Articles on changing thinking patterns & link to reduced social anxiety
I am a mental health therapist who has experienced social anxiety since the age of 14. I wanted to post my thoughts in regards to the abundance of articles on the Effectiveness of 'Changing thinking patterns/Core beliefs' & the link to Social Anxiety Symptom Reduction. As I'm sure many of you are aware, this is generally seen/heard as the first & primary subject of treatment towards reducing social anxiety related symptoms....As a therapist who practices CBT, and is a strong believer in the profound benefits of thought awareness, challenging irrational thought(s), and/or changing core beliefs I believe this has been overblown as the way to improve social anxiety. For example, on more occasions than I can count in the past, when I have experienced anticipatory anxiety about an event, I have attempted to bring awareness to what my thoughts were having me believe. Almost every time, I am able to label my thoughts as cognitive distortions (thinking errors), and clearly recognize how irrational and exaggerated they are. I also have frequently been aware of the assumption-based 'guessing' mindset that leads to increased discomfort before the event takes place. Although I have practiced and implemented this coping method 100+ times, it has done very little to change the extreme feelings of discomfort that arise pre, during, and/or post-event although I am fully aware of how ridiculous & irrational the thoughts really are.
I feel too many therapists/authors of articles/books, etc use this as the primary way to reduce social anxiety. What they are neglecting to consider, are the sub-conscious thoughts that we are not able to tune into that also lead to stress-based thinking patterns/emotions. In my opinion, the first line of effective treatment for social anxiety should include this philosophy, but also GRADUAL exposure to situations/events that bring on the discomfort. This is the complete opposite of exposing someone to an event/situation that brings on severe levels of anxiety, which I believe to be more damaging than helpful. Instead, starting to expose self to events/situations that are MILDLY to MODERATELY uncomfortable, while tracking/writing down thoughts that bring on anxiety pre-event & most importantly, again after the event - Specifically reflecting on 'Am I glad that I attended the event'/ 'Did my pre-event thoughts come true or did something different take place'/'How do I feel after attending the event'........Tracking pre-event thoughts, as well as thoughts-feelings following the event can do a tremendous job in reducing anxiety over time. Imagine if you tracked the next 10-15 events/situations that were anxiety provoking and reviewed what you had written down pre-event vs. post-event...What one will typically begin to see quite clearly, is that the pre-event thoughts bringing on the discomfort rarely/if ever take place. In addition, one will typically see a repetitive pattern of Being satisfied about attending the event, which tends to be the case a high percentage of time. What this does is allows one to see that their pre-event thoughts bringing on the anxiety rarely take place. When someone sees this trend re-occurring time and time again, one is able to more clearly see the irrational pattern in their thinking, which leads to stress reduction and a tendency to attend more events that previously brought on more anxiety.
I become frustrated with articles/books who simply say to challenge thoughts/change core beliefs prior to events without much more direction. THE KEY TO EFFECTIVE TREATMENT IS TO DO THIS BUT IT IS ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL THAT YOU WRITE IT DOWN IN THIS WAY AND TRACK IT IN THIS WAY OVER A MATTER OF WEEKS/MONTHS. Doing all of this in your head tends to be extremely difficult, as we are attempting to replace irrational thoughts with more rational ones while also battling the conditioned urge to not dive back into the irrational stress-based thought(s). Hope this helps others. Thanks