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Posted on: September 15th, 2014

The Importance of a Support Network for Social Anxiety Sufferers

By Dr. Russ Morfitt
 

The research on social anxiety overwhelmingly confirms the importance of a good support network. Friends and family are what most people think of, and they’re very important because they often provide the practical kind of emotional support that we often need to get back on our feet. But professionals and even strangers with first-hand experience of social anxiety are often more helpful at providing something researchers call informational support (advice, personal feedback, information, expert guidance). Our ability to rely on a solid social network directly relates to our ability to handle stress. The better our network, the better our ability to handle the stresses of life, and to benefit from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
 

See also: Dr. Russ Morfitt’s PsychCentral Interview on Online Therapy for Social Anxiety
 

For that reason, I wanted to let you know about an important development at Learn to Live, that we believe will help many with expanding their social network.   We are launching our new Social Anxiety Community Forum, where people can go to connect with other sufferers who’ve “been there” and to get information to help them overcome their social anxiety. Our goal at Learn to Live has always been to provide the tools and resources to help people in their battle against social anxiety. One of those tools is a network of support that extends beyond what we offer through our Program and in our materials.
 

Learn to Live Social Anxiety Community Forum Launch  

We’ve created our Community Forum in order to foster the sorts of relationships that grow organically from one person helping another. We’ve integrated the forum into our website in order to facilitate its use for those going through our Program, but we’ve opened it to the public so that we can all benefit from the lessons learned by those who’ve experienced social anxiety. The forum is divided into three broad categories:
 

1) Social Anxiety Situations is a category in which people share their personal experience with social anxiety, the way it affects their work, their play, and their relationships.
 

2) Social Anxiety Tools is a place to discuss the different tools associated with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. What works for them. What doesn’t. It’s where old members mentor new members on best practices around the various CBT tools. Got a question? Pose it. Got an answer? Share it.
 

3) My Progress is a broad category of  topics giving voice to the personal experiences of social anxiety sufferers. Need encouragement? Ask for it. Need to vent? You’re among friends. Got a recent success to share? You’ll find others to celebrate with you.
 

See also: Take a Free Test for Social Anxiety Online
 

Remember, this is your story. Your life story can get better and better, and a whole group of people who have “walked in your shoes” may be ready to help you on your way. So whether you’ve just figured out there’s a thing called social anxiety or you’ve been battling it for years, I hope you share your questions and your wisdom on the Community Forum. Let’s help each other.
 

Posted on: September 10th, 2014

Online Therapy for Anxiety – Dr. Russ’ PsychCentral Interview

By Dr. Russ Morfitt

 

Online Therapy for Social Anxiety ImageOne of the highlights of my work as a psychologist and mental health blogger is having the opportunity to reach new groups of people with accurate information that can help them improve the quality of their lives, including facts about social anxiety, general anxiety, depression, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, mental health treatment, and more.  I’d like to share with you one such opportunity, my recent interview with PsychCentral blogger Tamara Hill, “Dr. Russell Morfitt Discusses Online Counseling for Anxiety.” Tamara is the creator of the PsychCentral blog “Caregivers, Family & Friends: Battling Untreated & Severe Mental Illness” and author of the book “Mental Health in A Failed American System.” The interview came as part of Tamara’s annual Personal Stories Week, which this year features articles from the talented group below, each of whom has been impacted by mental health problems in their own lives.  I highly recommend reading their blog posts and visiting their websites. Their stories are powerful and instructive.  Connecting with them on FB or Twitter also helps get their message out there.

 

 

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Below is an excerpt from Personal Stories Week: Dr. Russell Morfitt Discusses Online Counseling for Anxiety

 

How would you feel if you could stay home, open your computer or laptop, and have a therapy session? What about if your therapist offered to speak with you over Skype or some other online platform? Would you feel like a fish out of water or would you very much like to try that experience? What about if your anxiety was so bad that you couldn’t leave your home? For many people suffering from agoraphobia (fear of open places/spaces), panic disorders (panic attacks), or generalized anxiety disorder (anxiety triggered by worry of multiple things), it’s like heaven on earth to do therapy at home in one’s pajamas.

