Identifying Rational Responses With Social Anxiety

Nervous man and woman sitting side by side

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If you have social anxiety disorder, you may avoid social situations or have a fear of embarrassment that is out of proportion to the actual event. You may be worried about saying something silly or blushing from nervousness. You may find this to be incredibly disruptive to your life, harming relationships with friends and loved ones, and even hurting your career. Avoiding all of these situations isn't practical for the long-term. 

Know that you're not alone; social anxiety is one of the most common anxiety disorders for both men and women. Many people experience episodes of social anxiety in their teens, but do not seek treatment until well into their adulthood. Some people put off going to treatment because they think it won't help; they believe social anxiety is just an innate part of their personality.

But while social anxiety can be difficult to overcome, therapy with a healthcare provider specializing in anxiety disorders can help you manage your condition and interact more naturally with others without such pressing fear. 

Managing Social Anxiety With Rational Responses

Your doctor may recommend that you undergo a cognitive-behavioral intervention, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Some programs will integrate different approaches to anxiety, such as relaxation techniques and social and conversational skills training, and then move on to more intense forms of intervention including cognitive restructuring.

Your therapist will work with you to review fear-inducing situations, such as giving a speech, and identify the anxiety-driven thoughts that accompany it. For instance, if you have anxiety about public speaking, you may irrationally think that people will laugh at you if you stutter or one poor speech will ruin your career. 

Once those irrational thoughts are identified, your therapist will help you replace those thoughts with rational responses. You and your counselor will construct your new responses after a process of going through your immediate thoughts, disputing those thoughts using disputing questions and summarizing the key concepts of the process of disputation.

In the example of giving a speech, your immediate thought may be your anxiety-driven thoughts about being humiliated in public. Through your therapy, you will recognize that this reflexive thought is irrational by asking yourself questions like, "If I saw someone else stutter, would I think they were incompetent?"

By thinking about your own reactions to others' situations and realizing how little you give those mistakes any thought, you can help calm yourself and accept that your fear is not realistic.

You can then replace that fear with a learned rational response like, "Even if I stumble over my words, that doesn't mean that there is something wrong with me or that I can't do my job."

Thinking more adaptively about these social situations and taking a step back to reflect on your reactions can be a huge step in helping you manage social anxiety and your symptoms. It is not something that can be cured overnight, but with a good therapist and ongoing therapy using rational responses, you can control the disorder. This will go a long way in helping you communicate with others, go through your daily routine and enjoy time with your loved ones. 

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  • National Collaborating Center for Mental Health. Social Anxiety Disorder: Recognition, Assessment and Treatment, 2013. 

By Arlin Cuncic
Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety."