What Is Social Phobia : Imagine that the first day of class arrives after the summer.
As you have signed up for a new course and do not know anyone, you decide to sit in the back rows so as not to attract too much attention. After five minutes, the teacher asks you one by one to get up and introduce yourself in front of everyone.
Suddenly you notice how your face reddens and the tremor invades your body. While your new colleagues are presenting you try to think quickly about something to say.
When your turn finally arrives, everyone turns to look at you. Your voice trembles and it stutters. You talk fast and you immediately feel not knowing very well what you said. And you feel terribly embarrassed.
Does it sound?
Here you will find the steps to overcome social phobia through two strategies that have proven effective with only 12 weeks of treatment.
1. What is social phobia?
If that situation was familiar to you but it is a bad drink that you pass from time to time, you can consider it only shyness . But if you are already thinking about the excuse not to go to your first class in case they ask you to introduce yourself, it is that you may suffer from social phobia.
The difference between shyness and social phobia is its intensity. It is normal that in some social situations we get nervous. It happens to all of us. However, if your level of anxiety is so high that you need to avoid those situations, then we have a problem.
This type of anxiety also includes physical symptoms that shy people do not usually suffer from, such as sweating, blushing, tachycardia, dry mouth, hard breathing, stuttering, or trembling throughout your body.
social phobia is a bad traveling companion.
social phobia ruins plans, destroys opportunities to meet new friends or potential partners, prevents your professional development and prevents you from taking out all the virtues that you carry inside.
social phobia is the irrational fear of being judged or rejected by other people, especially those you still do not know. It is the chronic terror to be the center of attention and to behave in a humiliating way, that is why it generates a terrible anticipatory anxiety. It appears just by thinking about the situation.
There are two types of social phobia: the specific and the general. The specific one is the fear to a concrete situation, almost always to speak in public, whereas with the general fears the majority of social situations.
People with social phobia already know that their fear is irrational . Although it is good to remind them from time to time, only by telling them this does not get anything. Knowingsomething is not the same as feeling something.
It is the third most common mental disorder in adults and up to 7% of the population suffers, mostly women. And the probability that at some point in our life you or I will experience social anxiety is around 14%.
1.1 Causes of social phobia
social phobia is often accompanied by low self-esteem and excessive perfectionism, and as a result it tends to cause depression.
Its origin is in childhood or adolescence, perhaps because of a hostile emotional environment or having suffered a humiliating experience . Because it is precisely children (he is shy, he will be foolish! ), It is difficult to diagnose early. And that makes it chronic.
Overcoming social phobia is not easy. The feeling of being constantly evaluated is difficult to avoid for two main reasons:
- Research has shown that our brain is programmed to assume that people are watching us even when they are not.
- In addition, people with social phobia also interpret the neutral expressions on the faces of others as negative, as seen in this study .
So they not only believe that people look at them, but they also do it with a bad face.
But there is another team of researchers who think that its origin is different. He states that it is the consequence of extreme empathy , where there are people so sensitive to the emotional state of others that it provokes a torrent of feelings that they can not control.
This theory has created a current that defends that social phobics should not seek a solution to their “problem” but accept it because it is a kind of gift, a special sensitivity .
In any case, if you suffer some kind of social anxiety that prevents you from relating to the world as you would like, you should take action on the matter. Imagine if Edison had been afraid to present his inventions in public. Today you would be reading this article with a candle.
2. How to overcome social phobia
The latest studies show that there are two strategies to overcome social phobia that are usually effective with only 12 weeks of treatment. It is about changing what you think to change your behavior (with the cognitive-behavioral approach) or accepting what you think to change your behavior (with acceptance and commitment therapy).
Basically, the cognitive-behavioral strategy involves replacing your negative thoughts with more realistic ones, while the therapy of acceptance and commitment helps you to coexist with them through mindfulness .
Both have proven to be more effective than medication. As one of the researchers says, “our brains are designed to learn, and medication does not work for that.”
But which strategy is more appropriate in each situation?
The scientific evidence tells us that cognitive behavioral therapy is most useful for mild or moderate social phobia , while accepting therapy gives better results in widespread phobias where there is also depression .
Although the support of a professional is always highly recommended, you can both start with the guidelines you will find below. Are you ready?