 

This is one of the reasons why Dr. Russ Morfitt has decided to start his online therapeutic services titled Learn to Live. Dr. Morfitt’s team and I have communicated via Twitter and email quite a few times and most of his teams’ information is geared toward normalizing the experiencing of anxiety, making tools available to people who cannot see him face-to-face, and bringing awareness to the crippling components of anxiety using his website and social media platforms. [...]

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Read the full interview with Dr. Russ Morfitt, which features information about living with and overcoming social anxiety and other mental health problems through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and especially internet-delivered CBT.

 

See also: Results of Our Social Anxiety Community Survey and How Exercise Impacts Mental Health

 

Posted on: September 8th, 2014

The Overlap between Social Anxiety & Depression

By Dr. Russ Morfitt
 

One of the challenges faced by individuals seeking treatment for mental health problems is that often times disorders like depression, social anxiety, and panic disorder don’t travel alone – it is not uncommon for a person to experience not just depression or social anxiety but a combination of the two.  In fact, people with social anxiety disorder have a 50% chance of having another anxiety problem or depression. This is what we call comorbidity, or an overlap.
 

Social anxiety and depression sometimes go hand-in-hand The good news is that psychological treatment for social anxiety – namely Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – has the benefit of addressing not only the primary diagnoses, but the comorbid conditions as well. The tools and fundamentals of CBT, including Thought Inspection, identifying Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTS), Fear-Facing and others, teach sufferers to identify and change the problem thoughts and behavior patterns that perpetuate the anxiety. These techniques, which focus on behavior, have the potential to address underlying behavior and root causes of other, physical and mental health problems as well.
 

See also: Our new Social Anxiety Community Forum
 

Some of the most common comorbidities experienced by social anxiety sufferers include depression, bipolar disorder, panic disorder, conduct disorder, avoidant personality disorder, and the use of alcohol and illicit drugs to relieve symptoms.
 

This is something to keep in mind if you’re feeling overwhelmed by overlapping issues. The tools and fundamentals of CBT can be used to address a broad array of disorders by targeting those thoughts and behaviors at the root of them all.
 


 

Read the transcript of this video below:
 

Social anxiety involves making predictions for the future, predictions about the future, dreading things and then developing patterns of avoidance. And really that’s true for other anxiety problems as well – I dread something, I fear something about the future and then I develop behavioral patterns that keep me stuck.
 

Usually they’re about avoidance or escape, and so for that reason there is a great deal of comorbidity – that means overlap. If I have social anxiety disorder, I have a 50% chance of having another anxiety problem or depression. And depression is especially likely because when I have social anxiety disorder I’m tempted to avoid meeting new people and going out. And I avoid doing some other things that might give me meaningful significant relationships with other people and important experiences that I could have and enjoy. I start missing out on those experiences because of that avoidance. Then I’m at greater risk above becoming really depressed when I have some kind of setback happen in my life.
 

So, I’m not out there in the kind of environments that would give me positives, or that would help me bounce back from the setbacks and negative things that might happen to me. So I’m at greater risk of getting really quite depressed.
 

Posted on: August 7th, 2014

Social Anxiety Stats from Real Social Anxiety Sufferers

By Dr. Russ Morfitt
 
There is a wealth of good information about social anxiety on the internet, especially over at the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies and the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. That said, some of the most useful information about social anxiety is often shared between those individuals suffering from it day in and day out. Below is a series of questions that we’re asking social anxiety sufferers in our community as a way for them to share information about their own experience with social anxiety. Answer the questions and see where your experience fits in with the rest of our community – poll results will display when you click “vote.” Rest assured, your responses are completely confidential.

 
See also: The Effects of Exercise on Social Anxiety and Research on Social Anxiety and the Effectiveness of CBT.
 







 
Please click here to take the Liebowitz Social Anxiety Scale assessment, then answer the following questions. Learn about additional Social Anxiety Tests, Scales & Inventories.
 



