Social anxiety is more than just being a bit nervous in a crowd of people. It is a strong and irrational fear of being judged and evaluated negatively by others, leading to feelings of inadequacy, inferiority, discomfort, self-consciousness and embarrassment. The anxiety can be so strong that it causes physical symptoms too, such as trembling, blushing, dry mouth and sweating. It can feel so uncomfortable that people will purposefully avoid social situations, placing a genuine limitation on how they live and behave. People suffering from social anxiety may avoid anything from meeting up with friends, speaking in meetings, eating in public or going to parties. Frustratingly, the effects can also start before a social event has taken place – often just the thought of having to be in a social situation is enough to create uncomfortable and negative effects. People with social anxiety find themselves cancelling events, sometimes at the last minute, which can be frustrating for them and others.
Symptoms of Social Anxiety
People with social anxiety often experience significant emotional distress in the following situations:
Being introduced to new people
Meeting friends – particularly in public places like bars and cafes
Being the center of attention
Being watched while doing something
Being teased as part of ‘banter’
Being around strangers
Speaking in in front of others eg. in meetings or at dinner
Meeting members of the opposite sex
People with social anxiety know that their anxiety is irrational and the feeling that their behaviour is out of their control is frustrating. It can also be a very tiring condition – after all, things that most people would do without thinking feel very out of reach and seem to place mental and physical strain on the mind and body. It is for this reason that a person with anxiety disorder can start to hide away from others, living a much more withdrawn existence than they would like.
How can hypnotherapy help social anxiety?
A quick Google can show you the vast amount of research that cites the success of Clinical Hypnotherapy in reduction of anxiety. Social anxiety, although it has it’s own ‘label’, is simply another type of generalised anxiety, albeit one that is triggered by social interaction.
At the Solution Focused Studio, we combine solution focused therapy and clinical hypnotherapy, which works very well in cases of social anxiety. One of the reasons for this is that we always work around a scientific explanation of the brain, allowing a client to understand exactly what anxiety is and how it is produced.
Anxiety is actually very useful to us as a species, after all, its purpose is to keep us safe from threat or danger, helping us to survive. However, if we lose control of that anxiety in situations where there is no genuine threat or danger, it quickly becomes a problem for us and makes us think and behave in ways that simply aren’t helpful. If we understand what is happening in our brain, we stand a much better chance of recognising the symptoms and getting it back under control.
The symptoms of social anxiety are nothing more than our body getting ready for an emergency – fight or flight – at an inappropriate time.
Using our knowledge of the brain, we then challenge our thoughts – our perception– and start to change the way we use our brain in social situations. We begin to engage our intellectual brain more (essentially the thinking part of the brain or the neo-cortex) changing our thought patterns and therefore, our behaviour. As such, the brain can’t tell the difference between reality and imagination, and so we use this knowledge to retrain our perspective.
The clinical hypnosis is used in this process for a number of reasons. Firstly, it helps to make the process quicker by ‘cementing in’ the changes we want to make. The subconscious part of the brain is relaxed and open to suggestion during a light trance, and we utilise this to feed in positive scenarios and encourage the brain to make new and better connections. The deeply relaxing experience of trance also helps people who probably haven’t had that mental or physical feeling of calm and peace, rediscover how the mind and body feel in a relaxed state. This gives them the space to start working on themselves and focus on the changes they want to make - the behaviour they want to see.
Positive results can happen in a relatively short space of time, in fact many of our clients report back that they often notice in hindsight, when we review the past week, that they have put themselves into more social situations without even noticing. It is only on reflection that they might report ‘I spoke in a meeting’ or ‘I met a friend for coffee’ and realise this is very different to how they would behave before treatment.
Following therapy sessions, the more people that put themselves into social situations, the changes grow even stronger, as they realise that practice makes perfect and that they actually have started to enjoy getting out and about more. The brain has a natural tendency to make us do more of what we enjoy, and with the irrational fear removed, a person who might have suffered in the past finds themselves genuinely wanting enjoy their new-found freedom.
The main message of this post is that we don’t have to live with anxiety limiting how we feel and behave. Often by the time people reach a clinical hypnotherapist, they have been living with anxiety or social anxiety affecting their lives for many years. It is also quite normal that because they have suffered for a number of years, many will be taking anti-anxiety medication from their doctor. The good news is that in nearly all cases, hypnotherapy and solution focused therapy can help, and it is a gentle, positive but efficient way of creating change without reliance on medicines - you simply harness the power of your own brain to make the changes.
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