Social Anxiety Spiral of Feelings and Behaviours

There can be a cycle of thoughts, feelings and behaviours that exacerbate your social anxiety. For instance, if you are in a social situation that you fear, anxious thoughts may lead to anxious feelings. You may start worrying that your anxiety is visible to others and try to hide it. Fighting the anxiety just makes the anxiety worse.

The components of social anxiety spirals may include:

Anxious about being anxious
Anxiety can be a horrible feeling and its very easy to get tied up in a cycle of fearful thoughts like “oh no it’s happening again” – leading to more self focus and a cycle of increasingly intense thoughts and feelings. Please see our page on Grounding techniques to calm yourself

Fighting the anxiety
Anxiety symptoms are unpleasant – but fighting the anxiety can just make the anxiety worse.

Safety Behaviours And Avoidance
Someone with social anxiety might use safety behaviours to prevent them from facing anxiety-provoking situations in full. For example, someone might always use their mobile phone in social situations or be quiet, unassertive, avoid eye contact, leave early or even play the fool. Safety behaviours are usually designed to distract attention from oneself or minimise anxiety feelings but we can end up relying on them and not being our true self.

Also see our pages on Avoidance and safety-behaviours.

Focusing inwards and paying attention to the wrong things
Someone with social anxiety might have a mental image of how they appear to others which is inaccurate or distorted. They may think that “nobody likes me” and watch others for signs of negative feedback or disapproval.

Other Lifestyle factors
Modern life is complicated, all the stresses and strains can leave little space or time to focus on getting better. Practical life considerations such as housing, job, relationship, loneliness, money worries, mental and physical health or affect our ability to focus on the things that will help our social anxiety. But – don’t overlook the basics! It is also a good idea to make sure that your lifestyle supports the changes you want to make, as physical and mental health are linked. Exercising, using relaxation techniques, eating healthily and avoiding too much caffeine and alcohol will help to keep your baseline level of anxiety lower. This in turn will make your efforts to overcome social anxiety using CBT easier.

Actions that can help with the social anxiety spiral

Understand your social anxiety
The starting point is understanding your social anxiety. Researching social anxiety websites, or reading a self help book can help you understand the factors that may be maintaining your social anxiety.

Consider NHS or Private CBT Therapy
See out page on What the NHS offers or finding a private therapist.

How to make progress
See our pages on Making Progress

Learn About CBT
Details of the CBT techniques used to overcome socially anxious thoughts and inward focus can be found on our What is CBT?.

And finally:

Don’t compare yourself to others
It’s easy to look at other people and think they have it all together, but the reality is that we all have our own struggles and insecurities. Comparing yourself to others will only make you feel worse about yourself, so try to focus on your own positive qualities instead.

References – Panic is a trick – Anxious about being anxious – The social anxiety spiral – What is an anxiety spiral
See this leaflet to find out more about the Vicious Cycle of Anxiety.

Article written with the kind help of volunteer Claire.