 

Posted on: July 23rd, 2014

The Effects of Exercise on Social Anxiety

By Dr. Russ Morfitt
 
ExerciseIt is a common practice when seeing new patients suffering from anxiety to ask them if they’re getting any exercise. We know that exercise can help alleviate the symptoms of both anxiety and depression, though we’re not exactly sure why that is. Some research suggests that increased levels of endorphins play a role, while other research points to the individual’s attribution of a quickened heartbeat (often a sign of anxiety) to physical exercise rather than some external stimuli. But new research out of Queens University in Canada suggests that exercise or progressive muscle relaxation can actually change the way we view the world, in particular our perception of threats.
 
See also: The Spotlight Effect: or why Barry Manilow is still relevant
 
In a recent study, researchers asked student participants to walk, stand, or jog on a treadmill for ten minutes and then fill out a perception form, including identifying the direction of a walking stick figure. Those who stood for ten minutes were more likely to identify the figure as walking toward them (considered more threatening), while those who exercised – even just walking – were more likely to see the figure as walking away from them (considered less threatening). The results were similar for participants who engaged in some form of progressive muscle relaxation, as well. Something about the exercise and relaxation exercises had changed the way the participants perceived the world, from more threatening to less. This, it turns out, reduced their anxiety. So while we may not entirely understand how exercise and relaxation exercises help to improve our mood, there is abundant evidence that it is indeed the case.
 
See also: More Celebrities with Social Anxiety
 

Posted on: June 23rd, 2014

More Celebrities with Social Anxiety

By Dr. Russ Morfitt
 

One of the most important things to hear when we suffer from something painful like social anxiety is “me too.” Just knowing that someone else can relate to our feelings and our experience is immensely reassuring. So it’s sometimes helpful to point to others in the public eye who have experienced social anxiety as well.  Our original list of celebrities suffering from social anxiety (including Donny Osmond and Jennifer Lawrence among others) was one of our most popular. So here’s a second short list of famous people who have known how tough social anxiety can really be, with some appearing to handle it more effectively than others:

 

Wilson

Brian Wilson: the well-known scribe for the Beach Boys was famously depressed and highly anxious in the spotlight and in meeting others. He wrote a string of hit songs through the sixties and became the iconic image of the Beach Boys, one of the few American bands to rival the Beatles. Overcome by his misery in the midst of his success (and possibly suffering from some additional problems), he withdrew from the public eye into a world of psychotropic drugs and alcohol. But his career was reborn in the 90s when he was able to regain control of his life. A true tale of redemption. 
 
Monroe

Marilyn Monroe: The famous blond actress and model suffered from anxiety and depression over her long career. She was known to be reserved and insecure in private while she strived to be one of the best in her profession. In that quest, she also longed for a certain freedom from publicity that, of course, the media and public were not quick to provide. She turned to medication and alcohol to deal with her anxiety and died from an alleged overdose in 1962. Another example of the intense pressure on celebrities to live their private lives in the public eye.
 
See also: 5 Ways to Fight Inaccurate Thinking in Social Anxiety
 
Williams

Ricky Williams: the 1999 Heisman Trophy winner and 5th selection in the NFL draft, Ricky Williams was known during his career as an eccentric person, mostly because nobody had identified that he suffered from social anxiety. He was often camera shy and occasionally gave interviews in his helmet with its tinted visor. But after seeing a therapist and getting clarity on what he was suffering from,  he claims he started to make his recovery; the diagnosis of social anxiety meant to him that he wasn’t crazy. With some cognitive behavioral therapy and medication he was able to regain control of his life again. William’s story is a reminder of the importance of giving a name to the things that cause us pain.

 

Depp

Johnny Depp: One of the most famous and talented actors in movies today is also someone who suffers from social anxiety. Johnny Depp has been able to manage his anxiety by employing a suite of relaxation techniques and a group of therapists who help him deal with his anxiety. Often times media outlets or the public refer to his introversion as a form of rudeness, but you can imagine how difficult it must be to excel at your craft when your profession is at odds with your emotional life. Depp is a testament to the power of the human will and to good therapy.
 
