Good evening my beauts and happy Saturday! So I have some pretty good news to share with you guys, I have not been in a rut this week so that is a good start! I have been feeling pretty good lately since I have been eating a lot better, meal prepping and even going to the gym on a daily basis. That being said, my mood has been up lately and I have not been in an aggravated state recently. So, that being said, moving onto session number three of my social anxiety group therapy. This Wednesday was a lot more interesting than the other ones by far, as we actually started to get into the real deal. Shall we get right into it?
I actually was not nervous at all this time when 6:00 hit. I was feeling a lot more at ease and comfortable which felt so nice. The week prior I had been filling out my cognitive therapy tracking form. We had to track for the week our social anxiety thoughts. This basically included different situations such as the place where it happened, what your anxiety was rated during that moment, what different anxiety provoking thoughts and predictions that were going on in your mind, different alternative thoughts and predictions, the evidence and realistic conclusions afterwards and lastly your anxiety rating after the situation. So.. this was a lot of information to track down as you can see but it is crucial to get every single detail within that moment so you can actually sit back and view how your anxiety gets triggered and how you cope with the situation. I only basically had written down one big situation that had happened that week.
We began the session by some mindful awareness exercises… basically, like meditation. We closed our eyes and focused on our breathing taking 4 big deep breaths in, ensuring your tummy pops out as you are inhaling, and exhaling for 5 seconds through your mouth afterwards. I do find these extremely relaxing but I often find myself not being able to hold my breath that long so I really need to work on that! haha! This went on for about 15 minutes for the start of the session, then we reviewed the homework that we were assigned to complete that week, such as the anxiety thought record sheet. Of course, being a social anxiety group, nobody ever really volunteers to speak when the instructors ask if anyone wants to share some experiences they had that week. I am however thankful that they push you to step out of your comfort zone. So of course, I did not raise my hand whatsoever, and just kind of stared down at my sheet hoping they would not call on me. This brings back so many memories back when I attended Brock University. If I would not want to be called upon I would often look down and avoid eye contact at all costs. So low and behold who do you think they call upon? “Alyssa do you have anything you want to share with us?“. I wanted to badly to say “pass” but I knew deep down I would only be letting myself down and not really trying to push myself to go at it. I remembered during that whole time when I was wishing they would not pick me, just going over and over in my head what I would share if I had to. That’s part of my anxiety, going over and repeating what I would say, often preparing myself so I do not stumble or make a fool out of myself. I began explaining what had happened that week and how I actually had my first panic attack. I will share it with you beauts what had happened to me that Thursday night.
I was at the gym and actually had my last personal training session that I had paid for. I had a total of 4 personal training sessions which I absolutely loved and I really did love my trainer. I informed her a lot about my life and what was going on such as my anxiety and so forth. So after my session had ended, she sat down with me and offered more extensive training to me. Basically, for 9 months I would be training 3 times a week with her. I honestly was very excited about this opportunity and did not fully think through the financial aspect of it. Personal training is not cheap. So once I saw the number that I would have to pay by the end of the nine months I almost passed out. She then began to inform me to not look at that huge number but that I would be making bi-weekly payments instead. At the end of the discussion, I decided to sign the contract without informing my boyfriend who I am living with right now what I was doing (bad mistake on my part by far). Anywho, I eventually told my boyfriend Ian later that night what I had chosen to do and he was pretty upset with me, to say the least, which was completely understandable. I would be upset too if I were him, especially since we are saving money at the moment. So as I was speaking to him I decided to message my personal trainer informing her that I had made a mistake and if I could possibly cancel my contract and the personal training altogether. Let me just add in there that this personal trainer is actually the boss and the head person at my gym. She had messaged me back saying that she could not cancel the contract as it was already sent to head office, my registration. This caused a lot of tension in my home, as I was now informed that I had to stay in this contract and keep making these payments. I could feel my anxiety going up tremendously, and my heart started to race. Tears then started streaming down my face and I was having a hard time trying to breath. I literally thought I was dying, but I knew right away that I was having my first panic attack. Luckily my boyfriend had calmed me down at the time and actually looked more into my contract. He then found a statement in fine print at the back of the contract that basically said I had ten days to cancel my plan and get out of my contract. I could not believe it. If it had not been for him looking more into it, I literally would have been completely stuck. I do not really know anything about contracts and how they work, let alone this was the boss that was giving me this false information. In her messages,, she kept saying she could lower the payments and cancel some training sessions so I did not have to pay for as much. Long story short, I cancelled my personal training…. thank god… but this whole thing could have been completely avoided from the start. I was so mad and felt the frustration run right through me. We ended up complaining about the whole issue to the head office, so I am not too sure if something had been done about it or not.
