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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!


Posted on: January 29th, 2015

The Constant Creeping of ANTs Will Wear Away the Stone

By Dr. Russ Morfitt

“The constant creeping of ANTs will wear away the stone.”

This old saying of unknown origin speaks to the incredible impact of even the smallest insects, over time, on the hardest surface. The constant grinding of small feet wears away even the most solid rock. Sadly, this is also true of our ANTs, those Automatic Negative Thoughts that constantly wear away at even the most confident self and contribute to challenges such as depression, social anxiety, and stress, anxiety and worry.


ANTs are not our personal automatic thoughts, but really types of thinking patterns that may be hidden in our private automatic thoughts. Over the years they’ve been called cognitive errors, thinking errors, cognitive distortions, or “stinkin’ thinkin’, though the latter term has been applied in various ways to various experiences (and why not?) Still, at the risk of confusing a few temporarily, I’m going to use the term ANTs because it sticks in our minds.

We discussed several types of ANTs last month in our blog post on mental health and the holidays. Here are more ANTs that you may recognize in your own life:

Fortune Telling – You possess a crystal ball, but unfortunately it only predicts negative things for you.

– If I go to a party, everyone will ignore me, just like what seemed to happen last time.

Labeling – Instead of calling a failure or unusual behavior a one-time incident, you generalize, and attach a sweeping, permanent label, whether this is about yourself or someone else. When you label, you don’t just observe your shortcoming, you draw general, negative conclusions from them.

– I couldn’t think of anything to say to a couple of people at the party. I’m such a social failure. I’m so awkward. (In truth, you probably do just fine in many other situations)

See also: How Heidi Overcame Her Social Anxiety with Online Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Focus Only On the Bad – This is exactly what it sounds like. If four out of five people compliment the cake you made, you’ll focus on the fifth, turning a non-comment into a criticism. When you anticipate others opening gifts you’ve given them, for example, you might selectively recall only the image of the one dissatisfied gift opener and predict the same negative response with each gift you give in the future.

Feelings Make Fact – Feelings are complicated. Sometimes they are related to experiences or memories that you have from the past. Feelings are not necessarily truth – they are feelings.

– I am so uncomfortable at this family gathering, and I feel unattractive in this outfit. They must all think I am fat and ugly and unlovable. (Feeling unlovable does NOT mean you are.)

Not Helpful Thoughts – These are thoughts that may or may not be true, but dwelling on them does not serve a positive purpose.

– I’m not as physically fit as I used to be. I’ve gained weight, and I’m getting wrinkles. It’s hard getting older.

These statements may be true, but choosing to dwell on them won’t help you feel good and be in a state of mind where you can easily observe the pleasant things around you.

See also: The Relationship Between Depression and Social Anxiety

I hope these examples help you to better understand the thinking patterns (cognitive distortions, stinkin thinkin, cognitive errors) we refer to as ANTs. It’s a new year – what better time to work on new thought patterns? Get ready to squash those ANTs before they wear you down! Check back soon for a lesson on Data Collection – you’ll learn how to be a super sleuth of your own social situations which may help you address mental health challenges, including social anxiety, depression, or stress, anxiety and worry.

Posted on: January 7th, 2015

Mental Health Issues? Get in line or go online!

By Dr. Russ Morfitt

It’s incredibly sad. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one in four adults – approximately 61.5 million Americans – experiences mental illness in a given year. Unfortunately, between 50-75% of those people never receive mental health services. With the passing of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), millions more will be eligible to receive mental health services; however, questions remain about funding and staffing availability.

News about depression and anxietyJust this week in California, 2,600 Kaiser Permanente clinicians announced an upcoming Kaiser Permanente mental health clinician strike. The clinicians plan to strike to “protest Kaiser’s chronic failure to provide its members with timely, quality mental health care.” Under question are Kaiser’s alleged failures to appropriately fund and staff their psychiatry department, leading to understaffed clinics and hospitals, unacceptable appointment wait times, and adverse outcomes related to not having access to care. They have been fined $4 million for “failure to provide mental health treatment in a timely manner.” The demand is simply too high and the resources too scarce.

As large and profitable as the Kaiser organization is ($3 billion in profits in 2014), it is not immune to the burden of increased mental health demand. Decreased money being allocated toward mental health, a shortage of trained mental health providers in certain areas, and a very large demand for services pose significant challenges, not only in California, but all across America. We can expect to see more tension in the healthcare sphere, and especially in the mental health space, as more people are given access to covered services through programs like the ACA.