See also: Measuring Social Anxiety: Social Anxiety Tests, Scales, and Inventories
 
Tosh

Daniel Tosh: Comedian and TV host Daniel Tosh gets asked a lot about how his social anxiety affects his acting. His answer is always the same: he creates a character in his mind that he adopts for his audience. His alter ego is whatever he chooses it to be, in his case loud, funny, and confident. Friends describe him as completely the opposite at home. For Tosh, creating a false persona in certain social situations may be what we sometimes call a safety behavior, which helps us to get by in the short term.
 
Like this information? Subscribe to our YouTube channel for videos about social anxiety or like us on Facebook to join the conversation about mental health.
 

Posted on: May 26th, 2014

5 Ways to Fight Inaccurate Thinking in Social Anxiety

By Dr. Russ Morfitt
JournalingMuch of social anxiety rests on negative thought patterns: Everybody is staring at me. Nobody thinks I’m funny. My boss thinks I’m stupid. These negative thoughts are typically provoked by a trigger of some kind: a sideways glance, distracted friends, a boss having a bad day. One of the most helpful ways to overcome social anxiety is to challenge these inaccurate thoughts, but that requires some active planning and some (more) accurate thinking. Here’s a quick list of ways you can work on overcoming your own negative thought patterns.

 

1) Aim for some perspective.

When things go wrong, try to avoid the tendency to blame yourself. There’s a lot in life that has little to do with you. Someone’s bad mood, a missing invitation, someone’s averted gaze – they most likely have nothing to do with you. Do the friend test: would you say what you’re thinking to a friend, blaming them? If not, try to find a more realistic description of the situation.

 

2) Accept that you are less than perfect.

Many of us are perfectionists who like to hold ourselves to impossibly high standards and then beat ourselves up when we fail to meet a single one of them. We’re made up of thousands of thoughts and actions. A single flaw on any one of them does not determine our success or failure as a human being.

 

See also: 5 Mistakes We Make When Battling Social Anxiety

 

3) Fake it ’til you make it.

It’s important to keep a balanced view of yourself. What do other people value about you? What are your strengths? Have you ever noticed how more peaceful people deal with challenges, even minor ones? Think about how you would react in the same situation. It may seem strange, but it’s actually helpful to try to adopt their optimism and persistence in the face of difficulty.

 

4) Keep a journal of your negative thoughts.

It often helps to write down your negative thoughts (and their triggers) in a journal as they occur and then to revisit them later when you’re in a calmer mood. This allows for some perspective as you consider the merit of the negative thought. Does the thought seem justified? Does the same thought come to mind or do you now see the experience differently? Your boss not looking at you may have nothing to do with you and everything to do with her having a bad day. If there’s a chance that the thought has merit, can you identify some ways that you could cope?

 

5) Avoid exaggeration.

We often exaggerate in using words like “always” and “never” to describe our perspective of a situation. They rarely describe a situation accurately. Instead, try to use words like often, normally, many, etc. Even that small distinction can cause a huge shift in our thinking. And try not to exaggerate the importance of a single event. How important will your gaffe (if indeed it is one) be in a month, in a year, in five years?

 

See also: Measuring Social Anxiety: Social Anxiety Tests, Scales & Inventories

 

 

Posted on: May 19th, 2014

The Spotlight Effect: or why Barry Manilow is still relevant

By Dr. Russ Morfitt

 

Barry Manilow

Most of us stand out in our own minds. Whether in the midst of a personal triumph or an embarrassing mishap, we are usually quite focused on what is happening to us, its significance to our lives, and how it appears to others. Each of us is the center of our own universe.

 

Because we are so focused on our own behavior, it can be difficult to arrive at an accurate assessment of how much–or how little–our behavior is noticed by others. Indeed, close inspection reveals frequent disparities between the way we view our performance (and think others will view it) and the way it is actually seen by others.

