Understanding Thought Records for Social Anxiety

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Thoughts records for social anxiety (also known as thought diaries) are a way of understanding and changing your negative thought patterns.

The cognitive-behavioral model of therapy holds that emotions and behaviors can be changed because they are (at least partly) the result of your thoughts.

Psychologist Albert Ellis was the first to propose the "ABC Model" of behavior: An activating event (A) triggers beliefs and thoughts (B) which in turn result in consequences (C).

Although it may seem like your feelings are a direct result of situations (e.g., you feel anxious when having to give a speech) there is actually a step in between the situation and your emotions: your thoughts.

It is your perception of the situation that influences how you feel. For many people, thoughts become so automatic that you may not even realize what you are thinking.

Imagine that you are talking to someone at a party and he yawns. Your feelings will differ depending on what you think about the yawn.

  • If you think that the yawn is rude, you might feel annoyed.
  • If you think the yawn means that you are boring, you might feel bad about yourself.
  • If you think the yawn means the other person is tired, you might feel indifferent.

Notice that the same event can cause different emotions; the ultimate cause is your thoughts.

Using Thought Records

Thought records are a tool used in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to help you recognize and change your unhelpful thoughts. The purpose of a thought record is to get you into the habit of paying attention to your thoughts and working to change them.

Although thought records may seem like a lot of work in the beginning, over time the process will become automatic and you won't have to use the diaries anymore.

CBT thought records can be used on your own to help monitor and change your thoughts. Ideally, you should use the form after anxiety-provoking situations at least several times a week.

Unhelpful Thoughts

In general, people with social anxiety disorder (SAD) have two kinds of negative thoughts.

They overestimate how likely it is that something bad will happen, and they overestimate how bad it will be if something happens.

In this way, unhelpful thoughts distort reality and are irrational in terms of how you perceive yourself, others and the world.

At the root of most unhelpful thoughts are core beliefs.

Some examples of core beliefs might be: "Everyone has to like me" or "I can never make mistakes."

Using thought diaries regularly will help you to identify the patterns in your thoughts and point to the core beliefs that underlie your negative thought patterns.

Obstacles to Using Thought Records for SAD

When using thought records you may encounter some obstacles. At first, you may have trouble adopting a more helpful thinking style. Over time, however, these new thoughts will become more believable.

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  • Centre for Clinical Interventions. Shy No Longer: Coping with Social Anxiety.

  • Antony M, Swinson R. The Shyness, and Social Anxiety Workbook. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger; 2008.
  • Hope DA, Heimberg RG, Turk C. (2010). Managing Social Anxiety: A Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy Approach Workbook (2nd Ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.

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."