Rational emotive therapy utilizes rational thinking to lower stress, increase confidence, and decrease social anxiety. In short rational thinking is based on the idea of choosing to think thoughts that:
1. You can prove
2. Are in your long term best interest
Thinking rational thoughts can decrease the intensity of your social anxiety and help improve the way you behave. This is different and distinct from positive thinking because sometimes positive thinking may involve thoughts that can NOT be proven and may NOT actually be in your long term interest. Further, positive thinking may actually increase social anxiety if you are not truly aligned or believe the positive thoughts you are thinking. Alternatively, rational thinking does decrease social anxiety because you can prove the thought is true and the thought is helpful.
I have used rational thinking, as opposed to positive thinking, to help me overcome social anxiety at times. For example, there was one time some friends from work invited me to go out to dinner with them after work. I liked them and got along well with them at work, but I never hung out with them socially. So, I was a little nervous about having dinner with them and was experiencing some social anxiety. However, here’s how I used rational thinking to change the way I felt, which then also helped improve my confidence and the way I interacted with them.
The first step of using rational thinking is to be aware of any unhelpful thoughts. For me, my unhelpful thoughts that night were:
“What if they don’t like me?”
“What if it is awkward hanging out with them at dinner?”
“What if they think I am boring to hang out with outside of
These thoughts were leading me to feel anxious and nervous about hanging out with people who I truly enjoyed working with and increased my social anxiety. However, I was able to use rational thinking to decrease my social anxiety and then have a fun evening by engaging in the following:
The second step of rational thinking is to think thoughts that:
a) You can prove
b) Are in your long term best interest
Common rational thinking thoughts that are particularly helpful to decrease social anxiety and I used that night were:
“If the people I work with think that I am boring and don’t like me, then I can handle that.”
“I may not like it if it becomes awkward, but I can tolerate it if becomes awkward.”
Notice how rational thinking is different than traditional positive thinking. Traditional positive thinking may tell people to think thoughts like:
“People will like me.”
“I will have fun tonight.”
“I am exciting and interesting to be around.”
For some people, this type of positive thinking works. However, for other people, including myself, this type of positive thinking actually makes them feel more anxious and decreases the chances that they will have a good time because they feel resistance with thoughts like “Other people will like me.” Part of this resistance comes from not being able to prove that these thoughts are true while we are thinking them or simply because we do not actually believe those ‘positive’ thoughts.
Alternatively, rational thinking, focuses on thinking thoughts that you can prove and are in your long term best interest, such as thinking:
“I may feel anxious tonight, but I can handle and manage that anxiety.”
Additionally, ironically, one of the best ways to help decrease social anxiety is to imagine what the worst case scenario is, within reason, and then realize that you can handle that situation. You may not like that particular situation, but you can handle it or tolerate it. Knowing that you may not like a situation, but that you can handle the situation or tolerate it helps decrease anxiety associated with that situation. It may not make the anxiety go away completely. However, it will decrease the intensity of that social anxiety or whatever emotion is getting in your way from enjoying yourself. By decreasing the intensity of the social anxiety, you will simultaneously allow your confidence to improve and also improve the chances of having a better time and changing your behavior and social interactions for the best.
By the way, that night that I used rational thinking, I ended up having a lot of fun with my coworkers. I was still slightly nervous when I arrived for dinner. But, using rational thinking helped to decrease much of my social anxiety and allowed me to enjoy myself more. Had I not used rational thinking, my social anxiety may have inhibited me from completely going out at all that night, leading to me feeling guilty, regretful and isolating myself. However, since I believed that I could handle the situation, my social anxiety decreased and my behavior and ways of interacting with others improved.
So, you can try rational thinking yourself on just about any situation by thinking the following thoughts:
“I may not like this social situation, but I can handle it.”
“I would not prefer for an awkward social exchange to happen, but if it does, then I can tolerate it.”
In my opinion and experience, I have found this type of rational thinking to be far more helpful, especially at decreasing social anxiety, than traditional positive thinking. I share this because I believe anyone can benefit from this and it’s easy to use. If you interested in learning more about Rational Thinking, it is based on Rational Emotive Therapy and started by a psychologist named Albert Ellis. If you want added help with managing social anxiety, you can find a therapist to help you by visiting https://www.betterhelp.com/online-therapy/.