Social Anxiety Help
Larry Cohen, LICSW
25-year-old white man
“Just having any person stopping by my cubicle at work
would bring feelings of trembling, blushing, sweating, and extreme tension.”
Hi there, my name is Justin and I’ve been dealing with social anxiety since roughly the 8th grade. Over the years it has been on my mind every day and has brought me some of the most pain I have ever endured. Embarrassing and painful memories that I wish I could forget; uncontrollable feelings that seemed to never go away no matter how hard I tried.
Due to my excessive blushing I had stopped wearing red altogether as people often pointed out the similarity between the color of my shirt and my face. I starved for constant approval from others so as not to let my own thoughts drag me back into the downward spiral of negativity and self-criticalness. I was plagued by excessive self-consciousness, moving forward with my life but at the terrible cost of my health and happiness.
I had seen a handful of therapists over the years, none of which were specialized in mental health, let alone social anxiety. These sessions were more focused on looking back towards my painful past in hopes of finding the root cause or event that triggered this anxiety disorder. Many years of individual and group therapy later I felt as hopeless as ever. At no time did I feel more hopeless than when a licensed psychiatrist told me that what I was experiencing was normal and just blown out of proportion. I knew what not having anxiety felt like, as my anxiety comes in ebbs and flows. This was definitely not ‘normal’.
It didn’t feel normal to be terrified to go to classes because of even the slightest chance that the teacher would call on me. Just having any person stopping by my cubicle at work would bring feelings of trembling, blushing, sweating, and extreme tension. Even merely THINKING about these types of scenarios the night before or on my way into work would produce these extremely intense and uncomfortable feelings. It also certainly didn’t feel normal that I would experience these feelings on and off and in between, every single day, throughout the entire day, even around the closest of my friends and family.
I realized at some point that I was being my own worst enemy.
I decided that I could either believe the negative voice in my head and give up, or believe the part of me that deep down KNEW it wasn’t telling me the truth. Hours and days of researching led me to similar stories from others, and eventually a self-diagnosis. The mental and physical symptoms were all written in front of me, under a concise three-word description: Social Anxiety Disorder. I found solace in the fact that others shared this same problem, and even more importantly that there were ways for it to be treated.
At that time I began to try various medications such as anti-depressants (SSRIs), benzodiazepines, and beta-blockers. Although these seemed to temporarily lessen some of the terrible physical symptoms associated with my anxiety, they did nothing to lessen the frequency and duration of them. I would still find myself dwelling and ruminating on my negative thoughts and experiences. Being on a cocktail of meds wasn’t going to be my first resort since they weren’t healing me and came with some unbearable side effects, extreme drowsiness and inability to focus being the worst, and ironically less motivated and therefore less confident.
After more research I stumbled upon the idea of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. This form of therapy seemed to be more comprehensive in nature. As I was still very skeptical I decided to download two different self-CBT training programs and consecutively worked my way through them over the course of several months. I learned many great coping techniques and exercises to overcome my social anxiety. Although these techniques and exercises were priceless in dealing with my anxiety, I still sought to meet a specialist in person that dealt with social anxiety issues and had read that a group setting would be the most effective way to overcome the anxiety through exposure and accountability. At that time I had seen mild success from my self-help efforts but knew that there was still work to be done and that having others around me would hold me more accountable and be more systematic.
Before moving to DC I had done some research on a potential therapist in the region specialized in this area. Lucky enough for me there was one and it led me to Larry Cohen’s website. This was my best opportunity ever to be with peers sharing the same issues and a therapist that specialized in the systematic treatment of them. Shortly after moving to the area I signed up for the group and before I knew it was there in person.
I learned valuable tools and coping mechanisms and made lasting friends in the meantime. I do still find myself reverting to my old negative thought habits and patterns since they are engrained into my brain. Nevertheless, after being with the group and literally retraining my brain to think healthier and more rational, I can see that the duration, frequency, and even intensity of the terrible thoughts and feelings are down to a level where I can be a happy, high functioning person.
My anxiety has been the main thing getting me to make healthier decisions such as diet, exercise, and making time for myself to wind down and dive into one of my hobbies. So although I obviously still wish I never had any bad thoughts or feelings, would never take back the things I’ve learned up until this point. I still beat myself up and have setbacks, but now I have much quicker ways of getting out of those slumps. I realize that feeling sorry for myself and trying to get others to feel sorry for me doesn’t ever lead to anything but more misery and pain. I do still take meds when I really need them, but not as often nor as many.
Stay positive even if at first you don’t believe it.
That is just one of the many methods that have done wonders for my anxiety and associated depression. Even people who don’t deal with the terrible thoughts and feelings of anxiety and depression should learn and live by the principles taught and exercised in this CBT program. Since these thought and feeling patterns are physical neural pathways in my brain, they aren’t going to go away by themselves. The persistent positive thoughts and other coping techniques come more naturally now. I am now naturally reinforcing my new neural pathways more than my old ones and although the old ones might never completely go away before a breakthrough in modern medicine or neuroscience, at least I know I’m happier now than I was before.
I owed it to myself to seek professional help from a specialized therapist and put any shame I had aside. If you’re reading this, chances are you probably do too.
More Personal Change Stories
31-year-old gay, white man Washington, DC
“I can just be me…. I moved forward. I took a risk, and the result has paid itself out so many times!”
33-year-old married, white woman Maryland, suburban DC
“I felt like I didn’t really fit in with most people… I felt like I was just bad at having conversations, that I never knew what to say.”
(audio & written)
27-year-old Hispanic woman Maryland, suburban DC (immigrant from Peru)
“People are finally starting to see me differently. I’m pretty confident that there are going to be more great things along the way that are still there for me to discover later. Social anxiety therapy has really changed my life.”
44-year-old single, female nurse Washington, DC
“My life is different now. I feel like I can be who I always was inside.”
34-year-old Jewish man Costa Rica, Central America (formerly of Maryland, suburban DC)
“I finally had the courage to do things I’d always hoped I’d be able to do”
26-year-old African American woman Washington, DC
“I was living too much in my head, instead of being mindful and in the moment in social situations.”
29-year-old South Asian man Washington, DC
“Would people notice my nervousness? Would I say something dumb?”
25-year-old white man Washington, DC
“Just having any person stopping by my cubicle at work would bring feelings of trembling, blushing, sweating, and extreme tension.”
If you have any questions or comments, please email Larry Cohen, LICSW, with offices in Washington, DC.
Social Anxiety Help is a founding regional clinic of the National Social Anxiety Center (NSAC): nationalsocialanxietycenter.com