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Posted on: September 21st, 2015

Dr. Russ and Molly Mogren of “Hey Eleanor!” Talk Social Anxiety

By Dr. Russ Morfitt


Recently, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Molly Mogren of the blog “Hey Eleanor!” Prior to starting her most recent project as a full-time freelancer and blogger, Molly was featured in Delta’s Sky Magazine, Food & Wine, and Mpls.St.Paul Magazine. Molly started the “Hey Eleanor!” blog because she wanted to incorporate Eleanor Roosevelt’s famous quote, “Do one thing everyday that scares you,” into her daily life. She felt she had fallen into a rut, so she decided to make a change. Change is difficult for anyone, but Molly also struggles with anxiety, so that added to the “scariness” of making changes. I really liked what she had to say about fear, because it’s consistent with one of the principles of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – that you can often make things less scary as you face your fears:


“It’s not that I was no longer afraid, but as it turns out, you can practice being afraid. The more you do it, the less daunting scary things feel. Also, I learned that nothing is as scary in reality as it is in your head.”



Below is an excerpt from her blog post, Psychologist Dr. Russell Morfitt on How to Deal with Social Anxiety:

deal_with_social_anxiety_dr_russ_morfitt_learn_to_liveWhat can a Learn to Live member expect from the program? How long does it last? What’s the commitment like?


Dr. Russ: Structurally, the Learn to Live Social Anxiety Program consists of eight interactive, multimedia lessons with practice exercises to complete in between. We recommend completing about one lesson per week. Periodic assessments help members to set goals and track their progress along the way.


Members quickly learn that they are not alone, which is very powerful. Throughout the program, they learn the key tools of CBT and how to apply them in their personal situation. Members also learn how to build up their social support network, a trusted group of friends or family that may support and encourage them throughout the program.


And it’s not just thought-challenges and fear-facing exercises. These are important, no doubt. But sometimes it’s the small things in our lives, the tiny avoidant habits that add up to unhelpful thoughts and behaviors. Members learn to identify these habits and work toward changing them. The overall process involves learning online, then applying that learning to one’s life. It’s really the real-world practice that creates results.



If you want to find out more about CBT, the Learn to Live story, and social anxiety, here’s the full interview – Psychologist Dr. Russell Morfitt on How to Deal with Social Anxiety.


Molly has done a great job of connecting with other people who have faced their fears, like Jaimal Yogis of The Fear Project, and has even started her own #HeyEleanorChallenge, “a weekly email encouraging you guys to take itty-bitty steps (and the occasional big leap) outside of your comfort zone.” Sign up for the email list here. You can also like “Hey Eleanor” on Facebook or follow along with Molly on Twitter.


Posted on: August 18th, 2015

What is CBT?

By Dr. Russ Morfitt


We recently posted a question on our Facebook and Twitter accounts and the responses to that quiz piqued my interest. According to the results, many of our readers have heard of CBT but not many have actually tried it. That made me think that it might be useful to explain how CBT can help an individual – not just with mental health problems, but also in a variety of areas of your life.


CBT: Change your mind. Change your life. Learn to Live.CBT stands for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and is a form of psychotherapy that has been around since the early 1960’s. (There’s an interesting story about how the two most prominent founders of the model, Aaron Beck and Albert Ellis published their seminal books about the same time in the same year – so there has been some dispute over who was the first to formally present some of the key ideas.) CBT takes into account a person’s thoughts or perceptions, and how those thoughts or perceptions affect emotions and actions. We learn to identify our automatic thoughts or distorted thinking, after which we are better able to change those thoughts to something more logical or more useful. We can then begin changing our patterns of behavior, facing fears and eliminating unnecessary precautions, getting more active, or applying new alternative behaviors in place of the old actions that kept us stuck.


The skills of CBT can be applied immediately to problems we are suffering from in the present. And these skills become a helpful set of tools that can be applied to new situations as the challenges of life arise. CBT can be applied to work, school, relationships, and social situations – almost anything!


