How Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Social Anxiety Can Help You
If I told you that there was something that could help your social anxiety, that it wouldn’t require you to leave your home or go to any appointments, that it wasn’t overly costly or time-consuming, and that it would permanently change your brain pathways. . . what would you think? (Hint: I’m going to talk about a self-help version of a treatment called cognitive-behavioral therapy for social anxiety).
Most people would run, not walk, to find out what that miracle cure was.
The thing is, my friends, this magical treatment for social anxiety does exist and it’s more accessible to you now than ever before.
Since my background is in clinical psychology, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and I go way back. I’ve been on both sides of it, both receiving this form of therapy as well as teaching it to someone else. When it works (which has been shown to be a significant amount of the time) it can be life-changing.
CBT was first started by Dr. Aaron Beck back in the 1970s as a way to help people change their thoughts, and as a result, change the way that they felt.
The central premise of cognitive behavioral therapy for social anxiety is that identifying irrational beliefs and thought patterns and replacing them with more realistic views can be helpful.
Some examples of these negative thought patterns include black-and-white thinking (I’m horrible at everything), mind-reading (I just know they don’t like me), and fortune telling (this situation is going to go badly).
In the case of social anxiety, you most likely hold negative beliefs about four areas of your life: your anxiety symptoms, how you look, how you interact with people, and what type of person you are (your character).
In traditional cognitive behavioral therapy for social anxiety, you work with a therapist who acts as a teacher to help you understand concepts. You’re given homework each week with the ultimate goal of changing your core beliefs about yourself: these are the things that affect how you go out into the world.
This isn’t “thinking positive” as some people might have told you to do in the past (didn’t help, did it?). Instead, this involves targeting negative automatic thoughts that happen so quickly you might not even realize you are having them.
For example, thoughts of being embarrassed or failing at something.
Cognitive behavioral therapy for social anxiety isn’t necessarily easy, as it requires daily practice to train your brain to think in a new way. But if you put in the time and effort, it is worthwhile.
The “behavioral” part of cognitive behavioral therapy for social anxiety refers to going out into the world and facing the things that scare you—in a very gradual and systematic way.
While most people receive CBT with a therapist, it’s becoming more common to receive CBT delivered over the Internet or to use self-help books to practice it on your own.
The central point that I would like to emphasize is that CBT can benefit your social anxiety if you are willing to put in the work. Here are 5 specific benefits that you can expect.
Awareness of Your Socially Anxious Thoughts
A funny story. I’ve worked in and written about mental health for nearly 20 years. And yet, even I was not totally aware of my thoughts or how they were affecting me.
How did I learn this? I downloaded a little app called Woebot. This free app helps you to identify the thoughts that have caused you to feel a certain way and then convert them into more realistic thinking patterns.
Becoming aware of the negative thoughts that trigger your social anxiety is one amazing benefit of practicing CBT.
Empowerment to Change On Your Own
A wonderful mental health blogger that I follow talks a lot about limiting self-beliefs and how many people feel that they can’t improve their mental health because they can’t afford a therapist. But she notes that in fact, there are many, many things you can do on your own to work on how you feel.
Of course, if you are living with severe mental health issues, it will be necessary to consult with a professional. However, mild to moderate social anxiety will absolutely benefit from you doing cognitive-behavioral therapy as a self-help technique.
Once you realize how much you can do on your own, you’re empowered! There are so many books, online courses, self-help groups, etc. that are worth trying. There’s so much you can do.
Resilience in the Face of Setbacks
Once you’ve learned CBT strategies, you have a tool that you can use for the rest of your life to manage your social anxiety. You might even find that it helps you at other times, such as when you are feeling down.
In this way, I view CBT as kind of like the foundation you are building for better mental health. Just like when building a house, you need a strong foundation. If you’ve lived through any sort of tough life situations, or face them in the future, you will need this strong foundation.
CBT builds resilience both in terms of the strategies you learn, as well as how it directly changes the neural pathways in your brain. You will begin to think and act differently, and this will make you stronger for the future.
An Investment in Yourself
Finally, when you begin practicing CBT, you are making an investment in yourself. If you’ve spent your whole life feeling undeserving, unworthy, un-whatever. . . making this investment in yourself will subconsciously boost your self-worth.
And when you start to see yourself as worth more, you’ll project that as you go out into the world. I’ve seen examples of this in my own life: the times when I’ve made a commitment to investing in myself is when I’ve changed the most.
I know what you’re thinking: that’s all well and good, but how do I learn more about CBT or start to practice it for social anxiety?
If you sign up for my resource library below, I’ve got a set of worksheets to get you started using CBT for social anxiety.
Or you could find a local therapist or check out Betterhelp for access to an online therapist at a reasonable monthly cost (my readers receive 20% off their first month of therapy).
That’s it! I know you want to be more aware of your thoughts, to be empowered to help yourself, to be resilient, and to make a change, and I believe CBT can do this for you.