Social anxiety?
October 24, 2012 10:49 AM   Subscribe

What is wrong with me? I have trouble talking to people like they are judging me. Then I get nervous and then I beat my self up over it. I see a CBT therapist and he says I just have mild social anxiety. Its like this feeling sometimes I cannot control. Somedays it is better than others. I have been practicing CBT for about three months. I tell myself that I know I am not looking stupid, but I still feel like I am when talking to people. Some days it is not bad at all and on others it is horrible. I am sick of fighting this. My therapist tells me to just let it go, but the feeling is so unnatural I cannot.
posted by Truts83 to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
The stuff you work on in CBT takes time to kick in, so if you're honestly doing what you should be doing as best you can, you just need to give it time. Your therapist is aware of the problem, and I'm sure they're directing your therapy toward solving it. Have they given you specific strategies to let it go? I mean, "oh just don't let it bug you, period" isn't good therapy so either you're not telling us something, or you may need to get a new therapist.

Also, if this is so bad that it is genuinely impacting your well-being, you may want to look into a psychiatrist. Discuss it with your therapist; there may be a short-term solution to this that will hold you over until you start seeing progress with the CBT.
posted by griphus at 10:58 AM on October 24, 2012

I often have the same thing. I don't think there's a quick fix, you just have to keep reminding yourself that no one thinks about you as much as you do, and that everyone is far too busy worrying about their own shit to care much about yours.
posted by yellowbinder at 10:59 AM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Remember that most people, just like you, spend far more time and energy thinking about themselves than they do other people.

Keep up with your therapy (and you may want to consider meds, if that's an option - they're not for everyone, but they do seem to work for a lot of people, especially in conjunction with therapy).

It's not like it's an easy thing to do, but if you can catch yourself at the start of the spiral, stop thinking about what the other person is thinking about you (answer: probably not much! definitely not as much as they are thinking about themselves!) and pay close attention to what they're actually saying. Then respond to the words they said, not what you think they are thinking about.
posted by rtha at 11:00 AM on October 24, 2012

Seriously, check out Toastmasters!
posted by Wordwoman at 11:13 AM on October 24, 2012

Would it help to know that the feeling of being judged is super, super common to those with social anxiety? I don't have SA myself, but my daughter does, and I found it immensely helpful in my dealing with her to read multiple accounts of how people with SA feel and experience the world. Perhaps reading accounts by others with SA could also help you feel less like there is "something wrong with you" and that what you are feeling is unnatural.

I read these two books, which are specific to teens, but which you may find relevant nevertheless. In a weird sort of way, the voice that is telling you your perceptions are unnatural and stupid is a manifestation of the underlying anxiety itself. So a good starting point may be to show yourself that, hey, a lot of people feel this way and it's not weird, stupid, or unnatural. I know that for me, it helped me to have more patience with my daughter and not add unnecessary pressure when her anxieties were causing her to shut down; perhaps it will help you to have more patience with yourself when you start feeling the same way.
posted by drlith at 11:42 AM on October 24, 2012

I have been there, and know the feelings you describe intimately. The only way I got through it was to regularly counter those automatic thoughts of feeling judged, and to really work hard to doing it consistently and believing it. I found that I also needed a small dose of an anti-anxiety med (in my case Celexa) to really push through it. But the counter-talk is essential, and then you just have to practice, practice, practice.

I found this workbook particularly helpful in keeping up the practice:

It took a while for it to fade completely and sometimes those old fears of judgment pop up again, but I'm so much more confident and anxiety-free now that I feel like I have a new life.

Also, if the advice you're getting from your therapist is to "just let it go," you might want to find a new CBT therapist. CBT, in my experience, doesn't work with that; you need specific skills you can use to counter the automatic thoughts. If you could "just let it go," you would have already.
posted by Ms. Toad at 11:51 AM on October 24, 2012

I still have times when I feel like this, but they are much, much less frequent thanks to improved self-esteem. Now I don't care nearly so much if I think someone is judging me, because I know I'm pretty ok and that there are plenty of other folks who feel that way. It took years of (non-CBT) therapy for me to value myself and internalize that I deserved to be heard, though, so give yourself some time and permission to switch therapists if need be.
posted by ldthomps at 12:25 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I can relate. The bad days are more frequent when other stressors are around. Make sure you're monitoring other sources of anxiety, and try to understand how they might be exacerbating the social anxiety. E.g., How's work? How's your love life? Are you exercising regularly? How well do you sleep?

The part about beating yourself up hits home in particular. You're going back for second helpings of negative emotions here. It's a tough thing to fix, because the only advice seems to be "don't beat yourself up." If only it were that simple, right? But you can break the habit (and it is most definitely a habit). Try to be conscious of it, and be ready to tell your inner voice "Hey fuck you, I know that could have been handled better, and here's how I'll try to do it differently if that scenario occurs again, now shut up" or "I didn't even do anything wrong, now go away" or however you prefer to respond to your inner voice when it's being an asshole to you.

