According to NIMH, Social Anxiety is a common anxiety disorder that affects about 7.1% of adults in the US. They also estimate that about 12.1% of US adults experience social anxiety at some point in their lives.
Here at FEBO, we understand how challenging it may be to live in constant fear or anxiety. While therapy or medication are possible treatment options, you can also take an active step in your health journey by using meditation to help reduce your symptoms. By practicing certain styles of meditation, you can learn how to become aware of your thoughts and emotions. Over time, you will slowly learn how to become aware of these negative emotions and slowly let them go as you redirect your thoughts to a more positive outlook. Within this article, we will discuss more in-depth about social anxiety and how meditation can help some individuals.
What Is Social Anxiety?
Social anxiety (also known as social phobia) is a common anxiety disorder where people often feel an overwhelming sense of anxiety or fear in certain situations. They may feel like they are being judged, negatively evaluated, or rejected. While it is normal for people to feel anxiety throughout their lives or in certain situations, those with social anxiety experience a persistent, intense, and chronic fear that often disrupts their ability to live normally.
What Causes Social Anxiety?
The direct cause of anxiety disorder is still known. Many researchers believe that genetics may play a factor. People who have family members with social anxiety have a higher chance of having it as well. Other researchers also believe it has to do with an overactive amygdala (the part of your being that controls your fear response). The environment also plays a role since people who experience unpleasant or embarrassing social situations may develop severe anxiety as a result.
What Are the Risk Factors for Social Anxiety?
These risk factors can play a role in individuals developing social anxiety:
- Family history: People have a higher chance of having social anxiety if they have a biological parent or sibling with the condition.
- Negative Experiences: Children who experience negative/traumatic experiences (such as bullying, rejection, ridicule, or humiliation) may have a higher chance of developing an anxiety disorder. Other experiences may include family conflicts, trauma, or abuse.
- Temperament: Children who are shy or withdrawn during new social situations have a higher chance of getting social anxiety.
- New Social or work demands: While social anxiety symptoms usually occur in children or teens, they can also happen for the first time in adults. Social Anxiety can develop when being put in a situation where you meet new people or have to give an important work presentation.
- Having an appearance or condition that draws attention: Those who experience stuttering, tremors, or cosmetic disfiguration may have a higher risk of having social anxiety.
What Are the Physical Symptoms of Social Anxiety?
Some physical signs and symptoms may include:
- Fast heartbeat
- Out-of-body sensation
- Upset stomach or nausea
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Muscle tension
- Mind going blank
- Rigid body posture
What Are the Emotional and Behavioral Symptoms?
Some common emotional and behavioral symptoms may include:
- Fear of being in a situation where you will be judged negatively
- Worry about embarrassing or humiliating oneself
- Intense fear of talking with others/strangers
- Avoiding events where you will feel embarrassed
- Avoiding events where you will be the center of attention
- Intense fear during social situations
- Overanalyzing your flaws or actions when interacting in a social situation
- Expecting the worst possible consequences from a negative experience in a social situation
- Find it difficult to be around people you don’t know or talk with people in social situations
- Difficulty in making eye contact
- Feeling self-conscious or fearful that people are judging them negatively
How Can Meditation Help with Social Anxiety?
According to a Stanford article, people with social anxiety tend to judge themselves too harshly and assume that others think the worst about them. However, meditation can teach people how to focus on other things instead of their negative thoughts. These redirections of thoughts are possible because meditation focuses on mindfulness. Mindfulness (as explained by Jon Kabat-Zinn) is “the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally” . By practicing mindfulness, one learns how to redirect their thoughts into a more positive outlook. Or it provides them with the ability to calm their thoughts. Meditation also allows individuals to make peace with their minds instead of trying to fight them, which allows them to eventually harbor more self-compassionate thoughts.
Overall, meditation is about becoming comfortable with our minds. We learn to slow down, ground ourselves, and be kind to ourselves. We become aware of our minds, and it is through that awareness that we regain the ability to take back control.
How Can I Start Meditating for Social Anxiety?
It is simple to get started on meditating. All you need is some time set aside and a quiet location. When we meditate, we take the time to sit, relax, and remain focused on our breathing/mind. It allows us to become more aware of our thoughts, connect with the present moment, and practice more compassion towards ourselves. Rather than getting stuck on one singular thought, you can acknowledge the thought and then let it go as you shift your focus back to your breathing. It may be a bit challenging at first, but it will get easier the more you practice.
