I never knew I was socially anxious until I went to university. After an incident involving drug use during college, my latent social anxiety erupted and became very apparent. I was anxious almost all of the time and even paranoid that people were always talking about me. It was uncomfortable and incredibly scary. In order to deal with my anxiety I turned to alcohol to numb my feelings. The feelings never go away, though. As a socially anxious person I often avoided social situations where I feared that I might have a panic attack and embarrass myself in front of my peers. I turned down social invitations, made excuses, and pretty much lived in a shell. I was a hermit crab. Sure, I would venture out sometimes, but I would use alcohol and beta blockers as a crutch.
Last summer I hit a point of realization that I needed to seek help for my social anxiety. I had seen several therapists, but they were not helping me to address my social anxiety. I remember being in my studio apartment all weekend, having interacted with no one for more than 48 hours. A friend of mine was trying to get me to come out to barbeque or happy hour and I refused to leave my apartment. I always had an excuse. I just thought to myself “you cannot live your life this way.” You are missing out on so many opportunities to connect with people. Isn’t life enriched by the experiences you have and the people you meet?
I googled social anxiety and I found a workshop in my hometown. I went to the introductory workshop to try understand more about my condition and to perhaps sign up for group therapy. I signed up for a 20-week session in the fall in DC. I knew this was my last chance to get over my social anxiety, or at the very least learn some tools to help me to stop avoiding and change my unhealthy thinking patterns.
The group therapy sessions fostered a community and support network of people that were dealing with the same issues as me. It felt great to know that I was not alone and that people of all walks of life, young and old deal with social anxiety. Each week I challenged myself in social experiments to put myself out there and learn how to deal with uncomfortable feelings and cognitive distortions. The most important thing I learned was that I was living too much in my head instead of being mindful and in the moment in social situations.
Cognitive restructuring worksheets (CRW) and core belief work were the most helpful exercises in group therapy. The CRW helped me break down exactly what I was feeling and pinpointed my distorted thinking in any given social situation. The core belief work helped me understand some deep-rooted beliefs I feel about myself that were not necessarily true, but I kept reinforcing due to negative thought and behavior patterns.
My life has changed considerably since group. Mainly, I feel more confident in who I am and asserting and communicating in whatever social setting I am in. Confidence is the key in overcoming social anxiety--after all, that was one of the first things I learned in group--the opposite of social anxiety is self confidence! I would recommend this group to anyone dealing with social anxiety. It has changed my life for the better.