How compassionate do you feel toward yourself? Toward others? That was at the heart of it all for me. I was super judgmental toward others and myself. As I worked on fostering compassion/forgiveness for the people around me, I was in turn more compassionate and forgiving toward myself. That eased the pressure in social situations.

Seconding ldthomp's post about self-esteem. This book was key in getting me over the hump regarding social anxiety.

Other than that, yeah just stick with it. Don't be afraid to try some new approaches. Try to stay patient. It's a process, but you'll feel fucking awesome when you start seeing progress.
posted by Team of Scientists at 12:42 PM on October 24, 2012

For people who recommend Toastmasters.... Do you get that it sounds to those of us with social anxiety like suggesting hobby of raising tarantulas to someone who wants to get over arachnophobia? Just... no. No.
posted by small_ruminant at 1:25 PM on October 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

I've always felt like people were watching me, paying attention to everything I did. I own a couple of identical shirts and would not wear them on adjacent days for fear people would assume it was one shirt and I hadn't changed it. My friend, who has more people sense than I do, told me no one was going to notice what I was wearing so long as it was fairly normal. I didn't believe him so we decided to test it. I wore those two shirts to work every day for three weeks. No one noticed. After three weeks I couldn't stand it and told one of the women I work with. She admitted she had no idea it was the same shirt I had worn the day before or for the past three weeks. The next week I wore a different shirt instead of those two bright blue ones and guess what... no one noticed. It really proved to me that people are not watching me the way I think they are and I have been much more relaxed about it since then. Maybe you can find a way to prove to yourself in a scientific manner that your perception of people judging what you say is mistaken. Good luck.
posted by stubborn at 2:04 PM on October 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

My brother and I are from a very quiet, introverted family... social nervousness for sure. We've both mostly overcome it , though through different routes.

I had two "clicks". One was the realization (internal, not just reading it) was that worrying about being judged etc. actually is really eco-centric. Why should I presume ANYONE is thinking about me? I little humility (as such) went a long way, as did focusing on being nice and helping others (they probably feel more like me than I realize! what can I do to put them at ease?). Two, I got a job teaching English as a foreign language. All day every day, instructing adults. It was awful at first, but I'm over the anxiety! (It was in Japan, where EVERYONE is painfully shy. OK almost everyone!)

My brother fell in love with a cheery social outspoken girl, and in order to get with her, had to learn to go do stuff with her & her friends. (Don't do anything illegal!) For him, a little bit of medical mj (he's in CA, had it legally) helped him relax until he learned that he was OK in these situations and could handle it himself. If you don't want hard meds, and you can access this option, it might take the "edge" off - esp in combination with therapy. Good luck! (PS - he married her!)
posted by jrobin276 at 2:31 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I also see a CBT therapist for various anxiety issues. She uses this ABC model to help me work through things like this:
A = triggering event (talking to people)
B = your belief
C = resulting feelings and behaviors (anxiety, feeling judged, avoidance)
So, what is B for you? This is always the hardest part for me--what is it that I believe? In similar circumstances, I found my anxiety to be triggered by my need for approval/belief that the opinions of others determined my worth. But once you figure it out, it seems to be easier to change a belief than a behavior (which will resolve itself anyway, once you change your belief).
posted by itwasyou at 3:20 PM on October 24, 2012

Have you considered talking to someone who can prescribe medication? CBT worked really well for my anxiety, but it didn't kick in until after I was on meds. The medication gave me a baseline that helped me understand and experience what I was trying to learn to achieve on my own. Some people use medication for long periods of time. I was only on the drugs for about six months, and have been off prescriptions for 15 years. Not saying that this is necessarily the right path for you, but it may be worth exploring.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 4:14 PM on October 24, 2012

I'd say your problem is pretty ordinary. We all feel that way on occasion, and sometimes feel that way A LOT. The only way I've found to deal with it is to try to divert some of the energy into a useful task or recreation. Then at least when the feeling eventually subsides, I got something good out of it. Doesn't always work, but many times worth at least a try.
posted by telstar at 5:19 PM on October 24, 2012

Seconding the recommendation for meds, but make sure your psychiatrist knows what s/he's doing. I didn't even start I make progress on my social anxiety until I was 26 because nobody had ever bothered to put me on an anxiolytic before- all of a sudden I had some baseline experience of Feeling OK that I could aim for, whereas everything up until then had just been stress and avoidance and uncontrollable terror at the thought of ever talking to or being talked to by people, being seen in public, talking on the phone, whatever.
posted by Merzbau at 6:05 PM on October 24, 2012

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