Being in front of people makes you anxious. Sometimes so much so that you can’t speak your mind in social situations, and sometimes skip out on activities altogether. But that’s not the only way social anxiety is holding you back.

1. It’s Preventing You from Connecting with Others

When all you can think about is how fast your heart is beating, or how much you might look like an idiot if you say the wrong thing, it’s hard to focus on what’s going on during social interactions. Social anxiety makes it nearly impossible to reach out to others or interact with them in a meaningful way, for fear of making yourself look bad. After a while, you might begin to feel lonely because you aren’t able to interact with people without severe anxiety symptoms.

 

2. It’s Causing you Unnecessary Stress

Worrying about all of the things you might do wrong, or something you said years ago will cause a lot of stress to build up in your body. Most of the things you worry about when you have social anxiety are things other people don’t remember, or don’t think are a big deal.

 

3. It Can Cause Health Issues

All of that build up stress can start to take a toll on your body. If you’re stressed out enough, it can cause you to experience physical health issues that you have to address. Some of these problems include heart disease, headaches, gastrointestinal disease, and faster aging.

 

4. It’s Actively Stopping you From Living Your Life

How many times have you stayed home from a party or an event because you were too worried about what people would think of you? One of the most common regrets people experience in life is not going out and experiencing more when they were younger. You too might start to regret the things you don’t do after a while. 

 

5. It’s Making you Worry about How You’re Being Perceived in Social Situations

While there are some people who might think you’re a little odd, most of the time people don’t remember you outside of their interactions with you. Most people are so focused on themselves that they won’t notice, or won’t care, if you say something weird, or don’t respond in a certain way.

 

6. It’s Telling you Things That Aren’t True

When your anxiety gets really bad, it can start to tell you what other people think about you. “That person thinks you’re annoying” or “this person thinks you’re stupid”. There’s no way to tell what other people think, and in most cases, it’s hard to make someone think poorly of you.

 

7. It’s Stopping You From Pursuing Amazing Opportunities

Have you gone to an interview for your dream job, only to never hear back from the potential employer? Maybe you haven’t experienced exactly this situation, but there’s probably one thing or another that you’ve missed out on because your social anxiety prevented you from interacting in the best way possible.

 

8. It’s Pushing Your Friends Away From You

Good friends will try to be understanding of what you’re going through. But when you keep canceling on outings, or constantly tell your friends that you can’t make it, they start to think you don’t like them, or that you’re never going to show up. Many of them are busy, and don’t have the time to keep trying to get you to come along. And after a while, they might stop reaching out to you.

 

Social anxiety doesn’t have to hold you back in so many areas of your life. With AI Therapy’s program “Overcome Social Anxiety”, you can take advantage of years of research through lessons created to help you get control of your fears. Implementing some of these techniques will help you to get your life back, and start connecting with people in a meaningful and lasting way.

Last week was an interesting one, to say the least. It seems like there was non-stop stories about the havoc in the White House. One story didn’t get as much attention as the others (for obvious reasons), but it caught my eye because it made me think about cognitive behavior theory (CBT). I’m talking about Trump’s theory that the body works like a battery. He believes that people have a fixed amount of energy for their whole life, so we should avoid exercise and not overexert ourselves. To back up his theory, he points to all of his friends who exercise and need to get hip replacements and other medical procedures. Trump believes this theory, and he “feels” it is correct. Therefore, he decides to not exercise himself.

What does this have to do with CBT?

Post-event rumination is a central feature of social anxiety. This means that after a social event someone with social anxiety analyzes the interactions in detail to try figure out if they have done or said anything wrong. The problem with this approach is confirmation bias. If we try to uncover evidence for our “social errors” we will find it. This is not because something bad happened. Often we “feel” like we have said or done something that has upset someone. However, just because we feel or BELIEVE we have done this, it isn’t necessarily true. We are looking for supporting evidence after the fact, just like Trump and his exercise theory.

Evidence, evidence, evidence

What can we do to help make better decisions in life? One of the key ideas behind CBT is to become an evidence based thinker. For the exercise theory, a single google search would find scientific articles contradicting the theory. We don’t need to understand the importance of peer reviewed science to understand the many compelling arguments for cardio exercise, such as longevity, mental health etc. In some situations like this we need to trust our gut instincts less, and our brains more.

The same idea applies to looking at post-event rumination. Rumination can become a habit. One may believe it is a useful strategy to make sure they didn’t “slip up” in a given situation. However, this is not productive, and we need to work out a way to limit the time spent ruminating after social situations. We have to understand that most of the time we simply have no idea what another person is thinking. In other words, when we feel they are thinking poorly of us, this is usually without any direct evidence.  It is just a product of our own minds, and is best ignored, just like Trumps theory on exercise!