Among the most common reasons someone may seek out CBT are depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, social anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). What many people don’t realize is that CBT can be applied to a whole host of issues we face in our daily lives: pain conditions, sleep disorders, life stress, eating disorders…the list goes on.


In recent years, we have learned that CBT has another asset – learning how to change our thoughts and behaviors can be done from the privacy of our own homes. Internet-Delivered Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, (iCBT) has been demonstrated to be as effective as face-to-face therapy. The iCBT option means that those of us who may not otherwise choose face-to-face therapy – because of cost, stigma, or lack of options nearby – can still get the benefits of CBT.


CBT may sound like just another acronym in a world full of TLAs (three-letter acronyms). But really, it’s shorthand for a proven strategy for reshaping our unhelpful thinking and changing our unhealthy behaviors. Whether you need help with the stress of a new job, handling college life, or speaking in front of a group, CBT is a tool that can help you change your thoughts, your behaviors, and your life!


Posted on: July 29th, 2015

Top 5 Barriers to Getting Help for Mental Health Problems

By Dr. Russ Morfitt


alone-mental-health-sufferingIt’s a staggering statistic: 1 in 4 adults living in America have a mental health problem, such as anxiety, social anxiety, or depression. Given this, it would be natural to expect that it would be relatively easy to get help for these mental health challenges. But, curiously, it’s not. Here are a few reasons I have observed that help explain why:


1. Stigma or the fear of stigma. Despite the progress made through the #stopthestigma campaign, stigma has been a strong force over the years. Mental health problems have, at times, not been viewed as the real, treatable, health problems they often are. Talking about them has not been the norm. Whispers, awkward glances, and hushed conversations about something “not being right” have historically been commonplace.


We frequently fear being stigmatized when, in truth, we don’t really know if others will accept us or not. None of us wants to be labeled, but sometimes the fear itself—of being judged or labeled—is our biggest foe. Often, the best step we can take is to reach out and get the help we need, regardless of what others think. Often people find that others are compassionate when they learn of these struggles.


2. Cost. Mental health care, like any health care, costs money. Whether it means an office visit and the cost of a monthly prescription or 3 months of face-to-face Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), mental health care is not cheap. For many years, stigma and cost have prevented a large number of people from seeking help. With the enactment of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), cost has become less of an issue. The ACA has expanded mental health and substance use disorder benefits for 62 million Americans. Most health plans must now cover depression screening and behavioral health assessments at no cost, and plans are no longer able to deny coverage based on a pre-existing mental health condition.


Not all providers participate in insurance plans, but many do, so it is definitely worth looking into.


3. A shortage of mental health professionals. For many people choosing to seek care, distance and waiting lists pose an additional hurdle. While some areas may have a sufficient number of providers, there are many mental health provider shortage areas that continue to face growing needs, especially with the expansion of coverage under the ACA.


Sadly, even when therapists are accessible, they often fail to provide evidence-based care so the impact of the treatment is disappointing.


4. Fear is a pervasive obstacle. Fear of being labeled. Fear of therapists or therapy. Fear of admitting the problem itself.


Fear is a normal emotion with any challenge in life, but in many cases, working through that fear is a step in the right direction, a step toward help and healing. Many people have found that, if they can just take that first step, the fear becomes more manageable.


5. The nature of the beast. Anxiety and depression are, by their very nature, obstacles to finding a solution. In severe instances, many sufferers can hardly get out of the house or even out of bed. Other times people rationalize their thoughts and behaviors as “just my personality.” Coming to a point of acceptance about needing help and having the energy and courage to take a first step of asking for help are all part of the picture.


These factors are complicated and often compound one another. But our hope is that through awareness, accessibility, innovation, and courage, we can start to roll back this beast. Our #mentalhealthmatters.



