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[Audio] Strategies for Overcoming Social Anxiety

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The public speaking joke goes: some people would rather be in the casket than give the eulogy at a funeral. Public speaking and being around others can be anxiety provoking situations, says Dr. Michael Bordieri, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Murray State University. On Sounds Good, Kate Lochte speaks with Dr. Bordieri on understanding and strategies for overcoming social anxiety.

Social anxiety disorder is more than just some shyness or nervousness, Dr. Bordieri says. It can really be a serious condition. Up to 35 million Americans meet the criteria, which is identifying a six-month period of time where there's marked or intense fear of social situations. The core of this is the idea that you're being negatively evaluated or judged or that you'll do something embarrassing. Social anxiety disorder can cause difficulties in professional advancement, presentations in class, social and interpersonal relationships, meeting friends, romantic relationships, etc.

To remedy this feeling, try exposure. If the fear is negative social evaluation, remember that often "we're our own worst critic." If you've walked around the mall and heard other people laughing, have you wondered if they're laughing at you? The truth is, they're almost always not laughing at you. Dr. Bordieri says sometimes our mind is not our friend and we're much harder on ourselves than others are. The practice of exposure can help you realize that in most cases social situations are not as bad as you thought. The worst outcomes you fear maybe aren't that bad.

If the fear is being embarrassed, then practice by doing something silly. Dr. Bordieri suggests singing in the hallway or going to a Chinese restaurant and ordering a pizza. While the experience may be unpleasant, over time it feels more silly and less scary. You may realize that it's not the end of the world and it doesn't have to limit what we do in our lives.

Practice breaks the cycle of avoidance. Sometimes the avoidance makes sense - staying away from places that could hurt us is sensible. But when avoiding our own feelings or situations that make us feel uncomfortable, we're also subtly teaching and reinforcing the message that those things are dangerous. We then start living in a smaller version of the world - by not going to work, class, parties. There's always time to practice and improve. Practice speaking in front of a mirror to see how you look. If you're feeling nervous about giving a big talk, put yourself in a similar physical condition to practice: elevate your heart rate through exercise and then try practicing your speech.

Another subtle social anxiety is upward comparison, the idea of evaluating ourselves against people who we think might be living better than us: more education, greater social status, more money, etc. While this can sometimes be aspirational and make us try for more or take people on as role models, it can also make us feel stuck and depressed. Most of us put on personas that everything is going well, Dr. Bordieri says. Social media tends to focus on positives like babies, pets, vacations, funny quips, etc. It's important to have more conversations about the fact that we all experience difficulties in something and in that sharing then we can collectively achieve more happiness and understanding and less social anxiety.

Dr. Michael Bordieri is an assistant professor of psychology at Murray State University and a clinical supervisor at the MSU Psychological Center, which is staffed by graduate students in clinical psychology providing therapy and assessment services under the supervision of licensed clinical psychologists. The center is open to all. Call for summer hours at 270-809-2504.

Our next discussion with Dr. Bordieri will be August 25.

Matt Markgraf joined the WKMS team as a student in January 2007. He's served in a variety of roles over the years: as News Director March 2016-September 2019 and previously as the New Media & Promotions Coordinator beginning in 2011. Prior to that, he was a graduate and undergraduate assistant. He is currently the host of the international music show Imported on Sunday nights at 10 p.m.
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