Limiting beliefs and thoughts are often at the root of social anxiety. If we trust these limiting beliefs, we give our thoughts undue power. Cognitive restructuring is one technique used in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to treat social anxiety.
What is Cognitive Restructuring?
Cognitive restructuring, sometimes called cognitive refocusing, entails identifying and challenging irrational thoughts that often lead to social anxiety symptoms. The goal of cognitive restructuring is to replace thought patterns that induce stress with more constructive ways of thinking in order to help anxiety sufferers cope better.
Why Does Cognitive Restructuring Help Anxiety?
Cognitive restructuring helps anxiety because it refocuses our distorted thinking onto more rational thoughts. A variety of genetic and environmental factors can affect social anxiety. One of those factors is that we frequently have limiting beliefs that lie beneath negative thoughts. Negative thinking can kill our confidence and ability to let our strengths shine. Cognitive restructuring can help to change the distorted thinking that keeps stuck us in fear and anxiety and move us toward rational thinking.
Cognitive Restructuring Techniques Can Help Anyone
Roughly seven percent of the U.S. population suffers from a social anxiety disorder. Yet, many of us face social anxiety from time to time, even if we don’t meet criteria for a disorder. It’s normal to experience anxious feelings before an important event or public speaking. But sometimes anxiety can inundate us making us feel trapped and ashamed.
Irrational fears arise in my mind as well. I’ve led four amazing retreats for women, introverts, and highly sensitive people. Yet, it wasn’t just a little nervousness that used to creep into my mind. Intense fear and doubt would overwhelm me days before taking off to a foreign country. I’d get occupied with stories of not being good enough and so forth — and people were counting on me. I had to lead my groups.
At that time, my partner helped me to see my destructive thinking. And you know what? All of the dreadful stories I had created in my mind were just that—stories. My guests enjoyed life-changing experiences. Now with each retreat, the anxiety has gotten easier to handle because I’ve learned to use cognitive restructuring.
A Cognitive Restructuring Exercise
- Identify a situation that triggers your social anxiety.
- Become aware of your mood. Observe how anxiety shows up in your body when you think of that situation.
- Write down all of the negative thoughts. What thoughts are triggered by bringing this situation to mind? What do you fear will happen? What story are you telling yourself? Eg. “I never know what to say at these social functions.”
- Ask yourself if these thoughts are true. Can you be absolutely sure they’re true? What is the evidence that supports this thought? Eg. “No, it’s not true. Sometimes I get tongue-tied, but not always.”
- Identify balanced, rational thoughts. Replace each of the negative thoughts with what is true by turning around your negative thought. Eg. “Sometimes I surprise myself and I know exactly what to say.”
- Consider a loved one who is experiencing anxiety. What would you say to him or her? Can you extend this same encouragement and compassion to yourself?
This is an abbreviated overview of some of the cognitive restructuring steps. All aspects of CBT are best explored under the guidance of a licensed therapist.