Posted on: July 15th, 2015

Summertime! Swimsuit Anxiety…

By Dr. Russ Morfitt


I love to hear stories of personal growth. I’m a psychologist; it’s a big part of what we do. Now and then I like to feature the voice of someone sharing their own story in their own voice. Summer is a season for grilling and swimming with family and friends. Sadly, for many it’s also a time for anxiety about appearance. A friend of mine writes about her experience with anxiety about her appearance and how she’s learned to cope. I was so impressed by her story that I asked her to share it with you:


“You name it – I can worry about it. My mother would tell you I “came out worrying.” For most of my life I accepted the worrying as part of who I am, much like my short stature or brown eyes. It’s just the way I was made! Sure, sometimes I couldn’t sleep or worried myself sick (literally – like urgent bathroom trip sick) before tests or important events, but for the most part I didn’t let on to anyone other than family or close friends that I was worrying or anxious. I could put on my game face and power through a speech, playing sports or performing in front of someone.


After college, I moved to a small town and began working as a medical professional. I didn’t know anyone there and I began to worry more and more about everything in my life- not just specific things like public speaking, but “How am I going to do this job? Am I ever going to meet anyone in this small town? How do I manage all these new bills and responsibilities of being an official adult?” One night as I was driving home from working at the local hospital, my worrying spiraled. I began having what I can now identify as a panic attack. I was breathing fast and felt light-headed. That episode was different for me, more intense. It led me to seek help.


I found a local psychologist who did individual therapy, but also recommended I join a group of other young women with similar experiences and feelings. The therapist and the women helped me immensely. I didn’t know it at the time, but she practiced cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). I made lists of my thoughts and then examined them rationally. I learned how to stop my “stinkin thinkin” (her words, not mine). The group of women became my community. We supported one another, laughed, cried, and gave each other reality checks. Gradually, I learned to stop the anxious feelings and worry before they gained any momentum. I was able to take away tools that have helped me in almost every situation in life: a new job, a new relationship, waiting for medical test results, even exciting (but potentially anxiety provoking) events like getting married or going on a vacation. I’ve learned that I can’t control the situation, but I can control my thoughts, attitudes and actions. There isn’t much that makes me anxious these days…well, there is one thing: swimsuit season.


swimsuit-anxiety-blogThe last time I was excited to wear a swimsuit I was 12. It was red and had “Coca-Cola” written all over it. It was cool. I was cool. The next summer, something changed. I noticed my body in ways I hadn’t before. I became acutely aware of a birthmark on my leg, and felt my larger thigh (yes, I actually measured them to determine that one was indeed slightly larger than the other!) jiggle conspicuously. Everyone was looking, right?!? I must have the strangest birthmark, weirdest shaped leg and wobbliest bits of anyone at the pool. Walking in front of people was a chore that I avoided at all costs without a large towel or cover-up. My swimsuit-body-anxiety was only amplified by magazines showing only “perfect” airbrushed bodies (I didn’t know that at the time) that were nothing like mine.


Oh, hindsight. Had I known the tools of CBT  that I know now, I would have used them in the dressing room under the fluorescent lights as I dissected my body or before I walked in front of the “crowd” at the pool. I would have made myself examine my thoughts:


  • “Is everyone really looking at you?” No – they are too worried about themselves or have fallen asleep in the sun or are chatting with friends.
  • “Is your birthmark really that bad?” No – it’s unique and in a strange spot, but most people probably don’t even notice. Remember that one person who actually told you it was cute?
  • “Can everyone tell that your one thigh is larger than the other?” No – not unless they take a tape measure and wrap it around your leg. Are you kidding me?


