Category: Adult Anxiety - Social
Social anxiety is characterized by fear of negative evaluation by others and intense anxiety experienced during social situations. Though previous studies have examined the effectiveness of different techniques employed by anxious individuals to cope with negative affect, little is known about the ways these individuals deal with their affect in the moment and across different contexts (e.g., when they are alone, or when they are around other people). The present study investigated self-reported use of different coping strategies among socially anxious individuals in social and non-social contexts using Ecological Momentary Assessment (EMA).
Participants (N=62 college students) with varying levels of social anxiety symptoms attended 2 lab sessions (2 weeks apart). In the first lab session, participants installed a custom app on their smartphones. The app prompted participants to fill out a short questionnaire up to 6 (random) times each day. The questionnaire included items about participants' current affect (e.g., "How positive are you feeling now?"), social context (e.g., "Who are you interacting with?"), current coping strategy ("Are you doing any of the following to change what you’re thinking or feeling?"), and the effectiveness of that coping strategy (e.g., "How much better or worse have these made you feel?").
Overall, reporting higher negative affect during random prompts was associated with increased likelihood of saying coping strategies had been employed for the full sample (all p < .05). When alone (i.e., not in social contexts), there were no differences in reported likelihood of engaging in different coping strategies for individuals higher (vs. lower) in social anxiety (all p > .05). However, when in seemingly stressful social situations (i.e., they were not alone and experiencing high negative affect), individuals higher in social anxiety were more likely to report trying to change their perspective (p < .01) and less likely to report trying to distract themselves (indicating difficulties disengaging with stressors; p < .01). Individuals higher (vs. lower) in social anxiety were also more likely to report trying to hide their thoughts and feelings across situations (p < .05). Though individuals, on average, reported attempting to utilize more coping strategies when in highly stressful social situations, which seems adaptive given there is more to cope with in that context, those higher in social anxiety tended to perceive their coping strategies as being less effective (p < .05). These results emphasize the importance of helping persons high in social anxiety employ adaptive coping strategies that will actually help them in the situation, and highlight the value of EMA approaches in providing a more nuanced understanding of social anxiety.
Somil Chugh– University of Virginia
Karl Fua– Doctoral Student, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia
Philip Chow– University of Virginia
Wes Bonelli– University of Virginia
Yu Huang– University of Virginia
Laura Barnes– University of Virginia
Bethany Teachman– Professor, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia