Many people struggle with some type of social anxiety; however, there are ample DBT skills to help manage it. As it pertains to mental health, social phobia is recognized as the most common anxiety disorder and in addition to taking many forms, it can impact people in diverse ways. Because being in the presence of other human beings is pretty much unavoidable, having high levels of anxiety about being in social situations can greatly disrupt a person’s life and cause considerable suffering. Therefore, it is very beneficial to have effective tools to help cope with social anxiety.
What we know
While research is still trying to determine all the different factors of social anxiety, there is a universal consensus that the core of social anxiety is related to the fear of being evaluated by other people. Many people who have social anxiety fear that they will say or do something in a social situation that will cause them to be seen in a negative light. Furthermore, there is evidence to show that positive evaluations from others in social situations can also feed social anxiety: Being evaluated positively can lead some people the feeling that expectations have been raised for them and they will need to meet higher standards of social performance in the future.
People with social anxiety disorder tend to believe that there are high standards for their behavior and that they will not be able to meet these standards. As a result, when in social situations, people with social anxiety focus their attention on their own behavior and social performance. Unfortunately, this excessive type of self-directed attention increases physical symptoms of anxiety (e.g. flushed face, sweaty palms, nausea) which can then lead to more worry about being negatively assessed by their peers.
One way to break the cycle of self-focused attention is to redirect attention to the external environment. One of the DBT skills, mindfulness, specifically related to noticing and describing, can help in this regard. People can utilize their senses to observe what they see, hear and feel in their external environment as a means of redirecting attention away from themselves. Applying this skill of mindfulness will require consistency, but it can help greatly reduce the perpetual cycle of social anxiety.
Additionally, a major part of overcoming social anxiety is to decrease the related avoidant behaviors and the DBT skill of acting opposite to feelings can be effective in this context. Avoiding things that you fear, when they are not actually dangerous, will only increase your fear. Likewise, when people with social anxiety avoid interacting with other people, they are only increasing their social anxiety. Therefore, coming up with small behavioral steps to begin to approach social interactions will begin to break the incapacitating hold of social anxiety.
Mindfulness and emotional regulation are topics incorporated in the DBT group provided at Specialized Therapy Associates. Should you have any interest in this group, please call 201-488-6678 for details.