Social Anxiety Therapy Online
What is social anxiety?
Social anxiety is a psychological condition defined by an intense and persistent fear of social situations, originating from the concern of being scrutinised, judged, or negatively evaluated by others. Even mundane social encounters can be distressing, and lead to intense emotional and physical symptoms.
People with the problem may experience an overwhelming fear of embarrassment or humiliation in social contexts, which can manifest as blushing, trembling, sweating, or stumbling over words. At a cognitive level, there might be high levels of self-doubt and a perpetuating cycle of negative self-assessment, with the tendency to perceive oneself as inept, uninteresting, or inadequate in the eyes of others.
Anyone can develop social anxiety. Adolescents navigating the complexities of peer interactions, young adults traversing the professional sphere, and even those who seem outwardly confident can grapple with the clutches of this condition.
Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is an effective treatment proven successful in helping people with social anxiety. Through the gradual process of confronting feared situations and reshaping negative thought patterns, individuals can learn coping mechanisms to mitigate the overwhelming fear that accompanies social interactions.
Furthermore, other approaches derived from CBT can also be integrated into a more personalised treatment plan. Therapies like acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), compassion-focused therapy (CFT) or mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) offer concepts and strategies to enhance mindfulness, compassion and acceptance, essential elements in social anxiety.
When to seek help for social anxiety?
As with any other disorder, social anxiety becomes a problem when it starts to impact your life. Here are some signs that indicate it might be time to seek professional assistance:
- Persistent and intense fear: If your fear of social situations is overwhelming and persistent, causing you significant distress, it’s a clear indicator that professional help could be beneficial.
- Avoidance behaviour: If you find yourself consistently avoiding social situations or going to great lengths to escape them, it’s a sign that your social anxiety might be affecting your ability to engage in activities you once enjoyed or perform everyday tasks.
- Interference with functioning: When your social anxiety starts interfering with your ability to perform well at work, school, or in personal relationships, it’s a sign that the condition is taking a toll on your overall functioning.
- Isolation: If you’re withdrawing from social interactions and spending increasing amounts of time alone due to social anxiety, it’s important to seek help before isolation becomes a deeply ingrained pattern.
- Impact on relationships: If your social anxiety is causing strain on your relationships, whether with friends, family, or romantic partners.
- Inability to function in specific situations: If your anxiety is particularly pronounced in specific situations, such as public speaking, interviews, or dating, and you’re finding it increasingly difficult to manage.
- Escalation of symptoms: If you notice your social anxiety symptoms worsening over time or becoming more intense.
- Personal distress: If you feel distressed, unhappy, or frustrated due to your social anxiety and its effects on your life.
Therapy for social anxiety
Therapy is a standard recommended treatment for social anxiety. Here are some common therapeutic approaches used to address this condition:
- Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT): CBT is widely recognized as one of the most effective therapies for social anxiety. It focuses on recognising and altering negative thought patterns that contribute to social anxiety. Through cognitive restructuring, you learn to replace irrational thoughts with more balanced and realistic ones. Exposure exercises are also a key component of CBT, gradually exposing people to feared social situations in a controlled and systematic manner, helping them build confidence and desensitise to anxiety triggers.
- Exposure Therapy: Exposure therapy, a subset of CBT, involves intentionally facing feared social situations in a gradual and controlled manner. This exposure allows individuals to experience anxiety while preventing avoidance behaviour. Over time, repeated exposures help reduce the intensity of anxiety responses, leading to habituation and increased comfort in social situations.
- Mindfulness-Based Therapies: Mindfulness helps individuals become more aware of their thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations in social situations. The goal is to be able to approach social interactions with greater acceptance and less reactivity.
- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT): ACT combines mindfulness strategies with a commitment to personal values. It helps individuals accept their anxious feelings while focusing on actions aligned with their values rather than avoiding situations due to social anxiety.
- Compassion-Focused Therapy (CFT): The main goal is to cultivate self-compassion and reduce self-criticism. CFT goes into the evolutionary origins of emotional regulation systems and addresses the overactive threat system commonly observed in social anxiety.
CBT therapy for social anxiety
Expanding on CBT, cognitive-behavioural therapy is a widely used and evidence-based approach to treating social anxiety. It is based on the idea that our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours are interconnected, and by addressing negative thought patterns and maladaptive behaviours, emotions change with it.
CBT for social anxiety involves several key components:
- Psychoeducation: Individuals receive information about the nature of social anxiety, its underlying mechanisms, and common symptoms. This education helps clients understand that social anxiety is a common experience and not a personal flaw.
- Self-monitoring: Clients are encouraged to track their thoughts, emotions, and behaviours related to social situations. This self-monitoring helps identify patterns, triggers, and the automatic negative thoughts that contribute to social anxiety.
- Cognitive restructuring: This component focuses on identifying and challenging irrational and negative thought patterns related to social situations. Individuals learn to replace these thoughts with more balanced and rational ones, which can help reduce anxiety and prevent avoidance behaviours.