3. Change what you think to change your behavior
social phobia is a fish that bites its tail. The usual behavior when you start to feel anxiety is to avoid the situation that causes it , for example by making the decision at the last minute not to go to a party.
As anxiety then goes down, you feel better. And you associate that relief with having avoided that awkward situation. That is what perpetuates the habit of escaping from your fears.
This strategy to overcome social phobia is based on the following reasoning:
- Your thoughts influence what you feel, and your feelings influence your behavior .
- If you change your thoughts about what causes you anxiety, then your behavior will also change .
- Like any learning, when you repeat it many times you will create a new neuronal path that will make it a habit.
In addition to reflecting on your negative thoughts, this strategy also involves exposing yourself little by little to your fears to break the habit of avoiding them. This way you will realize, at last, that your worst nightmares are pure imagination.
It is very effective as long as you are constant. There are studies that show that the benefits of a single therapy of this type can last more than 10 years !
3.1 How to change your negative thoughts
Your negative thoughts about what they will think of you or how bad you will be are the cause of your anxiety.
What causes you anxiety is not the situation itself, but your interpretation of it. Imagine that a friend is late for your appointment. You may think that he has had an accident and worry, that he has found traffic and frustrated you, or that you are not too important to him and saddened.
Only if you change your thoughts will you find other interpretations that will not cause you anxiety.
But your negative thoughts are irrational, so it’s not that easy to change them. You must get your reason to win the fight.
These 3 steps will help you train your mind to stop thinking negative and do it rationally.
A . Identify your thoughts
To find the irrational thoughts that provoke your fears, just when you start to feel anxiety, point to a leaf or mobile what you were thinking at that precise moment.
Do it for a week and you will have a good list.
You will see that most negative thoughts take the following forms:
- Mind reading : you suppose what others are thinking without having proof, like for example that they are laughing behind your back.
- Divination : you predict something bad before it happens. It could be something like your exam tomorrow will go fatal.
- Catastrophism : you think that the worst and disproportionate magnitude will always happen. For example, everyone is going to laugh at you because you are nervous.
- Personalization : you firmly believe that all the attention of others is placed on you.
Once you have identified your recurring negative thoughts, you can challenge them.
b. Challenge your thoughts
Now analyze and question the evidence of your negative thoughts. It is advisable to ask yourself if those thoughts are based on facts and not on interpretations, and if they will be useful in any way.
Some questions that will help you to do it are:
- Am I 100% sure that will happen?
- How many times has it happened to me before?
- What evidence do I have to think like that? And what evidence do I have to think otherwise?
- Are the consequences so important that all my future depends on them?
- If it happens, how will I feel in 6 months?
- What would you say to a friend who was telling me this thought?
c. Replace your thoughts
Finally, answer the questions to replace your irrational negative thoughts with rationalanswers .
Imagine that you are afraid of not knowing what to say in a group conversation:
- What evidence do you have to think otherwise? With your friends and family you almost always have something to say.
- How will you feel in 6 months? Surely you do not care anymore. And maybe you do not even remember.
- What would you say to a friend? Well, the responsibility of having a conversation is with everyone involved, not just yours.
Learning to think rationally is the key to cognitive therapy. The repetition and perseverance during a period of 3 months will make it a habit.
3.2 How to expose yourself to your fears
Another important part of the cognitive-behavioral strategy is to change your reaction in situations that cause anxiety.
Many people with social phobia face their fears with seat belts on. They always go accompanied to the parties, they stay in the background in the meetings, they do not speak for fear of making mistakes or they are protected by closing their body language .
The only thing they get that way is not to learn what they would have achieved without those precautions. That’s why their fears keep growing.
The second part of the strategy is to expose yourself little by little and without those precautions to the situations that cause you anxiety . Because if you stay in them long enough, your anxiety will decrease.
It’s as if your body and mind get used to it. Maybe it takes more than half an hour, but it happens. And if you do it repeatedly, the initial anxiety will become more and more low until it almost ends up disappearing.
The most important thing is that it be gradual and systematic.Step by Step.If you move too fast you can backfire. But if you do it right you will realize that your worries are unfounded or that, if they occur, their consequences are minimal.
Imagine that you are very anxious to socialize with strangers. One way to gradually expose yourself would be the following:
- Divide the situation into 10 stages.
