Social phobia: 7 practical exercises
3 to 13% of the population is affected by social phobia according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Defined as exacerbated shyness, it represents a real obstacle to the development of the people concerned. If you suffer from social anxiety, a generalized anxiety disorder or an avoidant personality disorder, you may have tried everything, without success.
You may have seen a slight improvement with antidepressants and anxiolytics, and psychotherapy may have allowed you to talk about your problems. Yet you still can’t shake off these overwhelming anxieties. Discover our 7 exercises to calm social phobia and treat anxiety without medication.
1. Understanding social anxiety
What is a generalized anxiety disorder?
Generalized Anxiety Disorder is an almost permanent anxiety experienced by a person over a long period of 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 is going to go badly because he is going to be judged on the way he talks or dresses, or that he may be assaulted while taking the bus.
The intensity of the generalized anxiety disorder causes the patient to withdraw into their comfort zone and to stay there constantly. This dimension is found in generalized social anxiety: the person tries to avoid as many social situations as possible in order to stop suffering from the anxiety encountered in these moments.
How can the symptoms be alleviated?
According to psychologist Benjamin Lubszynski, a psychologist specializing in behavioural and cognitive therapy, generalized anxiety disorder is “just a kind of stress disorder. This is because the parasympathetic system or “stress brake” is no longer as effective.
Following a weakening caused by life’s ups and downs, such as a move or divorce, this system is sometimes no longer able to effectively stop the anxiety (as it would normally!). 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 practiced properly. To reap its 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, know that it is possible to modify your emotional state by acting directly on your breathing. To do this, it is enough to adopt a breath that corresponds to the desired emotion, which is serenity and calm.
How to practice cardiac coherence?
To practice this breathing exercise against stress, you must inhale and exhale :
- for 10 seconds,
- 6 times per minute,
- for 5 minutes,
- at the rate of 3 sessions per day.
Sit in a chair with your legs parallel, feet fully on the floor and your back straight. It is important to make the exercise last, both in the breathing itself and in the time spent doing it. The rigor you use to achieve Cardiac Coherence 365 will determine your results.
You should also be aware that cardiac coherence is a method that can be learned. Therefore, the exercise will become easier and more natural for you as you practice it!
What are the benefits of cardiac coherence?
Indispensable if your breathing is blocked due to stress, practicing cardiac coherence offers benefits to the body from the moment you start practicing it, including mental and physical relief.
Other benefits can be observed 4 hours after the breathing exercise. We notice a decrease in the level of cortisol (also called stress hormone) in the blood. This decrease in hormones leaves room for other neurotransmitters beneficial to the body such as :
- Oxytocin (love hormone),
- Dopamine (pleasure hormone),
- Serotonin (prevents depression and anxiety).
The benefits of this respiratory 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.
The blood sugar level is balanced.
3. Try meditation as an exercise to treat social phobia.
The special thing about meditation is that it relaxes the body and mind so much that it succeeds in bringing down the stress level. By practicing it regularly, you decrease your anxiety level over the course of a day, and significantly improve the way you manage your emotions. To learn how to meditate, it is best to have videos or relaxing music to accompany you.
Start little by little with sessions as short as 5 minutes, then gradually increase to several tens of minutes or several hours if you enjoy the activity. You will see that at the beginning the exercise is far from obvious, because you quickly lose your concentration. 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. You will find that it is also a good way to refocus and take care of yourself.
4. Practicing 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 all sports activities, it leads to a secretion of endorphins after each session. These hormones are produced in the hypothalamus and released by the pituitary gland in the brain.
Often referred to as happiness hormones, they have the ability to inhibit the sensation of discomfort or pain. The effects of the release of these hormones are therefore beneficial to the brain.
They reduce stress, anxiety, and provide a feeling of euphoria approximately 30 to 40 minutes after the start of physical activity. Anxiety therefore decreases during, but also after the sports session. In addition to the biological effects caused by sports activity, swimming offers other benefits such as relieving muscle tension. Indeed, being in weightlessness 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. The practice of mindfulness 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 all situations and simply thinking too much. Yoga also promotes quality sleep and reduces the problems associated with falling asleep as well as muscle tension. Just get a mat and post a yoga video on YouTube to test this exercise against social phobia.
5. Exposing yourself to your fears to beat anxiety
The objective of exposure is to reduce your anxiety-provoking response to all the situations that paralyze you on a daily basis. Have no fear: it is subject to rules so that the experience is positive for everyone. For example, it is estimated that an outing should last a minimum of 30 minutes. The purpose 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 gradually confronting more anxiety-provoking situations.
It is important to go gradually by starting to do things that make you feel little anxiety, or by practicing virtual exposure and by imagination. Only prolonged exposure in full consciousness will allow you to treat anxiety without medication.
6. Practicing assertiveness to regain self-confidence
What is assertiveness?
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 so, you need to be aware that you may have a different opinion from the person you are talking to. You simply exchange your points of view: by speaking freely about your opinions, you also respect the opinion of the person with whom you are talking.
The situations reproduced for this exercise can be very mundane, such as speaking in front of your friends or going against the majority opinion by stating your own opinion.
How do you practice assertiveness?
Talking groups for people with social phobia are particularly effective for practice. Through role-playing, patients relearn how to socialize with confidence by rehearsing real-life situations.
Each person first makes a large inventory of all the situations that lead to anxiety in his or her life. They then discuss them with the other members of the group. The last step is to replicate the situation by finding the right levers to defuse the discomfort the person feels.
She can also practice alone with a specialized therapist without having to join a social phobia group.
7. Apply these tips to overcome social phobia.
Keep this information in mind
- Be aware that 40% of the population has already had a bad experience in a social situation.
- Be aware that it is entirely possible to cure social phobia: people who remain anxious all their lives are a minority. By continuing your efforts and multiplying your exercises, you have the potential to overcome anxiety, social phobia and panic attacks.
Avoid 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 your way!). This will help you to know how it works and to understand it better.
- Avoid surfing the web too much in search of testimonials or forums about social phobia and its causes: this could make your anxiety worse.
- Disregard your limiting beliefs. If you suffer from social phobia, chances are that you easily denigrate yourself in social situations. You may tell yourself that you’ve done something wrong, that you suck, that you’re always missing out, etc. If you have learned to think like this, you can learn to think differently!
You’ve just gone through 7 exercise ideas for dealing with social phobia. You’ve grasped the importance of cardiac coherence and the benefits of activity on stress to treat anxiety attacks.
The ultimate step in exposing yourself to your fears is also something you will put in place, as is regular physical activity. The tips and method of assertiveness training will help you progress in this direction and thus overcome your anxiety.
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