenging these negative thoughts, either through therapy or on your own, is one effective way to reduce the symptoms of social anxiety disorder.
The first step is to identify the automatic negative thoughts that underlie your fear of social situations. For example, if you‘re worried about an upcoming work presentation, the underlying negative thought might be: “I’m going to blow it. Everyone will think I’m completely incompetent.”
The next step is to analyze and challenge them. It helps to ask yourself questions about the negative thoughts: “Do I know for sure that I’m going to blow the presentation?” or “Even if I’m nervous, will people necessarily think I’m incompetent?” Through this logical evaluation of your negative thoughts, you can gradually replace them with more realistic and positive ways of looking at social situations that trigger your anxiety.
Unhelpful thinking styles involved in social phobia
In particular, ask yourself if you’re engaging in any of the following unhelpful thinking styles:
- Mind reading – Assuming you know what other people are thinking, and that they see you in the same negative way that you see yourself.
- Fortune telling – Predicting the future, usually while assuming the worst will happen. You just “know” that things will go horribly, so you’re already anxious before you’re even in the situation.
- Catastrophizing – Blowing things out of proportion. If people notice that you’re nervous, it will be “awful,” “terrible,” or “disastrous.”
- Personalizing – Assuming that people are focusing on you in a negative way or that what’s going on with other people has to do with you.
#2 Learn to Control Your Breath.
Many changes happen in your body when you become anxious. One of the first changes is that you begin to breathe quickly. Overbreathing throws off the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your body—leading to more physical symptoms of anxiety, such as dizziness, a feeling of suffocation, increased heart rate, and muscle tension.
Learning to slow your breathing down can help you bring your physical symptoms of anxiety back under control. Practicing the following breathing exercise will help you stay calm when you’re the center of attention.
A breathing exercise to help you keep your calm in social situations
- Sit comfortably with your back straight and your shoulders relaxed. Put one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach.
- Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose for four seconds. The hand on your stomach should rise, while the hand on your chest should move very little.
- Hold the breath for two seconds.
- Exhale slowly through your mouth for six seconds, pushing out as much air as you can. The hand on your stomach should move in as you exhale, but your other hand should move very little.
- Continue to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Focus on keeping a slow and steady breathing pattern of 4-in, 2-hold, and 6-out.
#3 Face Your Fears
One of the most helpful things you can do to overcome social anxiety disorder, or social phobia, is to face the social situations you fear rather than avoid them. Avoidance keeps social anxiety disorder going.
Avoidance leads to more problems
While avoiding nerve-wracking situations may help you feel better in the short term, it prevents you from becoming more comfortable in social situations and learning how to cope. In fact, the more you avoid a feared social situation, the more frightening it becomes.
Avoidance may also prevent you from doing things you’d like to do or reaching certain goals. For example, a fear of speaking up may prevent you from sharing your ideas at work, standing out in the classroom, or making new friends.
Challenging social anxiety one step at a time
While it may seem impossible to overcome a feared social situation, you can do it by taking it one small step at a time. The key is to start with a situation that you can handle and gradually work your way up to more challenging situations, building your confidence and coping skills as you move up the “anxiety ladder.”
For example, if socializing with strangers makes you anxious, you might start by accompanying an outgoing friend to a party. Once you’re comfortable with that step, you might try introducing yourself to one new person, and so on.
Working your way up the social phobia “anxiety ladder”
- Don’t try to face your biggest fear right away. It’s never a good idea to move too fast, take on too much, or force things. This will backfire and reinforce your anxiety.
- Be patient. Overcoming social anxiety takes time and practice. It’s a gradual step-by-step progress.
- Use the skills you’ve learned to stay calm, such as focusing on your breathing and challenging negative assumptions.
#4 Build Better Relationships
Actively seeking out and joining supportive social environments is another effective way of tackling and overcoming social anxiety disorder or social phobia. The following suggestions are good ways to start interacting with others in positive ways:
- Take a social skills class or an assertiveness training class. These classes are often offered at local adult education centers or community colleges.
- Volunteer doing something you enjoy, such as walking dogs in a shelter, or stuffing envelopes for a campaign — anything that will give you an activity to focus on while you are also engaging with a small number of like-minded people.
- Work on your communication skills. Good relationships depend on clear, emotionally-intelligent communication. If you find that you have trouble connecting to others, learning the basic skills of emotional intelligence can help.
#5 Change Your Lifestyle
While lifestyle changes alone aren’t enough to overcome social phobia or social anxiety disorder, they can support your overall treatment progress. The following lifestyle tips will help you reduce your overall anxiety levels and set the stage for successful treatment:
- Avoid or limit caffeine. Coffee, tea, caffeinated soda, energy drinks, and chocolate act as stimulants that increase anxiety symptoms.
- Drink only in moderation. You may be tempted to drink before a party or other social situation in order to calm your nerves, but alcohol increases your risk of having an anxiety attack.
- Quit smoking. Nicotine is a powerful stimulant. Smoking leads to higher, not lower, levels of anxiety.
- Get adequate sleep. When you’re sleep deprived, you’re more vulnerable to anxiety. Being well rested will help you stay calm in social situations.
CBT Group Treatment
The programme, which largely adopts a cognitive
behavioural model, is conducted over fourteen weeks.
If you wish to apply for a place on our Social Anxiety
Programme please read and follow the instructions in
the section ‘Process of applying for a place in our
Social Anxiety Programme.’
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