anxiety · social anxiety

Does exposure really help social anxiety? 

I haven’t been to that many social anxiety group meetups yet, and have only hosted my own event within the group three times. It’s not that I don’t believe exposure hasn’t helped dispel some of my prenotions and fears about being at the event itself, but I’m uncertain if I can ever reach a point where I won’t lose some sleep the prior night because I’m nervous about being at the event, or agonize over how things will go at the event. I browse the rvsp list just to see who signed up. I’ll check the night before and then again on the morning of the event (because people tend to change their rvsps from yes to no hours before the event). I cringe internally if I see a name on the rvsp list of someone I have met at a previous event but haven’t really talked to. I get nervous thinking about what I should say to the person. If I see the name of someone I consider either a good acquaintance or a good friend, I will also feel nervous about seeing the person for the same reason.

Quite possibly the worst is when I try to plan in my head what I want to say to the person and try to come up with questions or topics I’d like to bring up, but when the time comes for me to be face-to-face with the person, I get so tongue tied that my brain goes blank and all I can stutter out is a greeting before I fall silent. Or, the questions are in the tip of my tongue but it’s like my voice box has gone mute and I’m rendered incapable of speaking because of the overload of anxiety.

I read a piece of advice on the internet today about exposure that said people often can’t control how they feel in a situation, but they can control how they act. Is this even possible for me? It seems every time I try to reprogram my brain to try doing the opposite of what I usually do in a situation that is making me anxious, I just end up freezing and falling immediately back into my old habit of being very quiet. I become quiet, and my logic in why I feel the need to be quiet is quite illogical now that I think about it. I go silent in the hopes of not drawing attention to myself because I feel extremely uncomfortable and am telling myself internally to “ABORT THE MISSION”, but being quiet most likely causes the attention to fall on me even though it’s the opposite of what I wanted. Maybe my self-realization of this unintended impression I am giving other people can help me change my behavior. I guess what I need to practice is trying harder to fight my body’s instinct to withdraw when I feel my anxiety soaring.

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3 thoughts on “Does exposure really help social anxiety? 

  1. I often wonder the same thing. The way I see it, I think a support system has to be in place first before the exposure can start being helpful. There has to be at least one other person who provides moral support and encouragement; someone who you trust, is reliable and is there for you; someone who understands anxiety and what you’re going through. Without the support, exposures then tend to be triggers that get worse and worse as the anxiety spirals out of control. On the flip side, avoidance increases the fear of the exposures — a damned if you do, damned if you don’t sort of thing. What are your thoughts?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. For sure, I’ve had my fair share of waffling with avoidance. I definitely have experienced an increase in the intensity of anxiety of I avoid a social situation I intended to go to, only to cancel, and when I try to go the next time, I feel even more nervous about going because I remember chickening out last time.

      I can think of one person who I’ve become friends with in the meetup group who I could see being my support, especially since I feel she and I have some similarities in regards to getting anticipatory anxiety and actually showing up to an event. The difference is, with her, she can actually push herself to go to event even if she gets cold feet, while when I get cold feet I just decide to give up and not go. I think she has potential to be my support since it sort of helps to know she will be at the same event as me, so at least I will be around a familiar face. Last time she asked me to come with her to a event because she was nervous about going alone. I was reluctant at first, mostly because I was so caught up thinking about my anxiety. But after some thought, I decided to go not only for her sake but to take a risk on myself and see if things would really go as badly as I kept imagining they would. They didn’t. Yes, I felt awkward in the presence of some people I didn’t really know, but I also was able to talk to some other people and build acquaintances.

      I only started this exercise today, but reading “Feeling Good” by David Burns is helping to cull my negative thoughts about myself a little. There’s this really good writing technique in it that teaches you how to take distorted negative thoughts and use logic to dispel the distortion.

      Liked by 1 person

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