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How Therapy Can Support You In Healing Social Anxiety

Updated: Jun 21




If you're struggling with social anxiety, going to therapy can feel like a daunting task. However, it is also one that can be profoundly helpful. Here are some ways that therapy can support you on your journey of healing:

1. Having the right therapist by your side can make you feel less alone

Social anxiety is in itself an isolating experience. Often it can feel like you are completely alone and no one else is struggling with the thoughts and feelings that you are. This can lead to increased levels of shame and self-hatred, the desire to pull even more inwards, and attempts at coping that do more to hurt you than help. However, working with a therapist who is the right fit for you and who really understands, can serve to break that cage of isolation and show you that you do not have to go through this experience alone.

I emphasize that you must find a therapist who is the right fit for you, because this is an imperative part of what makes therapy helpful. Research actually shows that regardless of the type of therapy that is practiced (whether CBT, IFS, EMDR or something else entirely), it is the connection and rapport that you build with your therapist that leads to the greatest levels of change. Not every therapist is going to be right for you, and finding that partnership can take time. However, once you do it can be very powerful. What you are looking for is someone who makes you feel safe to be vulnerable, who is non-judgemental, and who you feel really empathizes with you and understands your struggle.


If you have social anxiety, it can be overwhelming to think about meeting one therapist, let alone having to test out a few, so just take it step by step. Pay attention to how you feel during and after the session, and go from there. I also recommend looking for practitioners who specifically state that they specialize in anxiety, and social anxiety if possible!

2. Discussing your experiences in a safe, non-judgemental environment can provide a sense of relief.

When you're dealing with social anxiety, it is common to keep a lot of your emotions, thoughts, and fears bottled up due to a concern of what other people will think. There is a natural protective instinct to social anxiety, however, it can also be incredibly isolating and lead to loops of worry and rumination that are difficult to break.


In therapy, when you can have a dedicated space to talk about these challenges and you are in the presence of someone who will not judge or shame you for anything you say, it feels like a huge weight off your shoulders! It can be cathartic just to process your feelings out loud, but when you are brave enough to let someone into your inner battles and you're met with understanding, compassion, and reassurance that this is normal (and that there are also ways to move forward), it can be incredibly healing.

3. You have the opportunity to learn about the nervous system and start incorporating tools to help you cope better with anxiety. 

Anxiety is an experience that is generated by the nervous system. When you are flooded with fear, your body has detected a 'threat' and it is trying to protect you by moving into a fight/flight state. This is a part of our biology, we can't escape it, and it is actually designed to keep us safe. However, in social anxiety, your brain has learned to detect situations that are not life threatening as inherently dangerous.

In therapy, you have the opportunity to learn more about your nervous system and its responses, as well as the ways that your brain and body have learned to cope in the face of situations that you fear. Understanding this aspect of your biology, as well as learning ways to increase the felt sense of safety that you experience in your daily life, gives you the tools to start taking the power back from your fears. I believe this knowledge is essential in social anxiety support, and it is empowering when you realize that your fears are a learned response that you can unlearn. You CAN rewire your brain and teach your body new ways of responding.

4. You can achieve a deeper understanding of the underlying causes of your fears.

In social anxiety, fear and anxiety are only the tip of the iceberg. While they can be overwhelming experiences that feel as though they completely take you over and run your life, there are often deeper wounds that the anxiety is trying desperately to protect you from. While this will be different for every individual, often social anxiety is an experience dominated by underlying shame and harmful self beliefs. It is not uncommon for people with social anxiety to have experienced traumatic, or humiliating, events, to struggle with self-worth, find relationships challenging, and to generally feel not good enough. These wounds are often deeply rooted with many years of experiences and 'evidence' making them feel unequivocally true.


Therapy offers you the space to start peeling back the layers on what your anxiety is trying to protect you from and look at some of the deeper roots that may be generating the overwhelming fear in the first place. This is slow, often delicate, work, and doing it alongside a practitioner you trust is vital. However, the insights and experiences you have can be life changing.

5. You have a safe space to process your emotions

There can be so many emotions that underly the experience of social anxiety. Fear is only one part! While learning to regulate and work with your anxiety in a new way is essential, emotions such as anger and grief may also arise as you do this work. This is not uncommon, and while it may be uncomfortable, allowing these feelings to be present goes a long way in helping you to heal.


Making space for more 'positive' emotions such as joy, pride, excitement, confidence, and gratitude is also an important part of therapy, as it is not just the more challenging aspects of life that are explored. Instead, through the work you do with your therapist, you will learn to have greater access to all the emotional experiences that are a part of being human.

6. You can learn to challenge the thoughts and beliefs that might be underlying your anxiety

Looking at thoughts and beliefs that go hand in hand with social anxiety is an essential component of the work. While deeper wounds may be underlying your fears, it is often thoughts that keep the anxiety firmly rooted in place. This includes thoughts about yourself and what other people think of you, core beliefs (such as being worthless or unlovable), worries, ruminations, interpretations of events, and assumptions of how future experiences will go. All of these ways of thinking may be continually reinforcing the pathways in your brain that detect people and social situations as a threat, and keep you feeling like you can never measure up.


In therapy, you have the chance to learn how to notice and respond to these thoughts in a new way, and challenge them - replacing and reframing them, as well as rewriting self-destructive stories that you may hold about yourself and your worth.

7. You can have support while you face your fears

One aspect that I see as a critical component of therapy for social anxiety, is working with your therapist to face the situations and experiences you fear. This is called exposure, and involves making a list (or hierarchy) of feared situations and slowly targeting them. The purpose of doing exposure work is to teach your brain that the situations it has come to see as a threat are actually not dangerous. While this is nuanced work, and more complex than the scope of this post, doing exposures with your therapist can lead to great breakthroughs in your fears. This is work that I love to do with my clients, often going into the community with them and practicing situations that they have been avoiding or unable to do (sometimes for years).

When you can challenge your anxiety and the belief that you cannot handle certain situations, you start to rewire your brain so that the things that once brought you terror now become ordinary experiences that bring little to no discomfort. Therapy offers you the chance to do just that, and to start this process with someone you trust.

8. You can build a community of people who understand and who are going through similar struggles

Another aspect of treatment for social anxiety that I see as incredibly powerful, is group work. While this may feel impossible (and physically painful) for someone with a high degree of social anxiety, it can be an important way to grow your connections, reduce isolation, and learn that you are not alone. Other people experience the same struggles as you, and are also doing the hard work of healing. Group therapy enables you to learn from others and be inspired by the steps they are taking, and it also helps to rebuild connections (in safe way) that you may have been lacking. While not every therapist offers group work alongside individual therapy, it can be a great addition to your one on one sessions!

 

 

Overall, therapy is a powerful option for helping you on your journey of healing from social anxiety. While there are many therapists and treatment modalities available, go with the person (and approach) who makes you feel safe to show up exactly as you are. That will be far more healing than any specific technique or methodology!



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