The hope is that difficult situations like this one in California will get us thinking more broadly about innovative solutions in our search for affordable and effective options to meet the pressing needs. Creative solutions like Internet delivered Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, for example have been proven through years of research but remain underutilized. Any solution that addresses the major barriers to treatment to like stigma, cost, and accessibility should be considered.

See also: PsychCentral: Dr. Russell Morfitt Discusses Online Counseling for Anxiety

2,600 clinicians will be striking in order to raise awareness about the situation in California. Let’s hope the strike creates a dialogue about other treatment options as well.

Posted on: December 17th, 2014

Social Anxiety, Stress & Depression during the “Most Wonderful Time of the Year”

By Dr. Russ Morfitt


Keep Calm and Merry On!

It’s officially here, the proverbial “most wonderful time of the year.” But for some, especially those living with social anxiety, this time of year may be anything but wonderful. Work parties, family gatherings, holiday travel, it can all get stressful in a hurry for a social anxiety sufferer. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one of the most effective approaches to dealing with stress in our lives. It provides several different techniques to help people, including those social anxiety, depression, or excessive stress, anxiety, or worry. One of the key components of CBT is identifying problems that may exist within our thoughts, those thoughts that are so ingrained in us that we don’t really notice them anymore. The idea is that if we are able to identify flaws in our thoughts, we can change them. We at Learn to Live have a name for those problems– ANTS, for Automatic Negative Thoughts. Below is a list of some of the ANTS a person may detect:


All or Nothing Thinking – “I tried avoid cookies and ended up eating one. See, I have no self-control. I’ll have to give up on my diet now.” These thoughts don’t allow room for mistakes or flexibility.


Should Statements – “I lost my patience with my kids at the Christmas program. I should always be able to control my emotions. What’s wrong with me?” These statements usually involve unrealistic expectations and don’t allow for flexibility.


Mind Reading – “My aunt didn’t smile much during our conversation at dinner. She probably thinks I’m boring and stupid.” Mind reading thoughts make assumptions about another’s feelings or thoughts without any real evidence to support it.


See also: Overcoming Social Anxiety was HARD, but it changed my life…


Disaster Making – “I’m probably going to fail the final test, and if I fail the test, I won’t have any chance of getting into college. I won’t be able to handle it.” These thoughts assume the worst-case scenario in all situations. The imagined outcome is out of proportion and I believe it will be beyond my ability to cope.


Personalizing – “If only I had been at the nursing home, mom never would have fallen. Now she has a broken hip and can’t join us for the holidays…and it’s all my fault.” These thoughts take the blame for all bad outcomes, denying responsibility to anyone else.


You’ve probably all heard the familiar clichés, “Knowledge is power,” and “Knowing is half the battle.” In this case, they are both true – being able to identify these thinking patterns as automatic and unhelpful is the first step in being able to change your thoughts and ultimately your life. After identifying these thinking problems, I’ll tell you about some more ANTS and then move on fear facing. Stop back soon to check out our upcoming posts on these topics.


“The world as we have created is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”  ~ Albert Einstein


Although Thanksgiving has passed, the tips in our recent post, Take Social Anxiety Off Your Thanksgiving Menu will still apply for your upcoming holiday gatherings.




Posted on: November 24th, 2014

Take Social Anxiety Off Your Thanksgiving Menu

By Dr. Russ Morfitt

 Scared Turkey with Social Anxiety

Halloween has passed and the holiday season is in full swing. This week, thoughts turn to turkey, pumpkin pie, gratitude, football and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. For some, Thanksgiving is a welcome day of food, family, and relaxation. For people living with social anxiety, it may be anything but relaxing. Instead of dreaming about food and the game, they may be concerned about making it through the day because of all the possible social anxiety triggers:


  • Travel – Thanksgiving crowds at the airport or on a bus, train or subway are larger than usual. The possibility for social interactions (making eye contact, talking to the person next to you) increases.
  • Preparation – Holiday preparation can be stressful for anyone. Throw in the added anxiety about going to the store or having a group of people in your home, and the stress level increases.
  • Eating with others – Many people think of dining with others as a fun, social event. For someone with social anxiety, it may be seen as more of a hurdle or something to suffer through. The expectation of dinner table discussion and the simple act of others watching you eat may cause the social anxiety sufferer to lose their appetite.


See also: Overcoming Social Anxiety was HARD, but it changed my life…


  • “Public” speaking – In some homes, Grandma always says the prayer before the meal. In others, the act of saying grace or going around the table and sharing what you are thankful for is the norm. Speaking out loud can be hard enough if you have social anxiety, but being asked for a spontaneous prayer or to share what you are personally grateful for may initiate panic mode.
  • Socializing – As if the travel, preparation, eating and possibility of impromptu public speaking weren’t enough, the whole POINT of Thanksgiving (besides food and gratitude) is usually socializing with family and friends. While small gatherings of familiar people may be more comfortable, sometimes holiday gatherings mean new people, distant relatives, and large groups.


With all of these opportunities for stress, someone with social anxiety may just decide to skip Thanksgiving a la John Grisham’s book, “Skipping Christmas.” The characters in that book didn’t actually end up skipping Christmas, and you don’t need to skip Thanksgiving. There are ways to handle the stress and anxiety of the holiday:


  • If you plan to travel, try to travel with someone you trust. Let them encourage you during moments of anxiety. If you decide to travel alone, prepare well to reduce the unnecessarily stressful moments. Arrive early for your flight/bus/train. Find your gate. Try to spend some of your waiting time doing deep breathing and relaxing with a book or listening to music. As you travel, remind yourself that some anxiety is expected, and that you can just sit with the anxiety until it passes.
  • If you are hosting the celebration, do what you can before the actual day to reduce demands on you. Set the table the day before. Splurge and have your groceries delivered via an online service. Enlist help – make the main dish and have family and friends bring the sides, or order a Thanksgiving meal from a local grocery store or restaurant. If you have time, try to exercise that day, even if it’s a short walk or jog. This may reduce your stress by increasing your endorphins (happy brain chemicals) and giving you an extra boost for the day.


See also: Dr. Russ’ PyschCentral Interview about Online CBT for Social Anxiety


  • Do an “eating in front of people” trial run. Go out for coffee, or invite 1 or 2 close friends over for dinner. Challenge your anxious thoughts about eating in front of others. Chances are, people are so into their own food, they aren’t taking the time to focus on how you look/what you’re eating/if you are or aren’t contributing to the conversation.
  • If you are hosting, you can ask someone else in advance to say the before-meal prayer or lead other religious or non-religious traditions. If you are heading to grandma’s house, call her before to let her know that while you love her and love her food, you just don’t feel comfortable speaking in front of everyone. If you’re feeling brave, go for it. Practice out loud for your spouse. Read the script to yourself in the bathroom mirror. You may just surprise yourself. The “I will never be able to speak out loud in front of people,” may change to “ I can do it imperfectly in front of my close family and friends.”
  • The actual socializing may be the most anxiety provoking, but it doesn’t have to be. Most likely, these are people who know and love you. You can sometimes choose to be with a smaller group, or if you feel better on your turf, offer to host. If you find yourself at a large gathering and you have challenged thoughts for similar situations in the past, take time to review them before the event. Though you likely want to reconnect with relatives you see seldom see, it’s okay to spend plenty of time with your support people – spouse, children, parents or best friend. If you need a break from the chaos, find a place to do some breathing exercises, go for a short walk, or talk to someone you trust. If you’re keeping a journal, bring it with you and look back at previous entries.  See how you successfully handled group gatherings in the past. You can do it!


By changing your thoughts and behaviors, even in the smallest of ways, you can change your life.





Posted on: October 20th, 2014

Overcoming Social Anxiety was HARD, but it changed my life…

Heidi photo overcoming social anxietyHi fellow social anxiety fighters! I’m Heidi. I’m 24 and I live in Milwaukee. I’ve dealt with social anxiety my entire life. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t feel nervous about something. My anxiety has focused around food mostly; whether people were monitoring what I was eating, whether people would judge me for what I ordered, whether something would be too expensive, you get the idea. It was so bad that I even started to struggle eating at my own dinner table as a kid because it reminded me of the feeling of being in a restaurant and all the formality that goes with it.

