7 Tips for Living with Social Anxiety
How to Practice Exposure Therapy for Social Anxiety Disorder
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), 3 to 13% of the population is affected by social phobia. Defined as an exacerbated shyness, it represents a real obstacle to the development of the people concerned. If you suffer from social anxiety, generalized anxiety disorder or avoidant personality disorder, you may have tried everything else without success.
You may have seen some improvement with antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications, and psychotherapy may have allowed you to talk about your problems. And yet, you still can't get rid of these invasive anxieties. Discover our 7 exercises to calm social phobia and treat anxiety without medication.
1. Understanding social anxiety
What is generalized anxiety disorder?
Generalized anxiety disorder is an almost permanent anxiety felt by a person for a long time. They anticipate every situation in their daily life and imagine stressful scenarios. In the typical case of a social phobia, the patient imagines that his first day at work will go badly because someone will judge the way he speaks or dresses, or that he may be mugged while taking the bus.
The intensity of the generalized anxiety disorder encourages the patient to withdraw into his or her comfort zone and to stay there constantly. This dimension is found in generalized social anxiety disorder: the person tries to avoid as many social situations as possible to stop suffering from the anxiety encountered at these moments.
How can the symptoms be reduced?
According to psychologist Benjamin Lubszynski, specialized in cognitive behavioral therapy, generalized anxiety disorder is "a kind of stress disorder". This dysregulation is explained by the fact that the parasympathetic system or "stress brake" is no longer as effective.
Following a weakening caused by the hazards of life such as a move or a divorce, this system is sometimes no longer able to effectively stop anxiety (as it would normally do!). The practitioner then advises to start by reducing the level of stress felt on a daily basis through various exercises:
2. Learn to breathe well by practicing cardiac coherence
Cardiac coherence is a technique that allows everyone to manage their emotions and stress with ease.
Why is breathing important in managing anxiety?
Breathing is one of the keys to fighting anxiety naturally. Although underestimated, it works miracles when it is well practiced. To reap the benefits, it is necessary to understand how it works. Breathing evolves according to our emotions: it will be slow and deep if you are calm, and short and panting if you are stressed.
Based on this principle, you should know that it is possible to modify your emotional state by acting directly on your breathing. All you have to do is adopt a breath that corresponds to the desired emotion, i.e. serenity and calm.
How to practice cardiac coherence?
To practice this breathing exercise against stress, you must breathe in and out :
- for 10 seconds,
- 6 times per minute,
- for 5 minutes,
- for 3 sessions per day.
Sit on a chair with your legs parallel, your feet fully planted on the floor and your back straight. It is important to make the exercise last, as much in the breathing itself as in the time devoted to this work. The rigor with which you perform cardiac coherence will determine your results.
You should also know that cardiac coherence is a method that can be learned. The exercise will become easier and more natural for you as you practice it!
What are the benefits of cardiac coherence?
Essential if your breathing is blocked because of stress, practicing cardiac coherence offers benefits to the body from the moment it is put into practice, including mental and physical calmness.
Other benefits can be observed 4 hours after the breathing exercise. We notice a decrease in the level of cortisol (also called the stress hormone) in the blood. This decrease in hormones gives way to other neurotransmitters that are beneficial to the body such as :
- Oxytocin (love hormone),
- Dopamine (pleasure hormone),
- Serotonin (prevents depression and anxiety).
The benefits of this breathing practice are visible up to ten days after the practice:
- Hypertension, cardiovascular risk and attention disorders decrease.
- Emotional and physical resistance to pain increases, as well as concentration and memory capacities.
- Blood sugar levels are balanced.
3. Try meditation as an exercise to treat social phobia
The unique thing about meditation is that it relaxes the body and mind so much that it manages to lower stress levels. By practicing it regularly, you decrease your anxiety level over the course of a day, and significantly improve the way you deal with your emotions. The best way to learn how to meditate is to watch videos or listen to relaxing music.
Start small with sessions of as little as 5 minutes, then gradually increase to several dozen minutes or several hours if you enjoy the activity. You will see that at the beginning the exercise is far from being obvious, because you quickly lose focus. But after a few sessions, the brain gets used to it and acquires the ability to enter into a meditative state for longer and longer periods. You will find that it is also a good way to refocus and take care of yourself.