How Well Does Meditation Help with Social Anxiety?
Various studies show promising results that mindfulness meditation can help with social anxiety. According to this study, researchers found that cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) can be equally helpful in treating social anxiety disorder since both improve positive and negative self-views.
Meanwhile, this 2009 study also shows promising results that mindfulness meditation can moderately reduce symptoms of social anxiety, depression, rumination, and state anxiety. It can also improve people’s self-esteem. Much like the other study, the study shows that MBSR results in decreased negative and increased positive self-views.
Can Meditation Worsen My anxiety?
Of course, like many treatments or practices, meditation may not be the right fit for you. According to this 2020 study, about 8.3% of people who meditate do not always get their desired results. Instead, their condition may get worse. Of course, there are many reasons why meditation may not work for specific individuals. These reasons may include:
- Choosing the wrong style of meditation
There are many styles of meditation to choose. These can include mindfulness meditation, spiritual meditation, movement meditation, visualization meditation, etc. Each type of meditation requires different skills and mindsets. One style of meditation may work for one individual, but it might not be the right fit for another. We encourage you to look into the different kinds of meditation and pick a style that best works for you. Just because a type of meditation is trendy does not mean that it will work for you. Take into account your personal beliefs, traditions, and perspectives.
It is also important that you take the time to research and learn about a particular style of meditation from experts. Choose reliable sources to read and/or watch videos. The more you understand that type of meditation, the better you will be able to practice it.
- Meditation is not for you.
People often want to see immediate benefits and spend hours meditating for the first time. It is something that is not recommended. It is best if you start slowly to not feel overwhelmed. Start slowly (about 3-5 minutes a day) and steadily increase your time as you become more comfortable. Look up a YouTube video, article, or app (from a credible source) that can help guide you through your first time.
However, if you notice that things are not getting better, it may be a sign that meditation is not for you. And that’s okay! Like with different medications or treatments, sometimes things don’t work out. In that case, you could look into other self-improvement techniques (or talk with your doctor or therapist about other solutions).
What Are Some Exercises I Can Do?
There are many exercises out there that you can try. Here is a couple to help you get started:
1) 4-7-8 Deep Breathing Exercise
With meditation, there are many breathing exercises out there you can do. The 4-7-8 exercise is a good and easy way to start. All you have to do is:
- Find a calm, quiet spot to sit or lie down
- Exhale through your mouth and tongue
- Inhale through your nose for four seconds
- Hold your breath for a count of seven seconds
- Exhale completely for a count of eight seconds
- This completes one cycle. Repeat for about three times (or however many times you find it to be helpful)
You could start slowly by practicing this meditation for 3-5 minutes. All you need to do is:
- Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit down
- Close your eyes
- Focus on your breathing
The goal is to allow your thoughts to come and go without negatively focusing on any specific thought. The goal isn’t to keep a clear mind. It’s about allowing distractions to come and go as you focus back on your breathing.
3) Body Scan Meditation
This exercise allows you to tune out distractions while focusing on various body parts. You can start by:
- Find a quiet and comfortable place to sit or lie down.
- Close your eyes
- First, focus on your toes and wiggle them. Then you can move to move your feet.
- Take notice of any pain, discomfort, tingling, aching, etc.
- Take a deep breath through your nose and then exhale through your mouth. Focus on letting that session go and relax that area of your body.
- Work your way up from your toes to your head. Move to your ankles, legs, hips, back, stomach, chest, shoulders, neck, arms, hands, and (finally) your face/head.
- As you progress up your body, focus on one muscle group at a time.
4) Gratitude Meditation
Through this exercise, you focus on all the things you feel grateful for and try to redirect your negative thoughts to positive ones.
- Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit down.
- Close your eyes.
- Take a slow, deep breath and bring your mind to the present moment.
- Take note of any worries, fear, anger, irritation, jealousy, or judgment. Take a deep breath and release these feelings.
- Slowly start to list in the mind things you feel grateful for. If you are a beginner, you can think up to 5-7 things.
Sources: www.mayoclinic.org, adaa.org, www.artofliving.org, news.stanford.edu, www.harleytherapy.co.uk, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, www.rtor.org
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