As humans, we are biologically wired to form connections with others. This behavior makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint, as traveling in groups helped to ensure our survival as a species. Strong relationships have been shown to have significant benefits in regards to one’s overall mental and physical health. In fact, numerous studies have demonstrated that people with strong relationships have increased longevity, are happier and have fewer health problems.[i]
It helps to explain why social anxiety disorder can have such a large impact on individuals who are struggling. For those with social anxiety disorder, certain social settings and events can trigger serious bouts of anxiety. The following are three tips for helping a patient with social anxiety disorder.
1.Explore with them the thoughts that they are having surrounding specific social situations.
It can be helpful to start out by exploring with the patients the stories that their mind is telling them surrounding specific social situations. Explaining to the person that not all of his/her thoughts are facts can help the patient to begin to recognize that he doesn’t have to believe everything that he thinks.
Additionally, describing the clients’ thoughts as “stories that their mind is telling them,” can help them to externalize their thoughts and change their relationship with them.
2. Assist them in coming up with more useful self-statements.
Next, you can collaborate with the client to explore whether the thoughts that she is having surrounding specific situations is helpful or unhelpful. For instance, if a client is having the thought, “I’m going to embarrass myself if I go to this party,” you could help her to examine if this thought is helpful. Additionally, you could ask her what feelings and bodily sensations that this thought triggers.
This kind of thought could lead to the patient feeling shame and may cause her to decide not to go to the party. Thus, you could help her to come up with a more useful coping statement. For example, she could tell herself, “No matter what happens at this party, I am proud of myself for being brave and facing something that terrifies me.”
3. Partner with the client to create a graduated hierarchy of feared situations.
It may also be helpful to sit down with the patient and assist him in creating a list of the social situations that trigger his anxiety. On the top of the list, the client can list the challenging situations that give him the least amount of anxiety. On the bottom of the list can be his most anxiety-provoking situations.
Once the list has been created, it is helpful to review coping strategies for dealing with anxiety. Then, partner with the patient to challenge him to gradually face a different feared situation, starting at the top of the list. It is important to stress to the client that they may need to face a particular fear multiple times before his anxiety decreases.
4. Help them to practice self-compassion.
Self-compassion is simply giving ourselves the same kindness and care that we would provide to a loved one who was struggling. When working with patients who are struggling with social anxiety, it can be helpful to explore with them ways that they can practice self-compassion throughout the process.
For instance, many clients “beat themselves up” for having anxiety in social situations. You can assist them in coming up with more positive coping statements and in recognizing that they are so brave for facing their fears. Also, it’s important to note that many people experience some degree of social anxiety. Sharing this information with clients can help them to recognize that they are not alone in feeling this way.
There is Hope
Lastly, it’s important to instill in the client the idea that there is hope. With treatment and support, social anxiety disorder does not have to limit an individual’s life and relationships. No one chooses to have an anxiety disorder, but people can choose to gradually face their fears and reclaim their lives.