Feb 17

Release Social Anxiety By Doing “The Work”

Utilizing “The Work” In Reference to Social Anxiety

By:Kristen Jezek

If you are like most people, there has been a time in your life where you have felt somewhat anxious or nervous at the thought of going on an important date or attending a party with a lot of people. This type of nervousness to meet with others can be natural, even exciting for some. However, for others it is a nightmare of anxiety which develops into full-blown social anxiety disorder (Schneider, 2012), crippling their social life and self-concept. To combat the thoughts that lead to social anxiety disorder, and a host of other undesirable consequences, The Work of Byron Katie offers a way out (Do The Work, 2015).
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA, 2017) defines social anxiety disorder as “the extreme fear of being scrutinized and judged by others in social or performance situations”. While the person who experiences this may have a fulfilling and productive life in the comfort of their own company, the social phobia kicks in with the thought of socializing with other people, meeting someone new, or going on a job interview. As social creatures, this phobia can have devastating effects for a person’s quality of life. When faced with a social situation, the fear can be so great that it stops the person from attending the social activity, leading to isolation and loneliness.
The Work of Byron Katie is a method to question your stressful thoughts. The thoughts you utilize to question in the work consist of anything that is causing you stress or disrupting your quality of life. This has incredible implications for someone who is suffering from irrational anxiety due to their beliefs about what may happen in a social situation. When faced by a social situation that causes anxiety, a person would first identify and write down the stressful thought (or thoughts) they are believing. For example, the stressful thought may be “others will judge me negatively”, “this person will think I’m stupid” or “I will never get this job”. These are the types of thoughts that, when played over and over in a person’s mind, brainwash them into an anxiety which cripples and debilitates their social confidence, and can lead to intense social anxiety. Rather than believe these stressful thoughts, The Work invites you to question them.
So, what is “The Work”? The work is a series of four questions and what is called a “turnaround”, in which you turn the thought around. The four questions are as follows:

1) Is it true?
2) Can I absolutely know that it’s true?
3) How do I react when I think that thought?
4) Who would I be without that thought?

The turnaround is simply finding an opposite of the stressful thought. Examples of
the turnarounds for the thoughts presented above are “They will judge me positively”, “this person will think I’m smart”, or “I will get this job”. The next step is to find three concrete examples of how that thought could be as true, or truer than the negative thought before. I might find three examples of why I should get that job, and armed with the knowledge of those three examples, I could feel more confident that it was true. Furthermore, this increased confidence in social situations often leads to a better performance in the social situation overall.
The implications for The Work in treating and managing social anxiety are huge. Whether you are a person with slight social anxiety or suffering from full-blown social anxiety disorder, the act of slowing down your thoughts long enough to question them can offer tremendous relief. If a person could question their stressful thoughts as they thought them (and turn them around), they would be able to free themselves from the crippling fear that comes with dreading a stressful outcome. This confidence compounds over time and with regular practice of asking these four questions and turning them around, the person can facilitate themselves to greater health, social abundance, and mental freedom.


1) Social Anxiety Disorder. (n.d.). Retrieved February 12, 2017, from https://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/social-anxiety-disorder (ADAA)
2) Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., & Coutts, L. M. (2012). Applied social psychology: understanding and addressing social and practical problems. Los Angeles: Sage.
3) International, B. K. (2015, September 06). Do The Work. Retrieved February 12, 2017, from http://thework.com/en/do-work

Sep 15

Changing Perspectives

I often wondered what made some people feel helpless and others empowered in their choices and decision-making.  While I knew that thoughts could play a part in both, I did not realize how debilitating some could be when experienced in a negative light.  In this week’s reading for applied social psychology, Schneider, Gruman, and Coutts (2012) discussed Seligman and colleagues model of learned helplessness called the “attributional reformulation of the learned helplessness theory of depression.” As probably assumed by the name, people that are prone to depression typically believe that their situation is unchangeable and expect a negative outcome as a result (Schneider et al., 2012, p. 94).  Thinking about this cycle, it is no wonder why individuals continually experience the same results and always see the “down side.”  It’s pretty hard to break away from something that seems to occur naturally, particularly if happens more often than the good things.  But I am curious, can this change?  Has this practice been used in other settings successfully?

I received one answer in a study sought to change self-defeating behaviors in at-risk readers.  Coley and Hoffman (1990) selected six “at risk” sixth grade students who were receiving remedial reading for their case study.  To qualify, the students had to be involved in the program for a minimum of 2 years.  It was assumed that such students would lack expressed confidence in their abilities as they have experienced setbacks in their academic journeys.  The conditions the students were introduced to consisted of three parts: 1) question response cues, double entry/response journals, and 3) self-evaluation.  Based on their findings, the students were able to express more confidence in their abilities and viewed themselves more positively (Coley et al., 1990).

Being a student myself, I can imagine the way the sixth graders felt in that situation.  If I experienced difficulty and had a hard time changing this outcome, it would be pretty hard for me to see the “light at the end of the tunnel.”  Sometimes it takes an intervention, such as the one described, to help individuals to see that their situation can change.  Just like their perspectives and confidence improved, the same result can occur in other situations.

Langer and Rodin (1976) and Kane et al. (2007) found that elderly patients who maintained control of their day-to-day lives, with activities and the like, experienced health benefits that differed from similar patients in a nursing home and/or a more restrictive setting.  Kane et al. (2007) noted that patients in the experimental condition had lower incidents of bed rest than those in the other two conditions.  And Langer et al. (1976) reported that patients in the experimental group reported increases in happiness, which was significantly more than the comparison group.  Obviously, both studies worked against learned helplessness and enabled patients to be active rather than passively involved.  Although the studies differed in implementation, both the overall objectives and outcomes resulted in positive changes.

With the examples shared, the response to my questions would be that learned helplessness can change and this has been successfully demonstrated in several instances.  While it may not be easy to exercise hope in situations that seem impossible, with a little help in realigning this thought process, this this too can change.



Coley, J. D., & Hoffman, D. M. (1990). Overcoming learned helplessness in at-risk readers. Journal of Reading, 33(7), 497-502.

Kane, R. A., Lum, T. Y., Cutler, L. J., Degenholtz, H. B. & Yu, T.-C. (2007). Resident Outcomes in Small-House Nursing Homes: A Longitudinal Evaluation of the Initial Green House Program. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 55, 832–839. doi: 10.1111/j.1532-5415.2007.01169.x

Langer, E. J., & Rodin, J. (1976). The effects of choice and enhanced personal responsibility for the aged: A field experiment in an institutional setting. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 34(2), 191-198. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.34.2.191

Schneider, F., Gruman, J., & Coutts, L. (Eds.). (2012). Applied social psychology: understanding and addressing social and practical problems (2nd ed.). Los Angeles: Sage.

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