“I am not my social phobia”

Project Description:

My insecurity is my social anxiety disorder, social phobia.

Social phobia greatly affects my daily life. Anytime I have an interaction with
someone, I am constantly thinking and worrying about what they are
thinking about me, and what judgments they are making. I worry about how
I am being perceived, since social phobia is essentially an irrational
fear of being embarrassed in front of others in social situations.

Particularly during an interaction with a stranger or someone new in my
life, I get very anxious and nervous before the interaction, and tend to
have what is called maladaptive thinking. Essentially, maladaptive
thinking is comprised of many kinds of negative thoughts that make me
feel negatively and anxious about the situation at hand. Through therapy,
what I have been taught is to rework these thoughts,to put them into
perspective and to ask myself if there is any truth behind them, and to
realize that often, it is the anticipation of a nerve-wracking situation
that is worse than the event itself. Also in my therapy, I did what are
called exposures: I would think of some of the scariest and
most frightening things that I could do, and I would have to do them, in
order to face my fears and to show myself that none of them were really
that bad.

Some of my exposures included asking a stranger for directions,
annoyingly paying for food in all change, talking to a barista at a
coffee shop, going to a party where I did not know very many people, etc.
These exposures were valuable and beneficial to me because I learned not
only to control my anxiety about these new and scary situations, but to
realize that they are in fact not frightening at all.

Even as I walk around campus, I am looking around at other people and
wondering what they are thinking about me. Do I look ok? Is there
something wrong with my hair, my clothes, my makeup? Do I look nice, or
unapproachable? What are they thinking about me? If I have an interaction
with someone new and a friend is nearby, after the new person leaves, I
immediately ask my friend “Did I seem ok? Was I acting weird? How do I
look? Do you think they liked me?” My friends,who often grow tired of my
incessant worrying, say in an exasperated tone,“Don’t worry about it.
You were fine.” Then I immediately feel bad about getting them angry and
worry about what they are thinking of me. It often seems like my brain is
in this negative thinking spiral that I cannot escape from.

Most people seem to find interactions with new people fun and exciting –
for me,they are anything but that. However, they are certainly a part of
living in this world. In dealing with my anxiety disorder, I have started
learning how to challenge myself to overcome my nervousness about social
situations, which is incredibly important, and something that I hope to
carry with me for the rest of my life.