Hello to all my ADHD peeps, and ADHD loved ones,
Today Michel requested that I talk about exposure therapy as a way to help overcome social anxiety. For anyone who doesn’t know, exposure therapy is a very commonly used behavioral therapy for treatment of fears and aversions. It is extremely successful and helps people overcome crippling fears of things like snakes and elevators. It works by exposing the individual to their fear in a minor way at first and then as they become comfortable, move up to exposure in more specific ways until confronting the fear itself. For example, a person who is afraid of snakes could be started by viewing pictures of snakes, moving onto watching a video of snakes, to interacting with a rubber snake, and finally going to a pet store and holding a live snake. The same concept can work wonders for social anxiety as well.
Obviously any therapy of this sort is performed by a licensed psychologist to help navigate the process and any feelings that arise throughout, as well as to keep the patient safe. However, the idea behind exposure therapy can be implemented in daily life to help overcome problems you may face. If you have severe social anxiety, it is best to to work with a psychologist who will be able to help you through the therapy, rather than attempt implementing aspects of it on your own. Part of the reason it is successful as a therapy is that the therapist is there with the individual every step of the way and participates with them, showing that it is safe. Going back to the snake example, the therapist would be the first to hold the snake in the pet store (even if they don’t like snakes themselves), showing the individual that they are not afraid and are safe holding the snake, providing the individual with the confidence and assurance to try themselves. This is an important support to have when dealing with a severe issue, so if you are very concerned about your social anxiety please reach out to your primary physician, or if you have a psychiatrist/psychologist established reach out to them.
Anyway, back to ways you can use exposure therapy in your every day life to help overcome more minor social anxiety. First you need to determine what aspects of social interaction make you nervous and uncomfortable and to what extent. Do you hate public speaking, are you like Mia in Princess Diaries where every time you get up in front of a group of people you vomit? (While a fun example this is more severe and something that should be worked through with the help of a therapist). Do you get anxious when you’re in a room without any familiar faces? What about when you’re trying to make new friends? All of these are common problems people face every day, and luckily, with a little work, they can be overcome. You may always be nervous in these situations, nervousness is normal, but you can work to become consistently successful in them.
Since Michel likes to keep these short, I’ll continue with some actual tips for building up to public speaking and one-on-one interactions next time.