I have struggled with social anxiety from a young age, but it wasn’t until the start of this year that I took the first step towards professional help. I can’t pin point one exact moment that caused my anxiety, there are many things that probably contributed. However, CBT isn’t about finding the cause, although this can be useful, knowing where your anxiety comes from doesn’t change the way you feel or the way in which your brain responds to certain situations.
In February I self referred through a local mental health service, in May I received my first call from the service, and yesterday (15th July) I went to my first session. Unfortunately the waiting list for one to one CBT was 11 months, so instead I have been placed in a group for social anxiety. At first I was horrified at the thought of going out and sitting in a room full of strangers and talking about anxiety and therapy, but after taking time to think about it and going to my first session, I have changed my mindset.
Leaving my apartment yesterday was hard. My heart was racing, my palms were clammy, I felt sick, and my whole body felt restless. When I arrived, after walking to the building with my husband, I sat outside for a minute and tried to pull myself together. A couple of equally worried looking people approached the door, so I took that as my chance to stand up and follow suit. When we arrived we were greeted with a refreshment table, a semi circle of chairs, a questionnaire, and name badges. I had already told myself that it would be okay because everyone in the room would be feeling the same way, and seeing everyone displaying their anxious behaviours I felt comforted by our equal discomfort.
I sat down and realised I should’ve gotten myself some water, had I been in a room with people I didn’t know also felt as uncomfortable as me I probably would’ve stayed sat down and gone without, but knowing we were all in the same boat gave me an odd feeling of confidence. I stood, walked across the room, and poured myself mug of water. I sat down, completed my questionnaire, stuck on my name badge, and waited for the session to begin.
Out of 15, 14 showed. When the session began we were congratulated for coming, and I can’t begin to tell you how amazing that felt. I came close to crying in all honesty. The recognition that what we had all done up to that point was a genuinely difficult thing to do was so wonderful and refreshing. Social anxiety is something that people don’t take seriously, and to be recognised and understood was a welcome thing. The session was shaped around a presentation that went through what the group sessions would entail, standard crisis information, reassurance that we wouldn’t be forced to do or say anything we weren’t ready to, and an introduction to CBT.
Before we started any learning we did introductions. We introduced ourselves to the person sat next to us and then voluntarily fed back to the group about our partner. There’s something about introducing someone else that feels easier than having to talk about myself, I think some of the others felt the same way too. My partner was lovely, we bonded over certain moments in our life that we’d been anxious about, and we continued to get to know one another during the 10 minute break.
During the session we got to grips with the CBT formulation, this was a flow chart taken from Clark and Wells’ (1995) ‘A Cognitive Model of Social Anxiety’. The chart moves from the social situations that make us anxious, our beliefs about social performance, perceived social danger, which flows down to self consciousness, anxiety symptoms, and safety behaviours. The last three all feed into one another and circle back to the beginning. We have been tasked with filling this in for ourselves over the coming weeks, along with a table for recording our negative automatic thoughts, self focussed attention, and the safety behaviours we performed. The focus and importance placed of ‘home work’ is strong, what we learn in session will only do so much, and it is vital that we apply what we learn to our everyday lives, thoughts, and actions.
For the duration of the session I felt uncomfortable, but those feelings did reduce over the two hours we were there. Regardless of knowing the context of the group I felt like all eyes were on me, something I know not to be true. My heart didn’t settle until I saw my husband after the group, and the walk home helped to bring me back to myself. These are the feelings that CBT should be able to help with, and from what we covered in those two hours I have hope that it could work for me. I’d be really interested to hear off of anyone who has tried CBT, did/does it work for you?
I’m going to write up my experience with the group every week and give my thoughts on CBT and using a group setting to help social anxiety. As this was just an introductory session I can’t say if it will work, or really give too much of a review. However, from what we have covered already I am hopeful. I do think the therapy has merit, and I am going to work hard to ensure I get the most out of it.
Thanks so much for reading, please feel free to ask questions. I’ll be back with more art soon too, but for now you can check out my Instagram and my shop links below for more.
Until next time!
Beth, your foolish slob.