 

fdh2Fjola  Helgadottir, PhD is a registered psychologist at the Vancouver CBT Centre, who has previously worked in Australia and at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. She is AI-Therapy’s director and co-creator of AI-Therapy’s Overcome Social Anxiety. Twitter: @drfjola

More great news from AI-Therapy! There are currently several studies in progress designed to test how well the program works. The latest study, from the University of British Columbia, is showing impressive results, adding to the growing pile of evidence backing up the program. These preliminary results are based on students who participated in a randomized controlled trial. The work was led by Dr. Frances Chen and Dr. Chris Richardson, with Hugh McCall and Keith Patena running the day-to-day operations. Hugh will be presenting a poster on the preliminary results at two UBC research conferences (MURC & PURC).

The predecessor to AI-Therapy was created during my PhD from 2007-2011. For my thesis I designed and programmed (in PHP!) a program targeting social anxiety among those who stutter. After completing my studies I saw enormous potential for this field. I wanted to build state-of-the-art, evidence-based mental health treatment programs available to the everyone. Therefore, in August 2012 I launched AI-Therapy with the rebuilt “Overcome Social Anxiety” treatment program.

Since our launch in 2012 we have been growing organically, without external investment. The reduction in social anxiety symptoms we see among our users has been fantastic. For the statistical nerds out there, the effect size is 1.8, which is exceptional. However, user data is not a replacement for proper randomized control trials. Therefore, these latest results from UBC are an exciting validation of what we are seeing with our users.

These are exciting times for AI-Therapy, and the field of computerized therapy as a whole. I’ll leave you with some of the most recent testimonials from our users:

  • “Very informative and helpful program that I highly recommend for everyone suffering from social phobia. It encouraged me to really work on my disorder and I made huge progress! I’ve been going to a therapist and using medicine for quite a while but this I believe has been the most effective of all.”(Guðrún, 19, Iceland)
  • “Excellent resource, well worth it. I have tried many different CBT programs, workbooks, various therapists, and many different medications. AI-therapy has been the most effective of any of these!”(CM, 31, United States)
  • “Excellent course which shows deep understanding of the problems of social anxiety. I have learnt very much and would recommend this course. There are many strategies it recommends for dealing with this problem. It is written by experts in psychology. I have no hesitation in recommending this well structured course.”(Anonymous)
  • “Nothing else has ever helped me as much as this CBT program. I struggled with social anxiety for most of my life, and it has certainly held me back from experiencing life to its fullest. I began this program feeling very hopeless about my situation, thinking nothing could change my mindset and that my life would never be worth much. Now, I have the tools to fight the anxious thoughts and feel very confident about my future.” (Anonymous).

 

fdh2Fjola  Helgadottir, PhD is a registered psychologist at the Vancouver CBT Centre, who has previously worked in Australia and at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. She is AI-Therapy’s director and co-creator of AI-Therapy’s Overcome Social Anxiety. Twitter: @drfjola

tchloeWe all have stereotypes about people with social anxiety. A lot of people falsely believe that social anxiety is the same as being shy. However, this isn’t always the case. In fact, quite often I’m asked “How can I have social anxiety when I’m such a social person?”  These are people who enjoy being the center of attention, and who have a constant stream of funny stories and interesting things to say. People like this can actually be the most socially anxious people in the room.

Here is the key to understanding this: people can have social anxiety about different things. Everyone is unique. For example, some people are very confident in job interviews and with regards to the performance at work, but are terrified at the thought of making small talk in the lunch room. On the other hand, some people are very chatty and sociable with their friends and colleagues, but experience debilitating anxiety when it comes to their work performance. Therefore, when clinicians are evaluating social anxiety, it is vital to understand the idiosyncratic differences between people, as these can have a profound impact on cognitive behavioral treatment.

The details vary from person to person, and can be complex, but social anxiety often forms through a process like this:

  1. There is a particular incident in one’s life. e.g. in childhood
  2. People read into these events, and make inferences about themselves. Normally, these inferences involve highly negative interpretations.
  3. People take precautions to try to compensate for their perceived limitation of character.
  4. In reality, the compensations are overcompensation, and over time these behaviours keep the anxiety going.

An example of an overcompensation strategy is “non-stop talking” (hence, the most bubbly person in the room). These people are uncomfortable with silence because they interpret it as “if I’m not participating in the conversation the other person might think I am boring”. It is important to keep in mind that it is not the behaviour itself that is the problem, but the motivation behind the behaviour. It is the WHY that is important. For example, non-stop talking between long lost friends is to be expected.