 

So begins an academic paper on Egocentric bias published in 2000 by Cornell professor Thomas Gilovich and two of his graduate students that deals with the spotlight effect, i.e. our tendency to believe that the spotlight shines more brightly on us than it actually does. The researchers conducted an experiment asking college students to throw on a Barry Manilow t-shirt and then walk into a room of strangers facing the door. The researchers predicted that the students would assume that more people had seen their t-shirt than was actually true. True to form, participants thought that roughly half the strangers would have recognized the Barry Manilow t-shirt, when in fact the number was closer to 20%. Participants allowed their own focus on the embarrassing t-shirt to distort their assessment of the degree to which others noticed it, thus manifesting the spotlight effect.

 

What’s interesting for us is that this same spotlight effect is often at work in those who suffer from social anxiety. Many anxiety sufferers know that feeling of being stared at. The good news is that studies like this confirm for us that this feeling is most likely exaggerated. We may think we can read the minds of others, but we are most often wrong. What we believe to be true regarding our public appearance is often not the case. Most of the time, people are just not that interested in our appearance or performance. Keep this in mind the next time you feel yourself the center of attention in a public space. In fact, keep three things in mind:

 

  1. assign a number to the feeling of public awareness around you and then cut it in half,
  2. remember that the few who do briefly pay attention to you also probably quickly forget you, or they may like something about you (and then shift to thinking of their own spotlights)
  3. if an awkwardly worn Barry Manilow t-shirt is noticed by only about 20% of people in a situation designed to draw attention to it, your worst gaffe can hardly do more.

 

Posted on: May 13th, 2014

Overcome Your Social Anxiety & Save During Mental Health Month

By Dr. Russ Morfitt

 

May is National Mental Health Month. If you’re on a college campus you may have seen signs promoting social anxiety and depression awareness. Or if you’ve been reading the news you may have seen some recent coverage of the same. We’re always excited to see these issues getting more national attention because realizing you’re not alone is such an important step in overcoming these issues.

 

At Learn to Live we’re dedicated to providing encouragement, resources, and strategies to help people overcome their social anxiety. Our main focus is our program allowing members to access internet-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. We’d like to do something special to celebrate National Mental Health Month. I’ll let my colleague and co-founder, Dale Cook, provide you with the details.

 


 

 

Dr. Russ Morfitt and Dale Cook, Co-Founders of Learn to Live

Hello!

 

My name is Dale Cook and I am the co-founder and CEO of Learn to Live. I’d like to tell you about a special discount that we are offering in celebration of Mental Health Month. In an effort to make help for social anxiety available to as many people as we can, we’re cutting the price of our online Social Anxiety Program in half through the end of this month.


You can save 50% on the Learn to Live Social Anxiety Program by clicking here and using code MHMONTH at checkout
. The entire 8-course program is only $74.50 with this special offer. Offer ends May 31 at midnight CST. Continue reading to learn more about the program and the positive results that our 1,500+ members are already experiencing.

 

The Learn to Live Online Social Anxiety Program

The Learn to Live Social Anxiety Program is an online Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) Program that is confidential, accessible at home and as effective as the most potent in-office psychotherapy.

 

The 8-course Program challenges sufferers to engage with their social anxiety through multi-media and CBT-based exercises and activities. It also allows sufferers to enlist friends, family, or others as Teammates, who can support them throughout the process. The Program was developed by our own Dr. Russ Morfitt, who has over 16 years of experience successfully treating patients with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and manages the CBT Center, a specialty anxiety clinic he founded in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.

 

How Effective is the Social Anxiety Program?

Studies have shown that online CBT is at least as effective as face-to-face Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Members of our Program have experienced a significant reduction in their level of social anxiety as demonstrated by an average reduction of 21 points on the Leibowitz Social Anxiety Scale (LSAS). The LSAS is the main social anxiety test that we use at Learn to Live. Learn more about the Leibowitz Social Anxiety Scale or take this free social anxiety test now.

 

A 21 point LSAS reduction means that our members on average experience a change from “severe” social anxiety to “moderate, or from “marked” social anxiety to “mild.” For many sufferers, these results mean they are able to live their life more fully and finally participate in the events and relationships that they have so often watched from the sidelines.

 

Liebowitz Social Anxiety Scale Learn to Live

 

What Members of our Social Anxiety Program are Saying

You don’t need to take our word for it. Here are some emails from members describing what it’s like to live their life more fully:

 

“My progress is incredible. Things are really changing for me, and I feel so much better and more able to live.”
–Sylvia H.

