Anyone who’s experienced social anxiety has been told “calm down, it’ll be fine” thousands of times over, and has probably tried saying it twice that many times to themselves. Has it ever worked even once? No! Not one time. Never. However badly we might want to believe that anxiety can be rationalized away, some research suggests the best way to combat anxiety might instead be to just … accept it.
As part of a study on social anxiety, spotted by Psychology Today, Meagan MacKenzie, a psychology professor at Ryerson University in Toronto, established an eight-item scale which can be used to assess someone’s social anxiety, but which also measures how that person responds to their social anxiety. Respondents are asked to rate the accuracy of the following statements, as applied to themselves, between 1 (never true) and 7 (always true):
1. Being socially anxious makes it difficult for me to live a life I value.
2. I tell myself I shouldn’t have certain thoughts about social anxiety.
3. I would gladly sacrifice important things in my life to be able to stop being socially anxious.
4. I criticize myself for having irrational or inappropriate social anxiety.
5. My social anxiety must decrease before I can take important steps in my life.
6. I make judgments about whether my thoughts about my social anxiety are good or bad.
7. My social anxiety does not interfere with the way I want to live my life.
8. I disapprove of myself when I feel socially anxious.
Thus, the odd-numbered items assess one’s level of social anxiety, while the even-numbered items assess one’s level of acceptance of that anxiety. Higher ratings (four and above) indicate that a person feels relatively capable of handling their social anxiety, while lower ratings indicate a lower level of acceptance. Studies suggest that those with lower levels of acceptance might benefit from ACT, or Acceptance and Commitment Therapy — a form of cognitive behavioral therapy that encourages patients to accept their feelings of anxiety, which may in fact make it easier to change or alleviate them. It’s the same basic principle behind exposure therapy: If something scares you, do it, and it’ll scare you less. So the next time you feel anxious in a social setting, don’t fight it — try just letting it happen.