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Ten Suggested Activities for Behavioral Activation to Defeat Social Anxiety (for teens and young adults)

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© Anthony Pantaleno, Ph.D., 2013

Behavioral Activation is just a shrink’s fancy language for getting you off of your butt and away from your computer screen.

When social anxiety keeps you away from people because of your irrational fears about failure, “looking bad”, freezing and not knowing what to say, avoiding or escaping social opportunities, etc, what you need is a fresh activity where you can become engaged. It does not have to involve the actual setting that you fear most! In fact, if it is a neutral setting where people don’t already know you, that’s even better! No one will know what is in your head, and no one will know your history of social anxiety or that your heart is pounding when you show up for the very first time.

But let’s be VERY clear about one thing – psychiatric medication may help to manage your symptoms, which are VERY REAL – however, the one scientifically validated way out of this is not to avoid social situations. You have learned that avoidance SEEMS to work because when you stay home and take no risks, your anxiety symptoms are zero!! So – will you plan to stay home and avoid people your whole life? Not a great game plan.

The harsh truth is that the way OUT of social anxiety is to DIVE STRAIGHT INTO IT!

This sounds crazy, I know, but research has shown time and time again that socially anxious people who slowly APPROACH and work to STAY IN various socially challenging situations WHILE they are symptomatic WILL, over time, conquer their anxiety. Think of learning to swim or ride a bike or drive a car. All humans have about the same capacity to learn each of these skills. For those of us who have not mastered them, I would suggest that they may have initially struggled with the task, found it difficult, experienced some level of frustration or embarrassment, and just decided to live their lives without ever swimming or driving in the summer ,or riding a bike throughout the changing seasons of the year. How sad is that?

I want you to have a life worth waking up to every day, not a life of just “settling” for those activities which do not seem to trigger the physiological and cognitive symptoms which maintain your anxiety.

Here are a few recommendations to get you back in the game. They say that talk is cheap, but THERAPY IS NOT! Take action…NOW!

  1. Join an extracurricular activity at your college or attend a club “mixer” at the start of the semester or school year where all the clubs hang out and tell you what they do, how to join, etc.
  2. Consider doing volunteer work for an organization that helps people with something that YOU have a passion about. Do you like working with children? Senior citizens? Cleaning up a beach? Caring for animals? Playing cards or chatting with retired armed forces veterans? Check out volunteer association web sites. You can get training to become a hotline volunteer at RESPONSE of Suffolk County, work with senior citizens at the Gurwin Nursing Home, mentor a child through the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program or the Mentoring Partnership of Long Island, or work as a volunteer in the Long Island Special Olympics. Search their web site – A LOT of very cool choices are available, and you can apply to be a volunteer in some programs as young as fourteen years of age. Please visit the Long Island Volunteer Center website for a complete list of volunteer organizations on Long Island.
  3. Learn the art and fun of public speaking at www.toastmasters.org. There are MANY branches of this international group on Long Island.
  4. Take an adult education course of YOUR choosing at a place like the Huntington Art League.
  5. Check out vocational training opportunities for adults with disabilities at the NYS ACCES program. Also at www.wilsontech.org.
  6. If you’re over 21, you may want to check out some of the social networking venues that offer a variety of social opportunities for young adults… like eharmony.com , www.meetup.com , and www.lotsofevents.com. However, be cautious. Don't give personal information to strangers you meet online (such as your home address). If meeting in-person be sure it is a safe, public place you are familiar with (such as a restaurant in a busy location) and watch your drink, cell phone and wallet. You could ask a friend to call your cell phone during that time so you can say things are OK or have a pre-arranged signal that you need help. These precautions are not to scare you, but to make you feel safe.
  7. Join a gym or take a yoga class in your community. Enroll in a one-day workshop or a retreat weekend with a friend or loved one to learn the physical and mental health benefits of mindfulness meditation. There are a number of beautiful mountain retreat settings in upstate New York and in the Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts. Check out www.eomega.org, Garrison Institute , www.menlamountain.org, and Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health
  8. Check out the web pages of two highly trained and experienced colleagues in the field of social anxiety: Jonathan Berent and David Carbonell.
  9. Find a mental health professional who runs psychotherapy groups or a social skills groups. Find out about when the group meets, how many people are in the group and what are their ages, and the cost of a group session. You may go to www.suffolkpsych.org and click the Find A Psychologist link. Under Area of Interest, search for Group Therapy or Social Skills Groups.
  10. If you don’t have access to a car to get yourself to these venues, perhaps you should consider getting a NYS learner’s permit! Go to: www.dmv.ny.gov and click on Drivers Licesnses and Learners Permits.


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