Home > Social Anxiety > A Subway Thought Study

A Subway Thought Study

One of the main things that I’m doing as a part of my therapy right now is an exercise. I’m learning to analyze my own reactions to the social situations that make me uncomfortable. My doctor has a worksheet that I’m supposed to fill out as soon as possible after an incident. I don’t try to do it every time I feel any kind of anxiety; I’d be spending all of my time doing nothing but filling them out! But I try to do at least one each day.
The form has four sections:
Feelings
A set of checkboxes. I’m supposed to say what
I’m feeling (anxious, sad, guilty, angry, …), and how intensely I feel it.
Situation
A quick in-the-moment description of the situation. No judgements here:
just the facts.
Automatic Thought
Exactly what was I thinking? Here I’m supposed to start by just
writing, in the moment, what I was feeling. Then I’m supposed to pick
it apart: how much did I really believe what I was thinking at the time,
and now, looking back at it after, how much do I believe it?
Behaviors
What did I do? What were the results of what I did?
We’re very early in the process, so that’s all we’re doing now. I assume that we’ll eventually get into something like attempting to think about alternative things I could have done, or something like that.

For example, yesterday, I was riding the subway on my way home from work. I was wearing a very geeky shirt. It said /(bb|[^b]^{2})/. That’s a geek joke; it’s “To be or not to be” written in a programming language. Some guy on the subway saw my shirt, and complimented me on the shirt, and said something about “I bet not many people outside of your office understand that!” He was being friendly. There was nothing mocking about it – just another geek sharing the joke.

  • So how did I feel?
The main thing? fear; not terribly severe fear, but definitely frightened. On a 1-100 scale, probably between 30 and 40. After the fact, sadness; again, somewhere in the mid thirties in intensity. After all, this guy was trying to be friendly, and I didn’t know how to respond in a way that would show that I appreciated the gesture.
  • What was I thinking?
How am I supposed to answer? What am I supposed to say? What does he expect from me? Should I just say “yeah, true”? Is that enough? If I say the wrong thing, what will he think of me? If I say anything, I <em>know</em> it will be the wrong thing. Anything I do is going to be the wrong thing. I’m absolutely, 100% sure that I’m going to do the wrong thing.
  • What did I do?
Initially, I froze. All of those thoughts were running through my head, and that took up pretty much all of my brainpower at the time. So I froze, with a blank stare on my face for a couple of seconds. He definitely noticed that weird blank stare – he had a sort-of concerned look on his face. And then I sort of nodded my head and smiled, said I was OK, and then turned away in embarrassment. Basically, I made myself look like an idiot. Not really because of anything I actually chose to do, but because of the way that I didn’t react because my mind was so busy racing with panic about needing to decide how to react. I created a self-fulfilling prediction about my own behavior.
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  1. Fine
    August 25, 2010 at 4:44 pm

    Hey you, I found your blog through a link from whitecoatunderground and I like your writing. Thank you for sharing. The “assignment” from your therapist looks very similar to one my therapist gave me. I have social anxiety, too. I wish you all the best for your therapy and hope that you will get to a point where you can be more comfortable with social interactions and yourself. It really sucks to be in a situation like you described in the subway episode. When this happens to me it’s like I have two people sitting on my shoulders. One tells me how stupid I am reacting and the other tells me that I should probably just crawl into a corner. But thanks to my therapy things have really gotten better. Now I am able to stop the train of unhelpful thoughts and can start to interact and live in the moment. I hope you will get to that point soon! Once I made it through a difficult situation successfully it was such a rush of happiness or endorphines or whatever, it really was a kick-off.
    Sorry, I’m starting to ramble. Anyway, what I want to say is: Hang in there! You sound like a really nice person and it is time more people get to see that. 🙂

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