I would have encouraged myself to look around, engage with people, splash and play, have fun! I don’t have the same swimsuit anxiety that I did when I was younger, but each year I still feel some negative thoughts creeping in as I try on swimsuits or anticipate being in front of others in a suit. A few weeks ago I had a wonderful swimsuit shopping experience. Yes, you heard me correctly! I took my 7-yr-old daughter to pick out a suit. She tried on 10 suits, and with EVERY SINGLE ONE of them she said, “Oh! This is my favorite! Don’t I look great in this? I can’t wait to play on the beach in this! Wow. If I could bottle that and pass it around… she taught me a lesson: Love yourself. Be excited for new experiences. Rock those wobbly bits and birthmarks and whatever you have that may be “different.” Life is too short to let those negative thoughts creep in. Get out there and enjoy it! Happy Summer…”


Posted on: June 26th, 2015

Take Back Your Island (from Anxiety)

By Dr. Russ Morfitt



taking-back-my-island-from-anxietySummer is here! The warm sun of summer often encourages us to engage in new commitments and patterns as we look ahead with hope, making, for some, new seasonal resolutions. Often, those of us hoping for change are facing some kind of fear, whether it’s fear-of-the-new or fear-of-changing-the-old. One of the most important tools in the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) toolbox for anxiety and social anxiety is fear facing. It’s an idea that belongs at the center of our new commitments, given the role it can play in helping us actually achieve our goals.


Anxiety sufferers who have never deliberately faced their fears understandably shudder at the idea of moving closer to the things they have always tried to avoid. But continued avoidance ignores a powerful tool called habituation. Habituation is the process of decreasing a physical or emotional response to a trigger or stimulus by repeatedly undergoing the stimulus. Think of it as a kind of tolerance built up as we deliberately spend more and more time in the situation we fear. Over time, we don’t respond in the same way through anxiety – a rapid heartbeat or sweating – because we become more used to the situation, or habituated. The stimulus simply doesn’t bother us in the same way it used to. If we’ve consistently escaped or avoided difficult social anxiety situations, we miss out on an important lesson. When we deliberately move closer to the situations we fear without using special precautions to feel safer, our fear will typically drop. Odd as that may sound, it’s a result supported by years of experience. To demonstrate, I usually recommend purposely putting yourself in a situation that triggers your anxiety. This is called a “Fear-Facing Trial,” a situation during which you can watch what happens to your level of fear over an extended time, say 30 or 45 minutes.



Fear-Facing – Learn to Live Social Anxiety Program


One tool I’ve found useful for measuring fear in the moment is the “Fearometer.” Think of it as a pressure gauge for your fear. Here’s what it might look like:


0: Peaceful State of Mind
25: Mild Anxiety
50: Moderate Anxiety and Nervousness
75: Animal Impulse to Escape or Avoid is Getting Strong
100: Most Anxiety I Have Ever Felt


Once you understand the Fearometer, it’s time to try a Fear-Facing Trial. To do this, you will want to:


  1. Find a situation that triggers mild to moderate anxiety
  2. Try to practice habituation. To do this, you must allow yourself enough time – this is not something you can rush. New research has shown that, for some, decreasing anxiety with habituation equals success. For others, success may mean not giving in to escape tactics or unnecessary precautions. You won’t know until you try, but even if you aren’t able to “habituate,” you may still be able to overcome your fear.
  3. Be deliberate – do this on purpose
  4. Set aside any self-defense tactics (unnecessary precautions like avoiding eye contact, censoring your words, blending into the woodwork, etc.)


Try picking something that may be a fairly common situation for you, like asking a question in class, or speaking to someone at the grocery store. Assign a Fearometer number to your fear, like:


Speaking to someone at the grocery store = 50.


You might then head to the grocery store and ask someone in every aisle for something (easier), or ask for products that are usually in a different type of store (harder). Each time you ask a question, take note – did your Fearometer increase, stay the same, or decrease? A general goal would be to reduce your Fearometer number to one half of the original level during your trial.


After you finish your trial, take time to evaluate the situation.


  • How did it go?
  • Did your fear and anxiety decrease?
  • What, if any, physical sensations did you notice?
  • Was your heart racing?
  • Did it decrease by the final interactions?
  • Were you kind to yourself?


You can’t expect perfection on the first try! If you did allow fear or avoidance behaviors to control the trial, take note of how you might change your thoughts and interactions during your next trial. It often helps to have a “battle cry,” like, “I’m taking back my island!” or anything that is empowering to you. (I have a friend who says “Shazam!”) Finally, reward yourself for your efforts and success.


