Today, I’m going to talk about the negative cycle of social phobia, also known as social anxiety disorder. Social phobia is about anxiety about being scrutinized in social situations. It’s also about the fear of being embarrassed when having to perform in front of people, like when giving a speech, or when being in a crowd of people. So it’s the fear of social scrutiny that’s the essence of social phobia. Having social anxiety disorder can be quite disabling to the sufferer, as it can cause you to avoid social situations altogether, to the point where you can’t leave your house for fear of meeting up with people and the possibility that they may be making fun of you. Here’s an example of the negative cycle of social phobia:
Let’s say you have this trigger that you have to give a presentation to co-workers. This situation induces thought about the event. You may have thoughts such as: “everyone will make fun of me,” or “they will think I’m stupid,” or “I will embarrass myself,” or “they will not like me.” These thoughts then induce anxiety. You may feel anxious, fearful, and self-conscious. And you may also get the physical symptoms of anxiety, such as increased heart rate, shortness of breath, increased rate of breathing, sweating, increased alertness, and dilated pupils. So these anxiety symptoms are very uncomfortable, and it makes you want to avoid your triggers. So you may avoid social situations. However, if you do go to a social event, you might avoid eye contact, you might hide in a corner and not talk to people, you might elect to drink more to calm your nerve or smoke more, or you might plan your escape route. These are called safety behaviors.
When you avoid or when you resort to safety behaviors, your anxiety decreases over the short term. However, your anxiety actually increases over the long term, as the avoidance maintains the belief that people are making fun of you, and maintains the negative, vicious cycle of social phobia. And then you become so self-focused on yourself, thinking you look stupid, or people making fun of you. It’s all about you- right? You are too self-focused- that’s what happens in social phobia.
So instead of just exposing yourself to the trigger and finding out nothing bad will occur, you avoid the trigger and this maintains your belief that people are making fun of you. With avoidance, you never get to find out that the anxiety will go away naturally on its own if you just stay with your trigger.
The solution to this is CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy). CBT helps to break the negative cycle of social phobia by changing how you think and what you do. It’s difficult to change the way you feel, so the focus is on changing the way you think, and changing the way you do things.