Posted by: Chelsea Novak | July 2, 2008


As some readers have noted to me, I’ve been not-so-subtly been putting it out there that the last 5 months have not been the pinnacle of sanity for me. I haven’t missed a day of work and I’ve resisted the urge to retreat an anti-social cave of my own making, but it hasn’t been easy. I have this problem, where my throat and esophagus constrict and it doesn’t go away until I deal with my anxiety in some manner.

A little while back I started CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) cause this not swallowing/choking thing is so last year. There are a couple of things on the plate to sort out, the first of which we started tackling today: social anxiety.

My particular brand of it doesn’t usually manifest when I’m actually around other people. It comes to light when I’m preparing to interact with other people. Interacting socially, not professionally. Thankfully something flips in my head that prevents me from getting freaked out in professional situations. Socially I get freaked out when I’m imagining all the ways I can do things wrong or embarrass myself. When I think of all the ways I can be judged.

I do all kinds of pre-thinking, imagining all the ways people I know and may meet will negatively judge me. Everyone does this to a degree. This is something we all have to contend with being social beings. I seem to amp it up a few more degrees than necessary.

So to start modifying the behaviours that go with my thoughts about potential negative judgement, I was instructed to list all the thoughts and feelings I have when I’m anxious prior to a social event. So feelings like fear, frustration and anxiety, and thoughts like “I’m going to do something embarrassing,”,”People are going to think that I’m stupid; shy; stuck up; rude,”, “I shouldn’t be nervous,”,”I should be more interesting,”,”I’m wearing the wrong thing”,”People are going to think that I have the wrong purse; shoes; etc.”

When you look at it all, I mean, no wonder I get socially anxious. I make it seem like I’m living in the movie Heathers. No one is actually that awful. Okay, there are some people like that, but most people are really nice, understanding and could care less about my purse.

Happily I’ve got two things to do that can help me avoid getting anxious before a social gathering. First, I have to keep reminding myself that my pre-thoughts are largely untrue. Like, absurdly so. The second, and more interesting idea, is that in order to develop comfort with negative judgement, I assume that a two out of every ten people will disapprove of me. Simple as that. Which means that on average I’m going to have a good time with and be liked by 80 per cent of the people I encounter in social situations. That’s pretty cool.

By just assuming that there are two people that are going to negatively judge me, I feel less stressed about it. No matter what I might do, right or wrong, they’re still going to judge and that’s just how it is. Somehow knowing this ahead of time puts me at ease.

So if we meet at a party and I refer to you as a one through to an eight, it’s shockingly not a Battlestar Galactica reference, it means that I don’t think you’re judging me negatively and we’re totally cool. If you’re nine or ten, you suck.

Today’s sing-a-long song: Extraordinary Machine by Fiona Apple




  1. Excellent song choice for this entry! 🙂

    Good luck with the therapy! I’m sure your purse is always fabulous, anyway!

  2. Interesting. I would not have guessed.

    I share that anxiety as well, I fear. Except mine affects me more at work than socially. I’m really just a little too concerned about what the person on the other end of the phone/e-mail thinks about me.

    I think it hampers my job performance. And seriously, what’s the point? People who don’t have this anxiety just hang up the phone and go on their merry way…even if they should feel stupid about themselves. Those happy, stupid people.

    Social situations? I just avoid those altogether.

  3. ohhhhh … i do exactly the same thing!! i mean i’m fine and if you met me at a party, you would think i am outgoing and social but the pre-party anxiety is gripping and sometimes i just don’t go because of it.

    its a problem. i should deal with it ~ thank you for writing about this! xo

  4. oh and so you don’t think i’m a freak stalking your archives, this just showed up in my google feed for some reason, hmmmm … maybe because i’m already freaking out about the full december calender, hah!

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