- Exposure therapy: Exposure is a central aspect of CBT for social anxiety. Through systematic exposure to feared social situations, individuals gradually confront their anxieties in a controlled and supportive environment and get habituated to the anxiety.
- Reducing safety behaviours: Safety behaviours are actions individuals take to minimise their anxiety in social situations, such as avoiding eye contact or rehearsing conversations in their heads. CBT helps individuals identify and gradually reduce these safety behaviours, allowing them to confront anxiety directly and build confidence in their ability to cope.
- Skill building: Individuals learn practical skills to navigate social interactions more effectively. Skills such as starting conversations, maintaining those conversations, understanding nonverbal cues, etc.
- Homework and practice: Outside of therapy sessions, individuals are often assigned homework and practice exercises to reinforce what they’ve learned in therapy. These exercises might involve recording thoughts and emotions, practising exposure to feared situations, or using relaxation techniques.
Our approach to social anxiety counselling
Our priority is to use evidence-based approaches that are known to be helpful with social anxiety. Hence, we use cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) as a gold standard approach for this disorder, combined with the newest therapies known as “third-wave”, including acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), compassion-focused therapy (CFT), and mindfulness-based therapy.
Knowing that you and your circumstances are unique, we personalise your treatment plan to your particular needs, experiences and situation. We are here to listen and understand, without making a judgement or telling you what to do. We guide you in the process and support you all along.
As with any other psychological condition, the exact causes may vary from person to person. The following are some key factors that contribute to the development of social anxiety:
- Genetics: Genetic predisposition can play a role in social anxiety. Individuals with a family history of anxiety disorders may be more susceptible to developing social anxiety themselves.
- Biological factors: Imbalances in neurotransmitters (chemical messengers in the brain) like serotonin and norepinephrine are linked to anxiety disorders, including social anxiety. These imbalances can affect mood regulation and anxiety levels.
- Environmental factors: Negative experiences in social situations can trigger social anxiety, and shape the person’s beliefs and expectations about future interactions.
- Learned behaviour: Observational learning, where an individual learns from observing others’ behaviours and consequences, can influence the development of social anxiety. If someone grew up in an environment where social interactions were perceived as threatening, they might adopt similar beliefs.
- Social learning: Early social experiences, such as rejection or criticism, can lead to the internalisation of negative self-beliefs. These beliefs can perpetuate social anxiety by creating a cycle of avoiding social situations to prevent perceived negative outcomes.
- Parenting styles: Overprotective or controlling parenting styles can contribute to the development of social anxiety. Children who are overly sheltered may not have the opportunity to develop effective coping skills for social situations.
- Perfectionism: Unrealistic standards for performance and a fear of making mistakes can contribute to social anxiety.
- Cognitive factors: Negative thought patterns, such as catastrophizing (expecting the worst), overgeneralizing (applying one negative experience to all situations), and self-criticism, are associated with social anxiety. These thought patterns contribute to anxiety and avoidance behaviours.
Common symptoms of social anxiety include:
- Intense fear: Experiencing an overwhelming and irrational fear of being scrutinised, judged, or negatively evaluated by others in various social situations.
- Avoidance behaviour: Actively avoiding or enduring social situations with significant distress or enduring them while experiencing intense fear.
- Physical symptoms: Physical sensations can include blushing, trembling, sweating, nausea, rapid heartbeat, dry mouth, and difficulty speaking. These symptoms are often triggered by the anticipation of or during social interactions.
- Physical discomfort: Experiencing physical discomfort or even panic attacks in response to certain social situations, which can further reinforce avoidance behaviours.
- Negative self-evaluation: Persistent negative self-assessment and belief that one is inadequate, uninteresting, or inferior compared to others.
- Anticipatory anxiety: Experiencing heightened anxiety and worry leading up to social events, often imagining worst-case scenarios and fearing potential judgement or embarrassment.
- Difficulty initiating and maintaining conversations: Struggling to start and sustain conversations due to the fear of saying something embarrassing or being judged.
- Overthinking and rumination: Engaging in excessive rumination and overthinking after social interactions, replaying the event and scrutinising every detail for perceived mistakes.
- Self-isolation: Tending to withdraw from social activities and isolate oneself to avoid anxiety-inducing situations, leading to feelings of loneliness and further reinforcing anxious thoughts.
Social anxiety symptoms can vary in intensity and presentation from person to person. Some individuals might experience only a subset of these symptoms, while others may experience a wider range. If these symptoms are causing distress and significantly impacting your ability to function in various areas of your life, seeking professional help is advisable. We encourage you to take the first step and contact us.
Do you offer social anxiety therapy near me?
We offer online social anxiety therapy because this way we can reach you out whenever you are in the world. We are trained in the United Kingdom and provide cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), compassion-focused therapy (CFT) and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT).