Those who suffer from social anxiety engage in excessive self-focus.
Their thoughts focus internally on themselves rather than on the external world around them – and this only serves to increase anxiety levels. Furthermore, excessive focus on the internal symptoms means that one loses important information about what is going on externally, and it may give others the impression that the anxiety sufferer is trying to be distant from them.
The following process provides a way to modify excessive self-focus and replace it with a healthier, other-directed approach –
- When feeling anxious, remind yourself to focus on others. Think about the other person, what this person is trying to say, how the other person feels, etc.
- If your attention moves back to your anxiety, try not to feel that you are failing. Just let it pass and refocus on the other person.
- Try to avoid planning your responses to the other person. Allow yourself to have some spontaneous reactions to others.
- Try not to engage in mind-reading – that is, trying to figure out what other people are thinking about you. They are probably much more interested in themselves.
Socially anxious people also engage in negative thinking, especially about themselves. They emphasize their weaknesses and minimize their strengths. Virtually any negative thought can be changed into a positive. For example, “I am a failure because of my anxiety” can be changed into “I am facing a life challenge to show how strong I can be as I overcome my anxiety.”
The first step in overcoming negative thoughts is to be aware of them. It helps to have a trusted friend or therapist give you feedback about negative thinking patterns. Then ask yourself how realistic the negative thought might be. For example, “If my hands shake during my presentation, everybody is going to laugh at me.” Have you ever been in an audience where everybody laughed at a person whose hands were shaking? Not likely. In fact, people tend to support a person having a hard time – and they may be drawn to your vulnerable and very human nature. Now ask yourself, what evidence do you have for your negative thought? Can the situation be looked at in a different way?
Dr. Baya Mebarek, Psy.D.,LMFT
San Diego Couples and Family Therapy provides counseling in the convenient area of Sorrento Valley Road.
We also serve the surrounding areas of La Jolla, UTC San Diego, Del Mar, University City, Rancho Santa Fe, Rancho Bernardo, Rancho Penasquitos, Poway and Escondido.