I finally started seeking help for my anxiety my freshman year of college by seeing a counselor. It was really helpful, but mostly in sifting through family issues that had caused my anxiety. By the time college was over, I had successfully sorted through all of my baggage as to why my anxiety existed, but I somehow was missing the whole “what to do about it” part. That’s when I found out about the Learn to Live online social anxiety program. I heard about it through a friend, and I decided to give it a try. I was a little skeptical at first, especially considering my anxiety was so specific to eating in restaurants, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to try!

I began the social anxiety program and finished it in under 3 months. I appreciated that I could go through the program at my own pace, especially since the fear-facing stuff was pretty hard. I felt like this was the first time someone was telling me practical things to do to actually deal with my anxiety in the moment besides “just breathe.” The program took me through my thinking process and showed me how to negate my automatic negative thoughts. The homework really helped, but I’m not going to lie, it was tough! No one wants to go into their most anxious places on purpose!! It was truly worth it though, as my life is totally different now that I’ve completed the Learn to Live program.

See also: Real Social Anxiety Stats from Social Anxiety Sufferers

Right after I finished the program, I met Jon, a guy who went to my college, and we really hit it off. In the past, I purposely avoided first dates because they would inevitably be in a restaurant, which I knew would just tank the relationship when he saw me freaking out. First dates were pretty much a worst-case scenario for my anxiety besides thinking of my wedding day (everyone staring at you while you eat? NO THANKS!). I figured it was worth a shot to go on a real date considering I had all of these new anxiety-fighting tools to try out. I was absolutely freaking out before he came to pick me up, and I literally had the Learn to Live resources and tools out to help me talk through my anxiety before the date. Once he got to my house, I started using the techniques in my head, and the anxiety started to disappear. The date was awesome, and I was so proud that I wanted to jump up and down (of course, that was probably not the best idea in the parking lot of a bar and grill with a guy I just met!). Jon and I continued dating, and we got engaged in January.

Jon-and-Heidi-Overcoming-Social-Anxiety-Small Remember when I said worst-case scenario would be a first date or my wedding? I wasn’t lying. I thought of a million ways to try and avoid having a dinner in order to not subject myself to that caliber of anxiety. Alas, social norms always seem to win, and we decided a dinner would be best. I began to brace myself for this day of anxiety. Then I remembered that I still had the homework assignments from the Learn to Live program, so I took them out and started to review. We had a beautiful wedding day. Everything seemed to be going perfectly, until we got into our reception. It turned out that all of the table numbers were wrong, and the head table was in a place that I hadn’t expected: at the very end of the buffet line. That meant that every person who grabbed food would then stop directly in front of my new husband and me, chat about the food and take a good look at what I was eating… AKA my worst nightmare come true. Then other things started to go wrong, like the sound system was glitchy and my dinner music wasn’t working right, and the projector wasn’t working. I started to get really anxious. Really anxious. I took a deep breath, and I started to negate my automatic negative thoughts as they clouded my mind. Slowly but surely, the anxiety subsided. I ended up having a really great rest of my night. I’m so glad I didn’t let my anxiety ruin my wedding reception! I have taken back my island!!

So a new question came to my mind: Does this mean that I’m a failure and that I’ll have anxiety forever? Absolutely not. Anxiety is not going to define me. Will I have relapses when there are certain circumstances that are the perfect storm? Yeah, maybe. But it’s what I do with those circumstances that makes all the difference. If I wallow in how anxious I am, of course I’ll have anxiety forever. I’m giving it power in my life. But if I actively work to wear away at those thoughts as Dr. Russ and the social anxiety program taught me, they’re less likely to come to the surface, and if they do, I can get rid of them much more quickly.

See also: 5 Celebrities with Social Anxiety

If you would have told me three years ago that I would be anxiety free and eating in restaurants like everyone else, I would have laughed and thought you were making a cruel joke. I had nearly accepted that this was my lot in life, but it’s certainly not true. Take the Learn to Live social anxiety program seriously, and your life will change seriously. It did for me!

Best wishes, and keep fighting!!


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Our innovative mental health programs have been featured by the following leading news sources:

This health tech startup wants to relieve your social anxiety

"What sets Learn to Live apart is its multimedia-rich interface that is adaptive, personalized and highly interactive."

Dr. Russell Morfitt Discusses Online Counseling for Anxiety

"For people with social anxiety, it can feel like heaven on earth to do therapy at home in one’s pajamas."