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9 Factors that Cause and Maintain Your Social Anxiety


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Treatments that target each of these factors have been proven to be highly effective and have helped people overcome social anxiety disorder. Think about the 9 factors as the key to overcoming your social anxiety. Ask yourself "what can I start doing differently?"
Inaccurate negative beliefs are the root cause of social anxiety. Factors 2-9 continually reinforce your negative beliefs, which in turn sets you up for more social anxiety in the future. This means that your false negative beliefs never have the opportunity to be disproved. The fact that your negative beliefs never get disproved is what keeps your social anxiety alive despite repeated exposures to fearful situations.

Published in: Health & Medicine
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9 Factors that Cause and Maintain Your Social Anxiety

  1. 1. 9 factors that cause and maintain your social anxiety Dr. Cheryl Mathews |
  2. 2. 9 factors that cause and maintain your social anxiety
  3. 3. 1. Negative core beliefs about yourself and others  I must never show signs of anxiety or weakness  I must be calm, cool, and collected at all times  I must be flawless and perfect  I need to be funny, witty and charming  I need to be the life of the party, and if I’m not, something’s wrong  I must be confident and sharp at all times  I must be awesome  If I make a mistake, I’m an idiot  if I show signs of anxiety, I’m incompetent  If I express my opinion, I will be rejected  If I speak, I will look foolish  If I go on a date, I will be disliked  looking nervous = looking foolish.  Being rejected = being alone forever  Not getting this job = never getting a good job  Blushing = looking stupid  Feeling anxious = looking anxious  I’m unlikable  I’m a failure  I’m an idiot  Something is wrong with me  I’m not good enough  Other people are better than me Social standards are excessively high If x, then this happens I’m bad Goal: Spot self-defeating thoughts that get in the way of your goals and dispute them
  4. 4. 2. Negative automatic thoughts when speaking  “I should not be feeling any fear. I should have zero fear in speaking situations”  “Fear symptoms are bad - if my heart beats faster or if I blush, something is wrong. People will notice and think less of me”  “Uh oh, I’m going to make a fool of myself”  “Something horrible is going to happen”  “People won’t like me”  “If I make a mistake, people will laugh at me”  “If I can’t do this perfectly, I’m a failure”  “I should know the answer to everything. If I don’t know the answer, I won’t be promoted” Goal: Spot self-defeating thoughts that get in the way of your goals and dispute them
  5. 5. 3. Paying attention to the negative and ignoring positive/neutral feedback  For example:  Someone in the audience says “great job” and you interpret that as sympathy rather than positive feedback. You think “she feels bad for me so she had to say that.”  The audience is smiling but you pay attention to the one person who is not smiling and think things are going badly.  In essence, you’re not paying attention to neutral or positive feedback and that feedback is lost forever. Instead, you’re paying attention to negative feedback, or twisting positive feedback into something negative. When the positive feedback is lost, your false negative beliefs never get disproved. Goal: Become aware of the positive
  6. 6. 4. Self-focused attention  Once you experience social fear, your attention shifts inward – toward negative self-evaluation and toward your bodily sensations of anxiety. We know that this shift of attention makes things worse. You are now spending your mental resources scanning your body and evaluating yourself as well as trying to handle the social situation. Once you shift attention inward, some of you notice aspects about yourself you don’t like and you believe everyone shares those same beliefs with you.  In this program you’ll learn to direct your attention away from your internal feelings and toward the task at hand (speaking). You’ll learn to become comfortable with who you are including your imperfections. You’ll learn strategies to change this negative view of yourself, and you’ll realize that most people do not share the same negative view with you. Goal: Focus on the message you want to communicate
  7. 7. 5. Negative self-image  You form a mental representation of yourself creating a vivid impression of how others see you (the observer’s perspective). This mental representation is not based on objective feedback. You misinterpret the observer as critical which keeps reinforcing your negative self-image. You also interpret your symptoms as evidence that you’re performing poorly which also reinforces your negative self-image.
  8. 8. 6. Avoidance  As a result of all of these factors, you use avoidance strategies to cope. Some of you avoid the situation, some of you run or escape, and some of you find ways to make yourself less uncomfortable. You will learn that avoiding is part of the reason your fear has been kept alive because you’ve never tried the alternative: not avoiding. The more you avoid potentially fearful situations, the more your anxiety will grow out of control. Avoidance is what fuels your anxiety. Avoidance also gives you no ability to disconfirm your fears and false assumptions.  When we talk about facing a fearful situation, we’re not talking about gritting your teeth and enduring the pain. Instead, we’re talking about going into a fearful situation with coping strategies. We’re also talking about a very gradual and gentle desensitization process where you take baby steps that are manageable for you. This is like dipping your toe in the water, and then taking the next manageable step to gradually build confidence.
  9. 9. 7. Safety behaviors  Safety behaviors are a type of avoidance. They keep you stuck in the fear in the long-term. They provide temporary relief and a sense of control, but they actually serve to maintain and exacerbate anxiety. Example:  Roger “When I speak in public, I need a couple of drinks to calm myself down. I also need a friend nearby in the audience.”  In Roger’s case, his brain learns that speaking is safe as long as he has alcohol and close friends nearby. He does not learn that speaking is safe in general so his brain has not learned the right lesson.  When Roger performs well he thinks that he got “lucky” because alcohol and friends are nearby. It’s important that you learn that your success is based on what you did and not on external factors outside of your control or luck.  Safety behaviors teach your brain the wrong message. During exposures you want your brain to learn a message of unconditional safety: “This situation is safe period.” Safety behaviors teach your brain that: ”This situation is safe only as long as criteria A and B are satisfied.”  The fact is, there is true safety in speaking situations. They are not just survivable with the right combination of safety behaviors and luck, but the situation is truly safe. In this program, you’ll have the opportunity to experience that unconditional safety.
  10. 10. 8. Anticipatory anxiety  Think of someone who dreads giving a speech at a wedding. Shee may dread the speech months or weeks before the wedding and rehearses her worst fears playing out in her imagination.  Anticipatory anxiety is the stress, worry and even the dread you feel before a speaking event. The anxiety starts sometimes months or weeks before and builds. Once you’re in the fearful situation your body is tense and your thoughts and imagination are running wild. This is fertile ground for anxiety to escalate.  Anticipatory anxiety also keeps your anxiety aroused for extended periods of time resulting in chronic stress and harmful cortisol levels in your body.
  11. 11. 9. Negative post-event processing  Post-event rumination happens once the fearful event is over. It’s where you continually review the fearful event in your mind and criticize your performance. You re-play the movie in your mind sometimes for days, weeks, months or years. Like anticipatory anxiety, this “primes the anxiety pump” for the next time you face a fearful situation. It creates chronic stress and worry.