[Photo courtesy of kalandrakas]
If you suffer from social anxiety disorder, social phobia or depression then you might think it’s other people or situations that make you feel nervous or unhappy. If people weren’t rude or stared at you then you wouldn’t need to feel miserable or anxious, right?
Well, extensive clinical studies (400+ in fact) have shown that it’s the unhelpful thoughts events provoke which make you feel uncomfortable, rather than purely the situations themselves.
Over the last fifty years, a number of clever people (Aaron Beck and Arnold Lazarus being two) put their heads together to make sense of why some people react differently to things than others.
As a result, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) was born, which is a form of psychotherapy for changing negative thought patterns (cognitions) into healthier, positive ones.
CBT is a common sense, problem solving approach to discovering how to think and behave in a more objective, happier manner, and reduce uncomfortable feelings as a result.
You feel the way that you think
If you developed a negative outlook as a child (e.g. from being neglected, bullied or mistreated in some way) then you probably tend to view the world in a gloomy light. You might have grown up thinking that you’re worthless, other people are unfriendly and that only bad things will befall you.
Developing a negative outlook is what can cause anxiety or depression in adult life, because your ability to respond logically to situations is hampered by your unhappy childhood memories. Thinking negatively all the time means you only see the bad in people and situations, rather than responding to them objectively.
As a result, if people are rude to you or if you do something stupid or embarrassing then you probably mull over it for ages afterwards, and think it means your unacceptable or worthless in some way.
Changing the way you think will change how you feel
With depression the world’s biggest (and growing) mental health issue, it’s unsurprising that so many drug companies are offering ‘miracle cures’ in pill form.
However, studies have shown that medication alone can’t mend the deep rooted thoughts and feelings which are making you feel uncomfortable. Medication can only soften the symptoms.
In studies, CBT has proven to be more effective than medication on its own. So it’s no surprise that over the last couple of decades CBT has grown in popularity with therapists, doctors and psychologists because of its effectiveness in helping people to think, feel and behave in a healthier, more positive way.
In fact, a UK government advisor on happiness believes CBT could reduce unemployment by helping more people back into work.
Skills that can help you for life
When people with depression stop taking their medication they can start feeling miserable again almost immediately. CBT, however, teaches people how to challenge negative thought patterns and provides them with strategies for feeling better about themselves. In a way, CBT enables you to become your own therapist.
CBT can be practiced in a group, on your own through a self-help course or with a therapist. As well as practical exercises for discovering how to think more healthily, you’ll also receive guidance on additional strategies, such as the importance of exercise, how to be assertive and discovering how to be more active, which will help to reduce your symptoms.
Overcoming social anxiety disorder or depression won’t happen overnight. In fact, it can take months before you’ll find your new ways of thinking taking hold and improving how you feel.
However, the amount of research, clinical studies and popularity amongst mental health practitioners on the effectiveness of cognitive behavioural therapy means discovering it should be at the top of your list if you suffer from social anxiety, social phobia or depression.