Does a persistent fear of being judged by others cause you to avoid most social gatherings? Are you overcome with catastrophic “What if?” thinking, imagining all the different ways you might embarrass yourself? Has your social anxiety led to missing out on your loved ones’ important milestones or, perhaps, prevented you from celebrating your own achievements?
Even though it’s hard to recall a time when your worst fears were confirmed, you may be consumed with what others think or say about you behind your back. Although the criticism in your mind is much harsher than anything you ever experience in reality, you may still feel perceived as “less than.”
Perhaps you experience intense panic-like symptoms before or during a social commitment. Or just the mere idea of becoming visibly anxious or having a panic attack in the presence of others might be enough for you to avoid their company. These reactions may activate crippling self-doubt and self-criticism, ultimately impacting how you move through the world.
With social anxiety, an invitation to a happy occasion becomes a distressing ordeal. In the moment, your anxious mind may convince you that it’s okay to miss important milestones, such as weddings, birthday parties, and graduations. It’s only looking back that you regret what you have missed and can gauge the impact remaining isolated has had on your relationships.
More than anything, you wish you could be more confident and comfortable in social settings. Fortunately, social anxiety therapy can help you break free from worrying about being judged. By incorporating Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) into therapy, we can help you manage social anxiety and learn how to live more bravely and freely.
Unlike a fleeting bout of nerves before a job interview or first date, social anxiety hijacks us before, during, and after any social gathering. Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) affects “15 million adults or 7.1 percent of the U.S. population.”  “According to a 2007 ADAA survey, 36 percent of people with social anxiety disorder reported experiencing symptoms for 10 or more years before seeking help.” 
At its core, social anxiety stems from a debilitating fear of being judged and not being liked or accepted by others. Whereas some of us are triggered by family, for others, our social anxiety surfaces at work, where we worry about making mistakes and looking dumb in front of coworkers. Whether low self-esteem results in social anxiety or, conversely, social anxiety results in low self-esteem remains unclear. What is clear is that the two traits are closely linked and feed off of each other.
One way to look at social anxiety is that it is the natural side effect of our need for community. Because we are social beings who thrive in community with each other, we fear rejection and being outcast. That’s what makes SAD such a debilitating affliction. It works against our primal need to connect and keeps us isolated.
Sadly, many of us struggle to overcome social phobias on our own because our behaviors reinforce our anxiety. The more we avoid social gatherings, the more it signals back to our mind that they pose a threat. We get caught in a vicious cycle where our perceptions become distorted, miscalculating how harsh the criticism will be and anticipating judgment that doesn’t exist.
If your social phobia dictates how you live your life, therapy can help. With treatment, you can get your social anxiety under control and discover what it feels like to enjoy the company of others.
Just because you suffer from social anxiety doesn’t mean you’re flawed or damaged. Having fears about being judged is simply a side effect of being wired for human connection. In social phobia treatment, our goal is for you to befriend your anxiety. Rather than trying to eliminate it entirely, we will work towards making decisions without being influenced by anxious “What if” thinking.
Therapy provides a safe space for you to explore your thoughts and change the way you view your social anxiety, ultimately approaching it with more compassion and wisdom. With self-understanding, anxiety will no longer be in the driver’s seat. You will be in control.
Treatment involves a thorough functional assessment of your symptoms related to social anxiety. Your clinician will conduct appropriate testing for social anxiety using the Liebowitz Social Anxiety Scale, Brief Social Phobia Scale, and Social Phobia Inventory. These assessments will test the severity of your social anxiety, identify what triggers you specifically, and determine how much it impairs your daily functioning.
Therapy for social anxiety and social phobia involves Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP), an evidence-based approach to treatment for anxiety disorders. By establishing a hierarchy of your fears related to social interactions, you will gradually practice facing and tolerating the situations that cause the most anxiety.
We will tailor ERP therapy to address the specific social situations you’ve been actively avoiding due to anxiety. For example, we may have you practice simple social interactions, such as talking to a cashier at the grocery store and asking them three questions or engaging with someone at school you don’t know. Working on simple things—like asking questions, making eye contact, and giving compliments—will help dispel the worst-case scenario narrative that’s become ingrained in your thoughts. As your tolerance grows, we will gradually work towards higher levels of exposure.
Additionally, we incorporate Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and mindfulness tools to help you manage your anxiety instead of engaging in avoidance. By observing your thoughts, feelings, sensations, and behaviors, mindfulness for social anxiety allows you to disconnect from your anxiety rather than being immersed in it.
Once you’ve established emotional distance, you can identify and challenge the distorted beliefs that fuel social anxiety. These techniques help you recognize that thoughts—such as, “It’s unacceptable to be rejected,” or “Hearing the word ‘no’ will destroy me” —are not facts. We will encourage you to take opposite actions against your initial impulse and prove these beliefs wrong.
Right now, overcoming social anxiety may seem daunting. Your negative self-talk may have convinced you that you are inadequate or, to feel more confident, you need to change some part of yourself. But in therapy, you will realize that your anxiety has been lying to you. Today, just the way you are, you are enough.
I don’t think I’m ready for therapy—my social anxiety is too intense.
Understandably, starting therapy to address social anxiety can be anxiety-provoking in itself. But delaying social phobia treatment robs you of the fuller life you could be living right now. Rather than make an excuse to hold off on therapy, remember what you’ve already missed out on as a result of social anxiety. Teaching how to diminish your anxiety in social situations so you no longer are hijacked by thoughts of being judged or evaluated allows you to tackle your phobia once and for all.
The thought of engaging in exposure therapy for social anxiety is giving me a panic attack. Will I be forced to do things I don’t want to do?
Exposure therapy for social anxiety can feel scary at first. After all, we are asking you to subject yourself to situations your mind views as threatening. But creating a hierarchy of your fears allows you to start with the least threatening situations and gradually work your way up from there. This way, you gain confidence and comfort along the way, which will fuel your desire to continue moving forward. Therapy is never about forcing you to do things but rather building your motivation and willingness to face the challenges that are getting in the way of your well-being.
Social anxiety doesn’t have to rule your life one more day. To schedule an appointment to begin social anxiety therapy at our Woodland Hills therapy practice or online, please fill out the contact form to schedule a free phone consultation.
 https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/social-anxiety-disorder  https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/social-anxiety-disorder
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