As I shared this whole long story with the rest of the group, I was actually surprised by myself how I did not even stumble over my words. I took my time when I was sharing my story and didn’t feel the need to rush through it. I was honestly proud of myself for speaking and even speaking for a long period of time. After others had shared some of their stories as well, we then got onto the topic for today’s meeting which was “exposure therapy“. I have been dreading this…. you guys can probably tell by the title just what it is. The instructors informed us that a lot of people would rather avoid situations instead of dealing with them head on. Basically, avoiding an anxiety provoking situation brings immediate relief but only for that exact moment, not for the long run. By facing your fears, on the other hand, you learn that avoidance is not the only strategy out there. We then went over some subtle avoidance and safety behaviours that a lot of people tend to do including me. One that stood out was distraction. Often when I am in an awkward situation and I do not know what to say, I pull out my phone and immediately start texting or looking at social media. This helps me feel more comfortable in certain situations but this stops me from learning different ways to manage this uncomfortable feeling. Another behaviour that stood out to me was “overprotection“. I was called upon again and asked if this had ever happened to me before. I then stated to the group that I often like to go with a friend to certain events. I stated that in previous years I only went to the gym with a friend and I would not dare to ever go by myself. I also would never go to the mall by myself as well. The instructor then questioned why I would not do these things, what I would feel. I then stated that I would not know what I was doing at the gym if I went by myself. I would look like a complete idiot not knowing how to work the machines. That way if I was with a friend, they could help me out without me having to ask someone else. But I have been slowly challenging my anxiety without really taking the chance to step back and notice. I joined a gym here in Hamilton, and actually go by myself. However, I made sure I felt comfortable in the atmosphere before joining and that it was an all girl’s gym. I also love to go to the mall by myself now too, and I can literally take as much time as I need in the stores….. which I love! This also made me remember about a week ago what my best friend had pointed out to me. I was shopping with her in Lazensa and she was looking for some bras and needed help with her size. The lady who works there came over and asked if we needed help with anything. I then proceeded to state that my friend here was looking for a size in a certain bra. I also thanked that lady for her help on the way out of the store when we were finished. My friend then stated that she was super proud of me and could not believe I did that. Some things I do not even really notice I am doing now, which is a huge step for me.
Some of the other behaviours that were mentioned included: overcompensation; which could include preparing topics to discuss at a party, excessive checking and reassurance seeking; including constantly checking how other’s perceive you. This behaviour I can strongly relate to, especially when it comes to my relationship with my boyfriend. Whenever he looks upset I always ask him, “what’s wrong?”, or “are you mad at me?”. I often am always concerned about his state meanwhile he just had a long day at work or he’s just tired. This sometimes comes off as nagging on my end which I can totally understand but I sometimes can’t help it! Another behaviour that I can relate to strongly is “substance use“. Whenever I am invited to a party, I usually always ensure that I had a drink before arriving. I hate being sober at parties and even this thought causes me a lot of anxiety. I am usually afraid that I will not know what to talk about, and that when I am intoxicated I am more sociable and outgoing. So after going through these safety behaviours and avoidance behaviours in great depth, we then discussed the “exposure hierarchy“. Before I even attended my first social anxiety group session, I had to attend an orientation. Within this orientation, the instructor and myself came up with a hierarchy of different social situations that make me nervous. I will share with you guys exactly what was on my list:
- talk with individuals one-on-one Fear(90) Avoidance(50)
- maintain eye contact Fear(70) Avoidance(40)
- manage anxious thoughts about what people think of me Fear(80) Avoidance(80)
- tolerating criticism Fear(80) Avoidance(90)
- express more in a job interview Fear(80) Avoidance(50)
- go to a party sober Fear(90) Avoidance(100)
- call people on the phone Fear(90) Avoidance(80)
- return an item to a store Fear(80) Avoidance(100)
- ask someone for help Fear(90) Avoidance(100)
Ask you guys can see this is quite a big list, but it basically covers which really triggers my social anxiety. After reading this list again we started discussing the topic of “therapeutic exposure“. So basically this needs to be structured, planned ahead of time and it needs to be done frequently. I had to decide when I was going to do my exposure, what time I was going to do it at, who was I going to do it with and it needs to be done as close as possible to each other. One thing that the instructors emphasised was that while thinking of these exposures and planning them, we needed to make sure they were small and not overwhelming. These exposures are going to test out our anxious thoughts, and also challenge our beliefs and predictions. We were informed to make a plan. While working on our plan, remembering to let our feelings happen, and to not leave a high anxiety situation, but rather to wait it out. No safety behaviours are to be used in these exposures as well as no avoidance. We can also use the cognitive strategies I had mentioned in my last blog post to challenge the anxious thoughts that come up afterwards. One that I had mentioned that worked well for me was stating, “it’s only temporary“.
Phew, that was one hell of a long blog post this week sorry guys! There was just so much to discuss that had happened in this meeting. I have been slowly tracking different small exposures that I have been doing so far. Some of these exposures include:
–initating small talk and one-on-one conversations with my boss. Asking more questions such as “how was your weekend” and so forth.
-returning an item that did not fit from Forever 21.
I am making some progress but it is not just all going to happen at once. I will admit I was anxious in both of these situations, but I did not leave and pce the hell out. I dealt with them, and they were really not as bad as I thought. I am still brainstorming what other exposures I will do until next Wednesday. I will be sure to tell you guys in my next blog post, what other exposures I did. I hope you guys enjoyed reading this post! Let me know what you guys think. Be sure to follow my other social media accounts as well:
main instagram page- alyssahotrum_xo
blogging instagram page- thatothertwin_xo
Much love xo.