Anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. When we talk about social anxiety, that worry or nervousness is focused primarily on social interactions.
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Anxiety is made up of 3 different components: The physiological part, cognitive part, and behavioral part.
Physiological Part: This is how anxiety feels in your body. The racing heart, sweaty palms, flushed face, or feeling faint. This is one of the most important components of anxiety because it’s the first one that people notice.
Cognitive Part: Our thoughts or thought processes. Any anxious thoughts we have would fall into this category. Such as “I am going to make a fool or myself” or “they will just think I am boring.” Any prediction that comes out of our anxiety would be considered part of the cognitive part.
Behavioral Part: For something to be part of this component it needs to be something someone else could notice us doing. This could be not making eye contact, stuttering or even fidgeting. This could also be something we aren’t doing because we are avoiding it, but someone could still notice that we didn’t go to lunch with the team like everyone else. Therefore avoiding something because of our anxiety would still fall under this category.
Most people with social anxiety don’t just experience one component. In fact, these 3 parts usually work together to intensify our anxious episodes.
Therefore in order to overcome our social anxiety we are going to have to fight back against all 3 of them! The first step is Systematic Graduated Exposure. Which is honestly just a fancy way of saying that we are going to have to slowly expose ourselves to the scary or anxiety provoking thing until it’s no longer so scary.
I have talked about exposure therapy in the past, and this is very similar, however, this is specific to social anxiety and it’s treatment. It’s important that this type of exposure therapy be done with a mental health professional so that we can role play different scenarios in session, and get feedback on how it went. It also allows us to play out any situations or circumstances that we are afraid will happen when we try to do this outside of therapy.
It also works because it gives you the time you need to see that any of the bodily responses you are having to the anxiety will go away after awhile. As long as we are able to stay in the anxiety-provoking situation we can realize that our feelings of anxiety only last for a bit. And the more we practice it and expose ourselves to the anxious experiences, the better it gets. Also, by role-playing an anxiety-provoking social situation, we can test out any of our dysfunctional beliefs.
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