Donny Osmond wasn’t one of my teenage pin-ups, but he was certainly a fixture of my teenage years, with his single Puppy Love reaching No 1 in the UK charts in 1972.
He was an accomplished performer, constantly on TV and on stage. I would never have guessed that he suffered from stage fright, which is categorised as a form of social anxiety.
Many years after his pop heyday, he revealed in an interview that he was always nervous about his performances, but his anxiety increased exponentially in the mid-90s: “Once the fear of embarrassing myself grabbed me, I couldn’t get loose,” he said. “It was as if a bizarre and terrifying unreality had replaced everything that was familiar and safe. In the grip of my wildest fears, I was paralyzed, certain that if I made one wrong move, I would literally die. Even more terrifying, I’d have felt relieved to die. The harder I tried to remember the words, the more elusive they became.”
Donny’s story is included in the book Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Social Anxiety Disorder by psychology professors Stefan G Hoffman and Michael W Otto, which sets out a CBT treatment programme for those suffering from SAD.
It provides a fascinating insight into the ways in which therapists tackle this chronic disorder that affects 1 in 8 people at some point in their lives.
Resilience vs relapse
One of the challenges of recovery from social anxiety is the post-treatment phase, when there is the biggest likelihood of relapse. Those who have ridden an early wave of success in CBT treatment often became cautious when subsequently exposed to potentially triggering situations because they don’t want to upset their new-found sense of control.
Hoffman and Otto write: “Our belief is that the relapse potential is high with these cases because the patient did not have adequate opportunities to learn true social comfort and resilience with the full range of social fear cues.”
One way to prevent relapse is for an individual to use strategies that will help them act as their own therapist after treatment ends, and these include exposing themselves to social situations when they’re feeling tired, worried or otherwise less than optimal.
The end of treatment might in itself cause anxiety for some people, who start worrying about not being able to hold on to the positive effects.
It’s all too easy for long-term sufferers to slip back into old habits, but one way of stopping the slide is to know the difference between a lapse and a relapse.
Lapse vs relapse
According to a guide produced by Anxiety Canada, a lapse is a brief return to old and unhelpful habits and is a common and normal phenomenon. Sometimes lapses are triggered by stress and low mood, or simply fatigue.
A relapse is a complete return to all of your old ways of thinking and behaving when you are anxious. Those who suffer a relapse are usually doing the same things that they did before they learned new strategies for managing anxiety.
If we take Donny Osmond as an example, for him a lapse might be feeling tired and thinking he might forget his words before he starts singing. A relapse might be believing that going on stage could turn into a deeply humiliating experience and as a result cancelling the engagement.
If Donny sees his lapse as a sign of failure, he is more likely to give up and have a relapse. If he sees his lapse as a slip-up, but one he can recover from, then he probably won’t have a relapse.
Tips on how to prevent a relapse
Here’s a summary of the tips offered by Anxiety Canada to help prevent relapse:
- Know your red flags Make a list of warning signs that tell you your anxiety might be increasing, such as increased responsibilities at home or work, more anxious thoughts, arguments with loved ones, major life changes etc.
- Make a plan of action When you know what your red flags are, you can plan how to cope with them. This might involve practising your CBT skills more often, taking some time for yourself, relaxing, reading a book, going shopping, or talking to a friend.
- Come up with new challenges
Make a list of situations that are still scary or cause you anxiety, and work on them over time. You are less likely to slide back into old habits if you are continually working on new and different ways of overcoming your anxiety.
- Learn from your lapses
Try to figure out what the situation was that led to you having a lapse. Were you having upsetting or anxious thoughts? Was your anxiety very high? Did you do something different? Did you know that the situation was going to be difficult, or did it take you by surprise?
- Know the facts What you say to yourself after a lapse has a huge impact on your behaviour. If you think you are a failure, you are more likely to just give up, stop trying, and end up relapsing. But it is impossible to go back to square one: you cannot unlearn all the skills that CBT teaches you.
- Be kind to yourself It’s important to remember that lapses are normal. Don’t beat yourself up or call yourself names like “idiot” or “loser”. We don’t speak to other people in such a mean way, so it’s not a good idea to speak to ourselves in this way.
- Reward yourself Take the time to reward yourself for all your hard work. A reward might be going out for a nice meal, buying yourself something new, going out with friends, or just taking some time to relax or pamper yourself. Remember that managing anxiety is hard work, and any progress you make is due to your own efforts.
If you follow some or all of these tips, you will be reducing the likelihood of a relapse and increasing your chances of forming positive new habits and behaviours.
How Zgmund can help you to avoid relapsing
The key to recovery from social anxiety is the consolidation of new skills, learnings and behaviours. One way of doing so is by connecting with people who are experiencing similar challenges.
Zgmund App offers anonymous emotional support groups facilitated by super-empathic psychological AI. In these sessions you can share your thoughts and feelings about situations that cause you anxiety in a totally safe and secure environment, without anyone judging you for it.
Zgmund’s users report significant emotional relief after a 20-minute conversation – so why not join our waitlist so you can experience a group session and find the support you need.