Social anxiety is the UKs most common phobia however it is still an under-diagnosed mental health condition and can be experienced by anyone at anytime in our lives.
Overall it is estimated that up to 10 million of us suffer from one or more phobias with around 8 million of those suffering some form of social anxiety. Psychotherapy, especially CBT for social anxiety, can be very effective at managing this and other phobias.
What is a phobia?
A phobia is an overwhelming and debilitating fear of an object, place, situation, feeling or creature.
Some common phobias are:
- Social anxiety – phobia of situations among other humans
- Agoraphobia – fear of open spaces (the outdoors, large shopping malls)
- Claustrophobia – fear of small spaces (lifts, small store cupboards
- Animal / creature phobias – dogs, cats, insects, rodents
- Situational phobias – enclosed or controlled spaces (underground, sitting in the middle of a row)
- Environmental phobias – heights, water, catching germs
- Biologic phobias – blood, vomit, germs, injections
- Intimate & Sexual phobias – getting or maintaining an erection, premature ejaculation,
Isn’t a phobia just a fear?
Phobias are more pronounced than fears, there is a more exaggerated, unrealistic or irrational sense of danger, threat or foreboding about a situation or object.
If a phobia becomes very severe, the sufferer may organise their life around avoiding the thing that’s causing them anxiety. This avoidance behaviour, as well as restricting their day-to-day life, can also cause a lot of distress.
Phobia therapy & CBT for Social Anxiety can be very effective at reducing or overcoming the problem.
Common symptoms of phobias
Phobic symptoms will vary depending on the individual and on the specific phobia. The most common symptom (really a consequence) of a phobia is ‘avoidance’. If the sufferer can avoid any situation or of coming into contact with the trigger, then they will.
What Is Social Anxiety?
Often those suffering from Social Anxiety, also known as Social Phobia or Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD), have an irrational fear of being watched, judged, or of embarrassing or humiliating themselves in public. This social phobia causes the sufferer to avoid social or group situations where they fear they will do something that will cause them embarrassment.
The anxiety that something will happen often becomes so extreme that it interferes with daily life.
Typical scenarios where you may suffer Social Anxiety
If you suffer from social anxiety you tend to know that the fear is out of proportion to the actual situation, but you are still unable to control your anxiety. The anxiety may be specific to one type of social or performance situation, or it may occur in all situations.
Some of the situations that may be familiar and are common triggers include:
interacting with strangers – at conferences, in new work situations,
making eye contact – in social groups, interviews,
initiating conversations – in social groups, in meetings, at conferences.
Therapy & CBT for treating phobias and social anxiety
The treatment of any phobia or social anxiety will start with an exploration of what suffering from the phobia feels like for you.
There is no one single cause of a phobia, the cause is individual to the person suffering from it. Some phobias develop as a direct result of an incident or action witnessed or experienced by the sufferer.
Some people are more genetically disposed and therefore more likely to suffer from phobias than others.
The good news is that almost all phobias can be successfully treated and overcome.
Simple phobias can be treated through gradual exposure to the object, animal, place or situation that causes fear and anxiety. This is known as desensitisation or self-exposure therapy.
CBT for social anxiety and phobias is a very effective form of treatment.
CBT for social anxiety works on various different responses that we often have to a situation that we find ourselves in.
Cognitive responses such as having negative thoughts will be tackled by helping you to focus away from the irrational fear e.g. that everyone is watching you, to being more engaged and involved in whatever you are doing, perhaps watching a theatre show.
Attention training focusses on learning to identify when some bodily sensations are heightened and how to normalise them for example listening to our breathing or heart rate.
Gentle and incremental exposure: planning and executing small amounts of exposure to situations that would normally bring on a phobic response. This reduces the experience of anxiety and tests your ‘cognitive responses’ and ‘attention training focus’.
Social skills practice: for those suffering social anxiety it can be effective to work with your therapist and enact scenarios and responses to discuss ways of managing or handling social situations and controlling how you respond.
CBT for Social Anxiety & Phobias: Finding the right therapist
Research shows again and again that the effectiveness of the therapy or counselling is affected by the relationship you have with your therapist or counsellor. It is therefore important that you find someone who you feel comfortable with and whom you can build a trusting relationship.
Please feel free to chat on the telephone to a few therapists or to meet several before deciding who you would like to work with. The initial session is an opportunity for both you and the therapist to decide if you would like to work together.
© Brian Cotsen