Fighting Social Anxiety with Exposure
Are you staring at your screen to avoid socializing? You are far from alone. Though this is often perceived as anti-social behaviour, those with social anxiety know that it is a far different ordeal. They want to reach out, want to speak with others, but feelings of anxiety impede them. It can manifest itself in a variety of ways. You may exhibit shyness; you may not. However you experience it, the condition is debilitating. So much of what we do in our lives revolves around and depends upon social interaction.
Whether it be school, work, or dating, conversations are inevitable. This form of anxiety, like all others, can hold you back from meaningful relationships, excelling in group projects, and finding success in the workplace. If you believe you are suffering from social anxiety, it is best to think of it like any physical ailment. Seek help through therapy, opening up to family and trusted friends, and above all, do not suffer in silence. A challenging but effective solution is one recommended by therapists and an immeasurable aide for my own struggles with social anxiety. Create and master an exposure hierarchy.
An exposure hierarchy is a simple yet daunting concept. First, brainstorm a list of social situations that scare you. Do not put excessive thought into this; simply write down as many situations as you can. Try to include day-to-day situations, such as asking a stranger for directions, and less common ones, such as giving a presentation to a huge crowd. Be sure to mix in smaller scares with bigger frights. When you cannot think of any more items for the list, take a break.
Later, create a table that starts at 0 and goes up in increments to 100. This will be your exposure hierarchy. Divide the hierarchy into ten steps (0, 10, 20, etc.) or twenty (0, 5, 10, etc.) up to 100. Now, go back to your list and select situations for each number. Rank the experiences from the least anxiety-inducing at 0 to the most nerve-wrecking at 100. This does not have to be an exact science, and do not worry about using all of the items from your brainstorm. Focus on arranging the list so that the anxiety escalates but it is entirely achievable.
Your mission is to accomplish all the items on the list, starting from the bottom and working your way up. Set the pace at your own comfort level, but ensure you are attempting at least one item a week but not more than one a day. You need to push yourself, but not to the point of a breakdown. Remember, the goal is to simply expose yourself to situations. You only need to ask for directions, or strike up a conversation with a stranger, or ask your attractive classmate on a date. Even if that classmate says no, even if you get laughed in your face, you have accomplished your goal. The only failure comes in not making the attempt.
Tartakovsky, Margarita. 6 Ways to Overcome Social Anxiety. http://psychcentral.com/lib/6-ways-to-overcome-social-anxiety/