One final note: recent research has been demonstrating that we can still experience long term success even if the habituation is less obvious, as is sometimes the case. The best predictor of long-term success is whether or not we face our fears in a sustained way and refuse to give in to unnecessary precautions. Know that with time, patience and practice you can take back your island and your life.


See also: Collecting Data to Overcome Social Anxiety


Posted on: June 15th, 2015

4 Reasons to Share Your Story Now

By Dr. Russ Morfitt


If you’ve been following the media at all the past month, you’ve probably heard about Demi Lovato and her openness about her struggles with depression, as she launched the Be Vocal campaign. It’s an important reminder about the power of sharing personal stories. My years of experience helping others deal with their mental health challenges has confirmed for me that sharing our stories is an important part of getting better.


When you look at a person, any person, remember that everyone has a story. Everyone has gone through something that has changed them.


1. Telling your story draws us together. Whether you are struggling with depression, anxiety, stress, divorce, or another issue, telling your story can help connect you with others who are experiencing the same thing. Just hearing someone else say, “Me too,” can break down feelings of isolation and loneliness. Having one other person, or even a whole community who believes you, understands you and can serve as a support system can be extremely empowering. When you share your story with trusted others, you create a small world around you of openness that could potentially become contagious, spreading in a way that makes all of us grow closer in more authentic relationships.


2. You become an advocate. You don’t need to have a fancy degree, years of experience or other qualifications to be a mental health advocate. By telling your story, you become a supporter and source of encouragement for all those who are going through the same thing and are not yet ready to reach out. In addition to your becoming an advocate, you in turn become eligible for the encouragement they can provide.


See also: Help others by joining the conversation on our new community forum – share advice, ask questions, tell your story. 


3. When you share your story with trusted others, you grow closer to them, having taken a risk. Think of it as a sort of a behavioral experiment in which you hopefully learn that they care and honor that trust. Can you think of a time when you shared something with a friend or family member and ultimately ended up feeling closer to them because of how they responded to you taking a risk and sharing?


See also: Taylor tells her story of overcoming social anxiety (and meeting a favorite celebrity) with the help of online CBT.


4. One of the “tasks” in cognitive behavioral therapy is “facing your fears.” When you share your story with trusted others, you face your fears in a very direct way, often experiencing the fear of rejection or ridicule. Facing those fears is an important part of getting past your anxiety and urge to avoid. Through that process, you may also discover that others have helpful and useful ideas for you as you continue to share your story with others.


It may sound like one of the scariest things you could do, but maybe it’s worth a try. Sharing your story may end up being one of the most important things you could do for yourself. You may end up with a new (or closer) group of supporters, and the satisfaction of facing your fears, taking a risk and coming out of the other side can be exhilarating.


Posted on: June 1st, 2015

Anxiety Breeds…Friendship?

By Dr. Russ Morfitt


“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.” C.S. Lewis


Can you remember making your first friend? What drew you to them? Maybe it was the way they smiled, or that you both loved baseball, or had the same favorite princess. While the attraction may be something as simple as a shared interest, new research referenced in a recent nymag.com article shows that a shared level of social anxiety – or lack thereof – may influence our friendships.  While some research supports the old adage “opposites attract,” in this case it appears that like attracts like.  If you think about it, it makes sense that birds of the same social anxiety feather would flock together. The idea of hitting the town with an outgoing, extroverted socialite would likely make those of us with social anxiety cringe. Wouldn’t it make more sense to buddy up with someone who understands the discomfort of making small talk? Having someone to talk to who can really relate to your feelings can be  comforting.


I’ve written about the importance of a support network for social anxiety sufferers before, but it bears repeating: a supportive social network is important for everyone, especially those suffering from social anxiety. How about you? If you look at your relationships and think about those closest to you – do you have similar levels of social anxiety? If you feel like you need more support, or feel like nobody really understands what you are going through, I invite you to visit our Mental Health Community Forum. You may be surprised at how much you have in common – and you may find a new friend.


