5 Tips for Managing Social Anxiety the CBT way

As lockdown restrictions ease today, not everyone is feeling in a rush to leave the house. While it’s never as simple as following ‘5 tips’ and everything will be alright, it’s a good place to start, and a way in to addressing this very common issue…

  1. Remember anxiety is normal!

Anxiety is a natural response to a real or perceived danger – the physiological reaction is the same for both.

Your body gets ready for fight or flight (or may freeze) as a survival response.

  1. Figure out if the danger is real or perceived/imagined

Sometimes our bodies can set off false alarms when there is no real danger. A money spider poses no actual threat to us but if we perceive or imagine it to be dangerous, then off goes the alarm! However, if you can see that your response is irrational, i.e. it doesn’t fit with what is actually going on, there’s a chance that you can ‘step back’ enough to attend to the irrational thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations that have been triggered.

  1. Get a handle on your thoughts

What are you saying to yourself? “I can’t handle this,” “I can’t cope,” “I can’t do it,” “I’m in real danger”? What we think, has a direct effect on how we feel and behave. Change the thought and you can change the feeling and behaviour. Try: “I can handle this,” “I can cope,” “I can do it,” “I’m not in any real danger”.

The anxiety equation goes like this:

Anxiety = an overestimation of the danger + an underestimation of your ability to deal with it.

Follow your rational thoughts: you are not in any real danger, it just feels that way. You can deal with the situation, it’s just really hard at that particular moment.

Sometimes we can and should trust our gut. Sometimes it really is a false alarm.

  1. Get a handle on your bodily sensations

Either move around (to expend the anxious energy) and/or breathe, counting in for 4 and out for 6 (preferably from the diaphragm – sometimes called ‘belly breathing’), and consciously find and release any tension you can detect in your body.

  1. Get a handle on your behaviours

Go towards the imagined danger not away from it if possible. If you avoid the anxiety-provoking situation then you teach yourself that you dodged a bullet when really you didn’t. If you go towards it you will teach yourself that you can handle it. Anxiety may surge as you do this but it will eventually come down, making it easier each time you face a similar situation.

Anxiety is natural but can become a problem. It can help to explore different ideas to manage problematic anxiety that work for you in therapy. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) works for many but it’s not the only way.

Visit MIND for more information about understanding and managing anxiety and panic attacks: Anxiety and panic attacks | Mind, the mental health charity – help for mental health problems

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