There is actually a very high prevalence of social anxiety with numbers reaching up to 15 million people in the United States. There are many misconceptions about what social anxiety is and how it effects those that have it.
Traits of Social Anxiety:
Social anxiety can often look different than we expect. People with social anxiety are motivated to stay away from anxiety provoking situations. This may look like staying home from a party, or attending the party and drinking heavily, being glued to their phone, etc. in order to avoid any anxiety provoking social situations. This type of avoidant behavior can turn into the norm for someone with social anxiety.
People with social anxiety tend to over think past and future interactions. Thoughts of the interaction may go around and around in their head. They may try to read the minds of the people around them and wonder if they said the right thing and/or if they are liked. The struggle with this type of thinking is that it negates what is going on in the other person’s world at the time. For example, what if someone was short when talking to a person with social anxiety simply because they were focused on a hardship occurring in their own life? The person suffering with the anxiety would internalize the shortness as something they said or did, rather than realistically viewing the situation for what it truly is.
Those with social anxiety fear both negative and positive attention. They can be both introverts who value more alone time or extroverts who prefer more social interactions. Extroverts can have social anxiety as well.
Is Social Anxiety Treatable?
The answer is yes! First, the person needs to recognize they are struggling with social anxiety. There are many therapists and therapies that can help. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) helps reframe the negative and inaccurate thinking, so individuals can view and respond to situations more clearly and confidentially. CBT challenges the negative thoughts that contribute to social anxiety. Once challenged, CBT helps transform thinking to create a different emotional outcome.
EMDR Therapy is also very beneficial in treating the roots of social anxiety, therefore eliminating present day feelings of the anxiety. EMDR looks at any history that may have caused the social anxiety as something that in a way “traumatized” the person. I know the word trauma is viewed as a harsh and gigantic word, but all it expresses is that the person experienced a situation and the pathways in the brain became maladaptive in the way it handled similar situations in the future. Social anxiety is a result of maladaptive memory networks. EMDR helps take these memory networks and re-establish them as adaptive and healthy, therefore eliminating anxiety.
In my opinion, a combination of both therapies is a slam dunk for someone who is wanting to live free from social anxiety!
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