Using rational thinking to decrease social anxiety

Rational thinking has the power to decrease anxiety, lower stress, and increase confidence. 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 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 anxiety if you are not truly aligned or believe the positive thoughts you are thinking. Alternatively, rational thinking does decrease 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 invited me to go out to dinner with them. I liked them and got along well with them, 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 work.”

These thoughts were leading me to feel anxious and nervous about hanging out with people who I truly enjoyed being around. However, I was able to use rational thinking to decrease my social anxiety and then have a fun evening….

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 and I used that night were:

“If my friends 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 to be around.”

For some people, this type of positive thinking works. However, for other people 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. Ironically, one of the best ways to help decrease anxiety and 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 anxiety or whatever emotion is getting in your way from enjoying yourself. This will simultaneously allow your confidence to improve and also improve the chances of having a better time and changing your behavior for the best.

By the way, that night that I used rational thinking, I ended up having a lot of fun with my friends. 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 enjoy myself more.

So, you can try rational thinking yourself on just about any situation by thinking the following thoughts:

“I may not like this situation, but I can handle it.”

“I would not prefer for this to happen, but if it does, then I can tolerate it.”

In my opinion and experience, I have found this to be far more helpful, especially at decreasing anxiety, then traditional positive thinking. I share this because I believe anyone can benefit from this. If you do try it, please let me know how it goes! If you interested in learning more about Rational Thinking, it is based on Rational Emotive Therapy and started by a psychologist named Albert Ellis.