Does anxiety and your thoughts feel like you cannot conquer them? Does it feel like you are failing, like you are not good enough? Do you find yourself comparing yourself to others, feeling that you are not a good enough friend, or that you are being awkward?
When we think of climbing a mountain, the dizzying heights and challenging terrain can seem daunting. For some, the very thought of a social situation feels like that mountain—steep, intimidating, full of unknowns and obstacles. One of the main obstacles we might face is the fear of failure, and this can be a major player in the onset and perpetuation of social anxiety. But like every mountain, with the right tools and strategies, it can be scaled and you can come out on the other side.
What is Social Anxiety?
At its core, social anxiety is an intense fear of being judged, negatively evaluated, or rejected in a social or performance situation. It’s not just about being shy, reserved, or in other words, introverted. Those with social anxiety often find everyday interactions exceedingly distressing and may go to great lengths to avoid situations that trigger their anxiety.
What Does Social Anxiety Look Like?
Social anxiety manifests in a variety of ways, both mentally and physically. Mentally, it might appear as persistent, unwanted thoughts about how one is perceived by others. Physically, it could be a racing heart, shaking, sweating, blushing, or even nausea when thinking about or engaging in a social scenario. Behavioral signs might include avoiding social situations, staying quiet in groups, or needing excessive reassurance before social events, this can even include having to self-medicate with alcohol or even marijuana before a social event.
How Do My Thoughts, like the Fear of Failure, Play a Role in Social Anxiety?
Our thoughts have profound power over our emotions and behaviors. When the fear of failure enters the scene, it can dominate our internal narrative. Thoughts like, “What if I say something stupid?” or “They’ll laugh at me if I get this wrong” amplify our anxiety. This fear stems from the underlying belief that one's self-worth is tied to their ability to succeed socially. The dread of not measuring up, combined with the possibility of public embarrassment, can be paralyzing. Anxiety, even when it comes to social anxiety, causes an illusion and this anxiety is easily exacerbated when we “pour” on thoughts that make us doubt ourselves. This anxiety causes us to assume SO many things about others and ourselves. Which really is unfair to you, you don't deserve those thoughts beating you down! You may even see how these types of thoughts and anxiety pours into other parts of your life and how you feel about yourself.
Helpful Ways to Manage Thoughts with Social Anxiety
There are several ways this can be accomplished and a mental health therapist or a social anxiety therapist (one who specializes in social anxiety) can help work through this anxiety and doubting thoughts. Here are some ways a therapist can help:
Cognitive Reframing: When a negative thought pops up, challenge its validity. Instead of thinking, “I’ll embarrass myself,” try, “Everyone makes mistakes, and it’s okay if I do too.” I am sure you can think back to a time when someone you know made a mistake even just talking to them in a conversation, but you are not quick to pass judgment on them, but you are for yourself.
Exposure Therapy: Slowly and methodically expose yourself to social situations you find intimidating. Start small and gradually build up. Over time, the anxiety triggered by these situations can decrease.
This can appear very intimidating. An Exposure therapist (one who specializes in exposure therapy - Exposure and Relapse Prevention and Prolonged Exposure) can help guide you through this practice and tailor it just to you.
Mindfulness and Meditation: These practices help ground you in the present moment and reduce rumination on potentially negative future outcomes.
Self-compassion: Remember to be kind to yourself. You wouldn’t harshly judge a friend for a social misstep, so why do it to yourself?
How Does a Therapist Help?
A therapist acts as a guide on your journey towards managing and overcoming social anxiety. They can:
Provide a Safe Space: For you to express and explore your feelings without judgment.
Teach Coping Strategies: These can help you deal with anxiety-inducing situations more effectively that translate into the long-term goal of managing your social anxiety, versus having temporary relief but still persistent anxiety.
Offer Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This evidence-based approach is particularly effective for social anxiety. It involves identifying negative thought patterns and replacing them with healthier ones.
Assist in Exposure Practices: A therapist can help you navigate exposure therapy at a pace that's right for you, ensuring that each step is productive.
Social anxiety and the fear of failure are intricately linked. But like any mountain, with patience, determination, and the right tools, it can be conquered. If you or someone you know struggles with these feelings, remember that there's a path forward, and you don't have to walk it alone.
Seeking a therapist to address your social anxiety and fear of failure? Why search far when online therapy is right at your fingertips? Better Minds Counseling & Services is adept at supporting adults facing social anxiety through their virtual mental health offerings. Brittany Webb, LPC CCATP, a licensed professional counselor and certified clinical anxiety treatment professional, is here to guide you out of the cycles of social anxiety and debilitating negative thought patterns. Book a complimentary introductory session with her now!
Blog Disclaimer - These posts are not meant to treat, diagnose, or serve as a replacement for therapy. If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health emergency, please contact your local crisis center or dial 911. Here are more immediate resources as well.