4. Physical activity to treat anxiety without medication
Discover the mental health benefits of physical activity.
Swimming is an effective sport in the fight against anxiety disorders. Like any sport, it causes a release of endorphins after each session. These hormones are produced in the hypothalamus and released through the pituitary gland in the brain.
Often referred to as the "happy hormones", they have the ability to inhibit the sensation of discomfort or pain. The effects of the release of these hormones are therefore beneficial for the brain.
They reduce stress and anxiety, and provide a feeling of euphoria approximately 30 to 40 minutes after the start of the physical activity. Anxiety is therefore reduced during and also after the sports session. In addition to the biological effects caused by sports activity, swimming offers other benefits such as the easing of muscular tension. Indeed, the fact of being weightless allows the body to relax completely.
Yoga has the advantage of reducing stress and improving well-being in individuals who do not suffer from mental disorders. The good news is that these improvements are even more noticeable in people with social phobia or anxiety. This mindfulness practice acts as a real barrier to stress by lowering cortisol levels in the blood.
Being focused on both your breathing and your physical sensations prevents you from anticipating every situation and simply thinking too much. Yoga also promotes quality sleep and reduces sleep disorders and muscle tension. Just grab a mat and start a yoga video on YouTube to try out this social phobia exercise.
5. Exposing yourself to your fears to overcome anxiety
The goal of exposure is to reduce your anxiety response to all the situations that paralyze you on a daily basis. Don't worry: it is subject to rules so that the experience is positive for everyone. For example, it is estimated that an outing should last at least 30 minutes. The goal of the exercise is to give you time to reduce the symptoms of social phobia.
Once the anxiety has subsided and the intrusive thoughts have stopped, you will feel better and may enjoy the moment. By keeping a positive memory of your outing, you will be able to repeat the experience by confronting more anxiety-provoking situations little by little.
It is important to go gradually, starting by doing things that make you feel little anxiety, or by practicing virtual exposure and imagination. Only through prolonged exposure and mindfulness can you treat anxiety without medication.
6. Practicing assertiveness to regain self-confidence
What is assertiveness training?
The goal of this anxiety therapy is to be able to assert your feelings and express your emotions without feeling anxious or uncomfortable. It is based on your right as a person to assert your views and thoughts with positive intent.
To do this, you must realize that you may have a different opinion from the other person. You are simply exchanging your views: by speaking freely about your opinions, you also respect the opinion of the person you are discussing with.
The situations reproduced for this exercise can be as banal as speaking in front of your friends or going against the majority opinion by exposing your own opinion.
How to practice assertiveness training?
Group discussions for people with social phobia are particularly effective for practicing. Through role-playing, patients re-learn how to socialize with confidence by rehearsing real-life situations.
Each person first makes a large inventory of all the situations that cause anxiety in him/her. They then discuss them with the other members of the group. The last step consists in reproducing the situation by finding the right levers to defuse the discomfort that the person feels.
She can also practice alone with a specialized therapist without having to join a group of people suffering from social phobia.
7. Apply these tips to overcome social phobia
Keep this information in mind
- Know that 40% of the population has had a bad experience in a social situation.
- Social phobia can be cured: a minority of people with social phobia remain anxious their whole lives. With continued effort and exercise, you have the potential to overcome anxiety, social phobia and panic attacks.
Avoiding additional stress
- Even if social anxiety is a real handicap for you, you should accept it rather than deny its existence (even if it gets in the way!). This will help you to know how it works and to understand it better.
- Avoid surfing the web too much in search of testimonies or forums about social phobia and its causes: this could worsen your anxieties.
- Ignore your limiting beliefs. If you suffer from social phobia, chances are that you easily put yourself down in social situations. You may tell yourself that you did something wrong, that you suck, that you always fail, etc. If you have learned to think like this, you can learn to think differently!
You've just read through 7 exercise ideas for treating social phobia. You've grasped the importance of cardiac coherence and the benefits of stress activity to treat anxiety attacks.
The ultimate step of exposing yourself to your fears is also something you will implement, as is regular physical activity. The tips and method of assertiveness will allow you to progress in this direction and thus overcome anxiety.
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