Overcoming Social Anxiety with Mindfulness Therapy
Social anxiety and fear of unfamiliar places, including agoraphobia revolve around negative core beliefs and reactive thinking that operate outside of our control. Mindfulness Therapy teaches individuals how to work with these beliefs and, most importantly, the core emotions that empower the beliefs. This kind of therapy can be provided very effectively online through Skype. All you need is a laptop and you are ready to go. Many people with social anxiety find this approach much easier and less intimidating than going to the therapist's office and this is why Online Psychotherapy, Counseling and Coaching are becoming so popular.
Social Anxiety Disorder is a form of phobia, a reactive emotional disorder to a range of social settings that are perceived as threatening, mainly due to the unfamiliarity of the situation. Most of us feel a degree of nervousness in new situations or when asked to speak in public, but those with SAD develop anxiety and panic attacks that can be completely overwhelming, and may result in a person going to extreme lengths to avoid public places or situations that generate the fear reactions. The fear of being scrutinized by others, of making a fool of yourself and extreme self-consciousness can be a major impediment to ones career and social life and may result in feelings of extreme loneliness and shattered self-confidence and self-esteem.
The other distressing effect of social anxiety is that it leads to the proliferation of worrying about upcoming events, imagining all kinds of scenarios with negative outcomes. Even the most basic tasks such as shopping at the supermarket can consume so much emotional energy that it simply becomes easier to give up. So much emotional energy is expended in this endless worrying that we are left feeling completely drained and fatigued, which makes us even less able to cope. In its most extreme form, social phobia can lead to agoraphobia, where it becomes impossible to venture outside the confines of ones home, or very well defined "safe zone."
Seeking some form of psychotherapy for anxiety disorders is a very sensible approach, and can make a huge difference. Generally, therapies involving cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) are particularly effective, because they aim at changing the underlying beliefs and patterns of negative reactive thinking that create the anxiety. However, what is even more important than the thoughts or beliefs at the core of anxiety conditions are the emotions, the feeling energy that empowers those thoughts and beliefs. This is what we address in Mindfulness Meditation Therapy, which is a form of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT). Essentially, you learn how to focus mindfulness on the underlying core emotions and make them the primary object of your meditation. As always, it is what is not seen that has most power over you, and mindfulness therapy is directed at exploring the structure of our inner feelings in great detail.
When you develop a mindfulness-based relationship with your inner emotions, your anxiety and fear, you set up a completely different inner environment that greatly facilitates transformation, resolution and healing of the emotional constructs of anxiety and fear. The simple fact is that reactivity inhibits change, while mindfulness promotes change and healing.
You first learn to recognize the impulse to react with fear or panic as it arises, and to respond at a very early stage to the impulse with mindful-attention. This simple action stops the reactivity proliferating into worry and negative thinking, and opens up a brief moment of choice, a space before the reaction takes off. This is the beginning of the de-conditioning process. With practice you can develop and lengthen this space, especially in mindfulness meditation sessions, which become practice grounds for developing new ways of responding to your emotions and the associated external situations.
As you develop this space, what is called the "therapeutic space of mindfulness," you create an opportunity in which the trapped emotional energy that powers the reactions can unfold, unwind and become much more malleable. This inner freedom allows emotions to change and transform, which eventually leads to their resolution. We all know the importance of "facing our feelings." Mindfulness Meditation Therapy provides the method and details of how to do that, and in a way that leads to beneficial change, rather than simply re-experiencing the emotional reactivity. It is a well-established fact that Exposure Therapy, in which you deliberately make controlled contact with your fear or phobia, is an essential part of healing, but the whole point of such therapy is not to simply re-experience the fear, but to experience it differently. Mindfulness therapy allows you to do this very effectively, and with mindfulness-based exposure therapy your mind will rapidly learn new perceptions and new pathways of experiencing that are not based on emotional reactivity but on balanced responsiveness. This in turn naturally leads to more functional and more positive thinking and more useful core beliefs that are empowered by positive emotional energy, rather than the previous negative energy.
Social Anxiety is a condition characterized by emotional contraction. Anxiety-producing thoughts arise in the mind and we contract and become overwhelmed by these emotional reactions. Our identity literally contracts into the form of the emotional reaction, which leaves us very vulnerable. This sense of contraction feels as if the walls are moving in and that everyone is looking at us. We feel exposed and are dreadfully afraid of having a panic attack or losing control. Often, this fear of losing control is a central component of social anxiety and agoraphobia.
Mindfulness cultivates a response to this impulse to contract that is spacious and expansive and provides a very powerful antidote. One of the techniques taught in Mindfulness Therapy actually involves using our imagination to create a very large space around the contraction impulse the moment we become mindful of it. The moment the impulse is seen, the client visualizes the impulse as a pebble or similar object and then throws the pebble into a large open space, like a field or pond. You might try this Expansion Response yourself. Teach yourself to recognize that impulse to contract into an emotion like fear or worry and immediately imagine that impulse as a small pebble or any other object that feels right for you and then toss it into a very large space of your choosing. Try different spaces to find the one that works best for you. Mindfulness allows you to intuitively feel what imagery works best for you.
Today, many psychotherapists, counselors and life coaches recognize the widespread need for education in the field of emotional management and self-help, and are offering this in the form of personalized coaching online, particularly through email correspondence and Skype sessions. Online coaching offers many advantages to the client, and convenience has to be one of the greatest reasons why Online Counseling is becoming more and more popular. Another very important advantage of Online Counseling is that it empowers the client, allowing him or her to direct the process in a way that works best. The Online Therapy process also helps both client and therapist focus on designing specific solutions to specific problems. Often this will involve exercises and "homework" assignments that the client can experiment with at home. In Mindfulness Meditation Therapy, clients learn specific techniques on how to work with their emotions at home. This includes a form of meditation in which the client focuses mindful-awareness on troubling emotions and chooses to "sit" with his or her emotions providing that all-important inner therapeutic space in which emotions begin to transform and resolve themselves quite naturally. This meditation skill is quite easy to learn and provides an invaluable tool for working with difficult emotions.