- Sort those stages from least to most anxiety.
- Expose yourself to each stage several times and for long enough until your anxiety decreases. To start you could go to several parties accompanied, then go alone, then stay half an hour at the party, then ask your friend to introduce you to someone, etc.
It is key that you put a quantitative objective in each stage. In a group conversation your goal could be to make three comments, regardless of the reaction of others. The important thing is that you do all three.
4. Accept what you think to change your behavior
Another alternative when social phobia is severe or there is also depression , is acceptance and commitment therapy . It has parallels with Buddhism but without the spiritual meaning, and its effectiveness has been demonstrated in first-rate scientific studies.
You have learned before that the cognitive-behavioral approach implies that a thought creates a feeling, and this in turn causes a behavior. It is a sequential process.
However, the acceptance and commitment strategy assumes that they do not have to be cause and consequence .
The feeling and behavior can exist both independently and independently. It is as if you accept a verdict, but you do not agree with the sentence.
This strategy consists of separating your thoughts from your behaviors and showing you that you can act with anxiety. Is not it true that when you are afraid to confront your boss, you do not stop going to work?
It is about learning to live with your negative thoughts , mainly for two reasons:
- Many mental disorders are caused by our constant struggle to avoid negative thoughts and feelings.
- When you observe your thoughts, feelings and behavior from an external perspective and accept them as a natural part of the circumstances in which you live, you are free.
When you fully accept your feelings you are free, and then your behavior may be the one you want.
4.1 What is acceptance and commitment therapy?
First you will come into contact with your fears using metaphors and paradoxes to remove their negative meaning. Then you will commit yourself to your personal values, which will be the motor that will drive you to act.
The complete process is the following:
- Congitiva diffusion. To show that your thoughts do not have to be reality, it is very useful to visualize them as tangible words instead of as threatening concepts. If you visualize for a while the phrase “I am a boring person” as letters floating in front of you, of different colors and shapes, it will lose its negative meaning.
- Acceptance. Think about the situation that causes you anxiety and observe the physical sensations that you feel as if you were a curious scientist. If it is a knot in the stomach, what would be its intensity, location and shape? Little by little you will stop seeing it as a threat.
- Contact the present. Here you delve into the practice of mindfulness. It is not necessary to wear white and sit on a mat, you can practice putting all your attention and senses in the act of eating a peach, for example. What flavor and texture does it have? How does it slide in your mouth? In what way is its consistency undone?
The goal is to do this in your social relationships, focusing fully on the act of being conversing instead of your thoughts and emotions.
- Observe yourself as a spectator. It consists of observing yourself as a spectator (a little paradox!) Of your own thoughts in a state of tranquility. So you take away their negative meaning.
- Define your values Very important Define your values and needs as a human being, the kind of person you want to be. They could be connecting with others, building honest relationships, and living freely, for example.
The question you should ask yourself later is: is it worthwhile to feel anxious to live according to my values?
The answer is usually yes.
- Commit yourself to them. Once you have defined your values, commit yourself to a series of objectives that will bring you closer to them. If one of your values is friendship, an objective could be to eat every weekend with a friend and have a deep conversation.
Throughout this process you will be assaulted again by negative thoughts. But little by little and with effort you will develop psychological flexibility : the ability to be in the present moment and act not guided by your thoughts, but by your values.
5. Do not forget about …
5.1 Develop your social skills
As people with social phobia have been exposed little, they have often been unable to develop their social skills. And that is a vicious circle, because the lack of skills still causes more insecurity .
That’s why it’s important that, while you overcome your fears, learn to communicate more effectively. Ask open-ended questions to focus the attention on the explanation of others or open up emotionally (it has been shown that the more you do it the more people will open) are examples of very useful skills.
5.2 Eat yoghurts!
Yes, even if it sounds strange to you, there is more and more evidence that some probiotics can influence your behavior in some way.
A study has just been published where participants taking probiotics experienced a significant reduction in their anxiety . Surprising but true.
With the cognitive-behavioral strategy and acceptance and commitment to change or accept what you think , most of the time you can overcome social phobia. Each person will be better one or the other, but the important thing is that you do not start any if you can not commit to it.
With perseverance and effort you will achieve it. Do not leave us without knowing what you can offer the world.
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