See also: Social Anxiety Spy for a Day: Data Collection



Posted on: May 1st, 2015

Everyone has a story – what’s yours?

By Dr. Russ Morfitt


I share my thoughts about a number of topics on this blog, but you may notice that I don’t often share about Learn to Live specifically. This time, I will make an exception. I want to tell you about a no-cost resource that I think will be really useful to many of you, especially those of you who feel isolated with your problems.


If you struggle with social anxiety, depression, stress, anxiety or worry, you may feel like you’re alone. But the truth is…you’re not. There are lots of people out there with stories to tell that are both tragic and inspiring, people with stories to tell just like yours. What I’ve found in my own experience is that people sharing their story is highly therapeutic. There’s something about “me too” that rings true for a lot of people. So I’d like to invite you to join our new community forum, where you’ll find more people with stories like your own. It’s a place to share, encourage, and be encouraged.


Mental Health Community Forum


May is Mental Health Month, and we’re celebrating with the official launch of the Learn to Live Mental Health Community Forum. I hope you strongly consider joining this supportive, caring community…and helping to promote mental health awareness and understanding this month. It’s a good place to share your experience with depression or anxiety, provide tips for others that are suffering, or even get answers to the questions you’ve always wanted to ask.


As a way of saying “thank you” for helping start the conversation and stop the stigma of mental health, we want to provide a series of gifts. Each day during the month of May, Learn to Live will select two forum participants who will be given free access to our CBT-based online programs. That’s over 60 program giveaways during the month of May. And there’s no “catch” – the programs will be completely free for those who’ve been selected, and no credit card information will be needed.


You could win access to any of the CBT-based Learn to Live programs:


*The Depression Program and Stress, Anxiety and Worry Program are not yet available to the public. The only way to enroll at this time is by being selected for early access in this giveaway. Want to know when these new Learn to Live programs are available for purchase? Email us at support@learntolive.com.


So I hope you try out a new way to get more connected. You don’t have to feel alone, because you really aren’t. I’ll leave you with the Learn to Live FAQ about this whole promotion.


Mental Health Month Giveaway FAQ:

How do I enter to win free Learn to Live program access?

It’s easy – just create a username and participate in our Mental Health Community Forum. Post at least once on a given day for a chance to be selected as a winner that day. Participate daily for more chances to win.


What can I win again?
Forum participants that are selected as winners will receive free 90-day access to the Learn to Live programs, including our Social Anxiety Program, our Depression Program, and our Stress, Anxiety, and Worry Program. (* see above)


How are the winners selected?
Each day, at least two winners will be selected from that day’s forum participants:

  • One winner will be selected at random from the full list of that day’s participants.
  • One winner will be selected each day by the Learn to Live team based on the quality and thoughtfulness of their forum contributions that day.


How many times can I enter?
You may enter to win as many days as you like during the month of May – there is no limit.


How are winners announced?
We will communicate with selected giveaway winners by contacting them at the email address connected to their forum username. A list of the usernames of giveaway winners will be available on the forum as well. Winners’ usernames may be announced via the Learn to Live social media channels.


What about my privacy?
We will only announce the forum usernames of the giveaway winners. No other personal information (such as name, email address, etc.) will be shared publically. We take privacy very seriously and encourage forum users not to share any personally identifiable or sensitive information.


Will I be charged anything?
No, giveaway winners will be given free access to the Learn to Live programs. You will not be charged anything and no credit card information is required.


Questions? Contact support@learntolive.com for additional information.


The fine print: Some restrictions may apply. Valid for new Learn to Live customers only (does not apply for previously purchased program memberships). Learn to Live is not responsible for any information that is shared on the Mental Health Community Forum. Learn to Live program value is typically $149.


Posted on: April 20th, 2015

Social Anxiety Spy For a Day: Data Collection

By Dr. Russ Morfitt


Physicist Richard Feynman once noted, “You can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world, but when you’re finished, you’ll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird… So let’s look at the bird and see what it’s doing—that’s what counts. I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.” This week, I want you to get to know more about your social situation. If you have social anxiety, you no doubt already understand that certain social situations can be complex and challenging. But it’s one thing to recognize the difficult situations and quite another to understand the difficulty itself.



Each day, our bodies and minds are collecting data automatically. We sense that the water is too hot to touch, smell rotten food and know it’s time to take the garbage out, or notice the car merging and move over before we collide. I’d like to challenge you to consciously collect data about your social situation, i.e. the people around you and your own actions. You may think, “Why do I need to collect data? What kind of information would I collect, anyway?”


Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) uses data collection in a unique way. You will be collecting information about what REALLY happens in a difficult social situation. For example, a trip to a restaurant may involve you thinking SO much about talking to the server, making dinner conversation, or wondering what others think of you, that you don’t actually notice the interactions. Was the server actually rude to you? Did people find you interesting? Were people staring at you, or were they involved with their own conversation, enjoying their food or texting on their smart phone?  These are the interesting and useful data points for a social anxiety sufferer.


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


Collecting this data can actually be fun. Think of yourself as Ethan Hunt from Mission Impossible: this is your mission should you choose to accept it:


  1. Take a notecard, or use our “Find Out for Myself” worksheet, and write down what you predict will happen.
  2. Observe everything: Where are other people looking?  Are they staring at you?  If so, ALL of them or just a few?  Do they seem happy, sad or indifferent? What they are saying?  Is someone clearly judging you? Is anything terrible happening?  And how about you, are you able to speak, to make a bit of eye contact, to survive?
  3. Focus on THEM especially, without doing the things that block the experience and keep you from really observing how things would go if you let go of control of the situation–not concentrating on your thoughts, covering up your shaky hands, drinking alcohol,  or trying to conceal your nervousness in other ways. Really engage. Observe where they are looking. Hear what they are saying. Try not to think about what you will say next.*
  4. Review your notes once you return home. Did your automatic thoughts come true, or did things turn out better than expected? Maybe you realized that few people looked at you for any length of time, and no one glared or that people actually smiled at you. People may have been so engaged in their activities that they didn’t have time to notice if you were blushing.  And maybe your fear of being unable to function did not entirely come true, though you may have been imperfect, as we humans so often are.


Mission accomplished!  The more you are able to take a step back and collect information about your surroundings, the more you may find that most of the time, your dire predictions do not come true. You are taking steps to improve your life, learning to live again.


See also: The Importance of a Support Network for Social Anxiety Sufferers


* But here’s the thing—people who have no anxiety problem tend to assume that things in life are just fine unless there is compelling evidence that something will go wrong, or has already.  The opposite is true for those of us with problem anxiety, who automatically predict that bad things will happen (or assume that have happened already) unless we see compelling evidence to the contrary.  So, as we collect these data, we want to be aware of this unfair bias we make, and try to think more like less-anxious people.  We want to be looking for COMPELLING evidence that we are being judged, gossiped about, stared are, or viewed as boring.  Time to bring a high standard for evidence here—we have not found compelling evidence that someone is judging us if they simply don’t smile at us enough, or evidence that they are bored with us, simply because they go talk to another. Most of us think we can read others’ minds, but we can’t. So we need hard evidence here.



Posted on: February 24th, 2015

My Social Anxiety Story: Living with Social Anxiety

By Taylor Anne Koniw


I was always a shy kid, a classic introvert. In school I’d always prefer to play on my own or read books in the quiet than to interact and engage with other children.


School was the hardest in terms of dealing with social anxiety. I was much taller than the other kids and this made me self-conscious. My peers would often bully or taunt me for my height, and I would take these remarks to heart and it would make me withdraw and fear people and social settings even more.


