How Do I Practice Exposure Therapy for Social Anxiety Disorder?

A List of Articles About Exposures for Social Anxiety

Exposure therapy for social anxiety disorder (SAD) can help you overcome fears of specific social and performance situations. Although exposure training is normally conducted with the assistance of a therapist as part of a cognitive-behavioral treatment program, it can also be incorporated into your daily life.

If you suffer with social anxiety, you most likely face these types of situations with fear and dread or avoid them completely. Both strategies can sustain your anxiety in the long term. While avoiding situations you fear might alleviate your distress in the short term, you are teaching yourself that you can't handle those triggers. Leaving situations in a state of panic also teaches you that they are to be feared.

Ideally, you need to gradually introduce yourself to increasingly more difficult situations and stay in those situations until your fear subsides. This type of exposure training can be done in real life (in vivo) or in your imagination.

Below are a list of articles with specific tips for carrying out exposure training for a variety of different fears.


Exposure for Eating Fears

You can work on your fear of eating in front of others.
Fear of eating in front of others can be part of SAD. Getty / DigitalVision / ZoneCreative

People with social anxiety disorder (SAD) who are afraid to eat in public are generally fearful that they will embarrass themselves while eating. Exposure therapy for this fear involves gradually engaging in more difficult situations involving eating in front of others.


Exposure for Paruresis

You can overcome your fear through exposure therapy.
Fear of using public restrooms can interfere with daily life. Getty / The Image Bank / Jonathan Kim

One of the more difficult fears associated with social anxiety disorder is a phobia of using public restrooms. This fear can impact your ability to function and may lead to isolation and the desire not to leave home.

If you suffer with this fear, it is possible to use the principles of exposure therapy to gradually become more comfortable using restrooms in public.


Exposure for Phone Phobia

Exposure therapy can help you overcome phone fear.
Get over your fear of the phone through pratice. Getty / Stone / Todd Warnock

Are you afraid to talk on the phone? Do you become particularly anxious when talking on the phone in front of other people? Do you sometimes avoid the phone or let the answering machine pick up?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you might want to consider exposure therapy for phone phobia. This common fear can easily be faced using a hierarchy involving telephone scenarios.


Exposure for the Fear of Social Situations

Face your fears by attending parties.
Parties can be a way of exposing yourself to fears. Getty / Hero Images

People with SAD commonly fear a range of social situations including everything from talking to a cashier to attending a large formal party. Exposure therapy for the fear of socializing can involve a hierarchy including these situations and any others that cause you anxiety.

This is one of the easier exposures to conduct because it is relatively straightforward to find and involve yourself in the situations that you fear.


Exposure for the Fear of Being the Centre of Attention

Fear of the spotlight may cause you to take a backseat.
You can overcome your fear of the spotlight. Yuri_Arcurs / Getty Images

Often, those with SAD have a debilitating fear of being the center of attention. You might blush or shake when thrust into the spotlight or quickly try to deflect the conversation if the topic turns to you.

Like other difficult situations, you can overcome your anxiety about being the center of attention by gradually facing those situations that you fear.


Exposure for Public Speaking Fears

Fear of public speaking is part of social anxiety disorder.
You can overcome your fear of public speaking. uchar / Getty Images

Fears of public speaking are common. However, when anxiety about speaking in front of others has a severe impact on your personal and professional life, it may be diagnosed as SAD.

Gradually facing increasingly difficult public speaking scenarios is one way to overcome your fears. You might choose to start by giving a toast at a party and eventually work up to taking a course offered by Toastmaster's.


Exposure for the Fear of Conflict with Others

Expose yourself to conflict with others to overcome your fears.
Conflict with others can be difficult for those with SAD. Getty / Blend Images / JGI/Jamie Grill

The fear of conflict with others causes many with social anxiety disorder to keep silent about personal opinions and allow themselves to be taken advantage of by those around them.

Instead of shying away from conflict, exposure therapy will help you to gradually face potential conflict and learn that you can handle it when others disapprove. A key part of this exposure is to also learn and practice assertive behaviors.

A Word From Verywell

Exposure therapy can be helpful for social anxiety that is not so extreme that it renders you housebound or facing severe panic attacks in most social or performance situations. If you do find yourself with severe symptoms, exposure therapy practiced on your own may be too difficult.

In this case, it's best to work with a mental health professional who can guide you gradually through the situations that you fear, being sure to first work on the thought patterns that keep you stuck.

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