Social Anxiety Background
Social anxiety has affected me since I was in elementary school. While it was triggered initially by a traumatic experience, it is something that runs in the family and I certainly had a predisposition for. Some examples of how it manifested itself over the years: avoiding certain types of social situations and friends, avoiding public speaking, avoiding the opposite sex completely, hiding in the library during lunch, the thought of just walking down certain hallways at my highschool terrified me, fear of being around large groups of people, fear and avoidance of going to parties or social gatherings, etc. My social anxiety started to get severe when I dropped out of college after one quarter because of my social anxiety. That's when I started to get uncomfortable just leaving my apartment and hit "the bottom" so to speak. Through treatment with group cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprogramming (EMDR) for mild Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and medication I've been able to live the balanced life that I value and form healthy friendships and relationships.
EMDR worked well for dealing with some specific traumatic events from my life and resulting physiological responses, but CBT was what was effective for learning to think, act and feel differently in social situations.
I hit a low point and just couldn't function with the level of social anxiety I was experiencing, so I hopped on the internet and started my search for information on how to "fix myself."
I eventually came upon CBT through Dr. Richard's audio series Overcoming Social Anxiety: Step by Step on the Social Anxiety Institute's website: http://www.socialanxietyinstitute.org/
The material includes a book and 20 audio sessions, similar to what you'd get if you were meeting with a psychologist.
The cognitive portion includes techniques for disrupting, stopping and later turning around negative thoughts, relaxation techniques, dealing with setbacks, slow talk to control anxiety, deserving statements, among other things.
The behavioral portion includes strategy for creating and following an anxiety hierarchy, which involves creating an ordered list of things that cause you anxiety and slowly working your way up and doing them while trying to maintain a reasonable level of anxiety using the cognitive techniques learned.
All the details of the program can be seen here: http://www.socialanxietyinstitute.org/audioseries.html
Initially, I went over the cognitive materials for 30 minutes every day and started working on some of the behavioral exercises on my own (ie making phone calls, going clothing shopping, going to restaurants by myself, etc.) At first it didn't feel like I was getting any better or making any progress, but I kept at it day in and day out (missing days on occasion and trying not to feel too guilty about it) and with time I started to notice small changes in how negatively I was viewing myself, others, and social situations, along with lower levels of anxiety in social situations.
The big progress came later when I participated in a 20 week group in San Francisco based on the material. We went over the new concepts presented in the CDs and the workbook each week and then practiced our individual anxiety hierarchy items with or in front of the group. The group leader and the other participants were very supportive.
Ultimately, the real benefits of the cognitive therapy and behavioral exercises, on my own and with the group, took months to materialize. It was hard work, took persistence and courage, and there were setbacks, but my life took a turn down a new path as a result.