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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Overcoming Social Anxiety

People who have social anxiety  find it very challenging to be in social situations.   I have worked with many clients in my psychotherapy private practice in NYC to help them overcome social anxiety.

Here are some examples of situations that can be challenging for people with social anxiety:
  • meeting new people 
  • being the center of attention
  • making small talk
  • going out on a date
  • eating or drinking in public
  • attending a party
  • speaking in public
  • performing on stage
  • taking an exam
  • being teased or criticized
  • making phone calls
  • talking at a meeting
  • being called on in class
People who have social anxiety are often excessively self conscious about themselves in social situations.  They often try to avoid social situations because they fear they will embarass or humiliate themselves.  They often become excessively worried weeks or even months before an upcoming social event.  They fear they will be judged by others and that others will notice that they're nervous in social situations.

Overcoming Social Anxiety
When I work with a client who has social anxiety, I tailor each treatment to the needs of the particular client.

So, one way that I might work is that the client and I would develop a hierarchical list of the client's fears.  So, for example, if the client has an upcoming office party, he or she might include at the top of the list (as the most feared) that he or she will have to talk to the head of the company and won't know what to say.  At the bottom of the list, might be thinking about the office party before actually going.

Using the client's list of fears, I might use EMDR or clinical hypnosis to help the client overcome these fears starting with the least feared item on the list and working our way up the list.  Each time he or she is able to overcome one of the fears in session, we would go to the next one on the list until we worked on the item that he or she most feared.

I also like to give clients tasks to perform between therapy sessions. So, the client and I would collaborate on tasks that he or she would perform between sessions.  This is a useful way to work on other areas in everyday life that the client might fear.

Overcoming Social Anxiety

Tips for Coping With Social Anxiety
  • Rather than focusing on yourself and your fear of being embarassed or humiliated in a social situation, pay attention to the others around you.
  • Listen intently to what they have to say.
  • Remember to breathe (shallow breathing can increase anxiety)
  • Develop short-term strategies to help you cope when you feel overwhelmed by social anxiety (e.g., stepping outside for a few minutes to calm yourself before going back into the social event).
I've included a link below for an interesting article about social anxiety from the New York Times by Joseph Ledoux, professor of neural science at NYU and director of the Emotional Brain Institute.

If you suffer with social anxiety, you know how challenging it can be for you to be in social situations.  You also know that isolating doesn't work.  If you would like to overcome social anxiety, I recommend that you contact a licensed psychotherapist who has successfully helped clients to overcome social anxiety.

There are no quick fixes for social anxiety, but working with an experienced therapist to become free of social anxiety can be one of the best gifts you give yourself.

I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist.

To find out more about me, visit my website;  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or send an email:

For the Anxious, Avoidance Can Have an Upside - by Joseph Ledoux - NY Times 4/7/13

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