 

“I am extremely happy with my progress. I feel confident going out and eating with others with little to no concern as to what people are thinking of me. This is leaps and bounds ahead of when I first started the Program!”
–Andrea J.

 

“The biggest progress I’ve made is actually thinking about whether my thoughts are correct. The Program has given me more confidence that possibly my first “flight” reaction, and my first thought about what others may think about me, may not be right!”
–Evan R.

 

“Lesson 6 was probably my favorite. It was interactive, fun, educational, and helpful. I felt like the Lesson really emphasized me taking control of my life.”
–Jennifer R.

 

“Doing the assessment at the beginning, and reading the goals I initially set and how much progress I’ve made towards those goals, was really effective in helping me understand just how much I’ve grown, and all the ways in which social anxiety affects my life.”
–Sandra G.

 

Want to hear more? Find the full list of Learn to Live member reviews and testimonials here.

 

Thank You

We hope you’ll take the time to consider the Learn to Live Social Anxiety Program, and we are thrilled that you are taking the first steps towards overcoming your social anxiety. It wont be easy, but it will be worth it. To take full advantage of the resources we offer, please connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.  We frequently share videos, information, and even the occasional meme to brighten your day.

 

See you in the Program,

Dale Cook

 

Posted on: April 19th, 2014

5 Mistakes We Make When Battling Social Anxiety

By Dr. Russ Morfitt

 

Picasso - Head of a Woman (Art Institute of Chicago)

Picasso – Head of a Woman (Art Institute of Chicago)

1)  Listening to our social anxiety

We are trained to listen to our bodies and our emotions, but social anxiety is a poor guide. When we listen to the demands made by our social anxiety — escape, avoid, leave! — we may experience temporary relief, but those actions ultimately keep us stuck. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is one helpful way to inspect the thought process to make sure we’re listening to the right kind of advice.

 

2) Failure to do a reality check

Many of our fears could be overcome through a simple reality check, a simple verification of whether what we believe to be true really is true.  For example, we believe that everyone is staring at us but we don’t check to see if indeed they are. We assume they are bored with us or gossiping about us, but we don’t look as closely as we could. People who are anxious assume there is danger unless there is compelling evidence of safety. People who are not anxious assume safety unless there is compelling evidence of risk. Overcoming anxiety involves requiring evidence of risk rather than safety. Making this shift causes a subtle but profound change in the way we feel.

 

See also: 5 Ways to Fight Inaccurate Thinking in Social Anxiety 

 

3) Blindly facing our fears

We often err in the belief that by simply doing the thing we’re afraid of doing we’ll cause ourselves to overcome the fear of it. The spirit of this idea is wonderful, and the very foundation of the fear-facing element of CBT, but often there is something missing. Thoughtful fear facing requires that we do an honest assessment of our thoughts and feelings. To do otherwise is to set ourselves up for failure. If we don’t become less afraid after repeatedly doing a scary thing, it can be very discouraging. This problem is so closely tied to problem #4 that by solving the one, we’re well on the way to solving the other.

 

4) Seeking comfort

Trying to feel comfortable is a poor strategy. Huh?  It seems reasonable, doesn’t it — what’s wrong with trying to feel comfortable?  And yet we have found that the very things we do to try to feel less anxious often keep us from getting past our fears. We continue to stay afraid because we keep trying to play it safe, taking precautions. As long as we continue to play it safe we can’t discover that those things we view as dangerous may not really be so dangerous after all.

 

See also: Measuring Social Anxiety: Social Anxiety Tests, Scales & Inventories

 

5) Mind reading

Mind reading is the mistaken belief that we can read the thoughts, feelings, and motivations of others. We assume we know what others are feeling, what they think about us, and why they said what they said. We are most likely mistaken in that belief, and yet it is so deeply ingrained in us that we find it impossible to believe otherwise. That voice of self-criticism comes from a place deep inside us and is a formidable opponent. But recognizing that voice and learning to turn it off is one of the most important things we can do when facing social anxiety.

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