In high school my anxiety remained the same. I’d fear everything involving people; including catching public transport, eating in front of others, attending birthdays or places where there’d be heaps of people, talking to my peers (especially boys!), giving presentations, going to a grocery store, walking along the street, talking on the phone, and even sending an email!


All these situations ignited great fear within me and I would become overly conscious of myself and my behaviour in social interactions, the classic ‘spotlight effect’.


It wasn’t until graduating from high school and starting university that I began to acknowledge my behaviours and the thoughts which may have been contributing to my anxiety. I began seeking self-help books which dealt with social anxiety and CBT, and worked on myself to counteract the negative automatic thoughts I’d have.


From this, my anxiety relieved enormously. However it wasn’t until I begun the Learn to Live online program in conjunction with daily meditation that I saw tremendous results.


See also: How Overcoming Social Anxiety Changed My Life


I finished the Learn to Live program within 3 months, and in this short time I found my whole mindset and approach to social anxiety change for the better. Through the online coursework I was able to adapt the new knowledge and coping strategies and use them in social settings which would usually cause me great anxiety.


This program is different to others I have tried in terms of its format and its use of tailored CBT strategies for social anxiety sufferers. It gave me a challenge; something to work towards and commit to. I would start a new module each week and commit myself to doing the activities outlined.


Obviously it wasn’t an easy process. Essentially I was training myself to do the absolute opposite of what I’d usually do in situations which caused me fear. Instead of avoiding situations like I usually would, I would make myself confront them and stick to them until the initial fear all but disappeared. From talking to a stranger on the street, to striking up a conversation with a store person, or calling and making my own appointments.


By exposing myself to fearful situations and reminding myself of the practical strategies outlined on the program, I was able to overcome my fears and realise that I have much more inner strength than I realised.


One of the turning points was when I decided to attend a big event by myself. It included meeting and talking to a celebrity. I was so anxious beforehand, but because I was aware of these thoughts I knew how to counteract them and relax.


Not only did I make new friends, I also managed to hold a conversation with the celebrity and ask for a picture!


Taylor-overcoming-social-anxiety-Steve-oFrom this event I’ve continued to improve in leaps and bounds. I can happily walk down a street or go shopping without feeling that crushing sense of self-consciousness and fear of what people think of me. I have no qualms about picking up a phone and talking to a stranger. I initiate 90% of my conversations with strangers, friends, and family.


Rather than fearing social settings, I now look at them as ‘challenges’ and find I actually end up enjoying being in these situations.


One of my favourite things to do now is to sit and eat at a café in the city – by myself. I also feel calm and confident in my social interactions, to the point that now talking casually to a stranger in passing or with a co-worker is second nature.


Of course there have been times where I’ve felt my old feelings of crippling fear and anxiety. Sometimes it has been a case of 3 steps forward and 5 steps back. The difference now though is that I am now aware of the reasons behind my behaviours and am able to effectively deal with the anxiety as soon as it arises.


Through continued training with CBT and the modules on Learn to Live, these positive coping strategies are starting to become – and will end up – being my normal way of behaving.


Dealing with social anxiety is extremely prohibiting. It can make you feel alienated, alone, and like there’s something wrong with you. In my experience, the worst part was having others think that you were arrogant or rude or disinterested in them, when in fact, the opposite was true!


See also: Our List of Celebrities, Actors, Musicians and Athletes with Social Anxiety


Such behaviours which I used as coping strategies included avoiding eye contact, pretending to not ‘see’ someone as to avoid conversation, covering my mouth while I ate, letting others do the talking in groups, and completely withdrawing from people, to name a few.


I can never thank Dr. Russ and the team at Learn to Live enough for helping me to realise that social anxiety is not who I am and that essentially, I am in control of how I choose to let this fear dictate me.


Social anxiety is not a sign of weakness, moreover it is a heightened sense of awareness of your own thoughts and behaviours in social settings. Once you begin to learn this, it becomes easy to begin changing these negative and prohibiting thoughts and behaviours and to start accepting yourself for who you are and learn to live as the interesting, confident, and fun person you really are!


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