Other examples include:

  • always showing a lot of interest in other people’s lives (one of the recommendation in Dale Carnegie courses)
  • making excessive positive comments
  • asking a lot of questions
  • making sure everyone at a party is having a good time

Once again, these are not bad things in and of themselves. It is important to consider WHY you are doing these behaviors. If your motivation is related to how you want others to perceive you, you are probably doing it out of social anxiety

big-group-of-people-of-different

A core part of CBT treatment is to test hypotheses. For example, seeing what happens when you stop overcompensation strategies. It is likely that you find people will accept you for who you are. This is done on an experimental basis, and individuals need to see the point of these experimentation. It is easier said than done, which is probably why therapist have to truly understand the theories behind the strategies they are implementing.

This type of overcompensation strategies are known in the literature as safety behaviors or subtle avoidances. I have recently published journal articles on the topic, and I will be chairing a roundtable at the Anxiety and Depression Association of America ADAA conference in San Francisco on April 8th, 2017 titled: Harmful Safety Behavior or Helpful Coping Strategy? Understanding Client Behavior in the Face of Anxiety.

fdh2Fjola  Helgadottir, PhD is a registered psychologist at the Vancouver CBT Centre, who has previously worked in Australia and at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. She is AI-Therapy’s director and co-creator of AI-Therapy’s Overcome Social Anxiety. Twitter: @drfjola

ubcWe are very pleased to announce our latest collaboration, which is with Dr. Frances Chen and Dr. Chris Richardson of the University of British Columbia (UBC). We will be evaluating AI-Therapy’s cognitive behavior program within the university’s undergraduate student population.

3 years ago I wrote about blog titled: “Is diagnosis necessary for online treatment?“. My answer was no. I believe that anyone can benefit from CBT strategies, whether or not they have an official diagnosis. CBT helps people make better choices in their day to day lives, often leading to an overall improvement in happiness and confidence.

The UBC trial will provide the online social anxiety program to people who have elevated scores on social anxiety, not necessarily a social anxiety diagnosis. We are excited to see the outcome of this research.


fdh2Fjola  Helgadottir, PhD is a registered psychologist at the Vancouver CBT Centre, who has previously worked in Australia and at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. She is AI-Therapy’s director and co-creator of AI-Therapy’s Overcome Social Anxiety. Twitter: @drfjola

All of us at AI-Therapy wish you a very happy New Year!

Since we launched in 2012, the program has made tremendous changes to the lives of many of our users (from more than 30 countries). We always love getting feedback. Here is an email we received from one of our users in 2015 (reprinted with permission):

Dear Fjola and Ross,

Although I’ve just started the course, I feel I must write and let you know how much I’ve found it so helpful and showing an excellent and deep understanding of social anxiety. I’ve suffered for a long time. Over the last ten years I’ve had sixteen CBT sessions, a year of talk therapy and now in my second year of psychotherapy for it. In the short time of your course I’ve learnt far more from you than I have in the last ten years from any of the other therapies I’ve mentioned, let alone the number of self help books I’ve read!

I am really grateful for your expertise and wish I had come across your site much earlier. I am really enjoying your course and it is already beginning to make improvements for me. This is far more than I can say about the help I have had, which, in some cases has made me worse.

Thank you again.

It’s always a great reminder for us to get emails likes these. Let’s make 2016 the year that you tackle your social anxiety with a vengeance!

The past few months have been slow on the AI-Therapy blog, but rest assured that we’ve been very busy. We have reached some major milestones.

Science Magazine

The synthetic therapist

In July we were featured in a Science Magazine special issue on Artificial Intelligence. The article is called “The synthetic therapist”, and gives an overview of the current state of the art for administering evidence based clinical psychology via computerized therapy. The article describes an Overcome Social Anxiety user’s experience with the  program:

[…] the program assumed the role of full-fledged therapist, guiding her through a regimen of real-world exercises for taking control. It sounds like a typical success story for clinical psychology. But no human psychologist was involved.

There is an open access podcast where the author, John Bohannon, shares his thoughts on the field (a link can be found on this page). The article itself is behind a paywall, but can be downloaded here for those with institutional access (note the article refers to AI-Therapy as CBTpsych, which is its original name).

Granville Youth Health Centre, Vancouver Canada

ICYlogo
AI-Therapy is excited to announce that we have received a grant from St. Paul’s Hospital Foundation’s Enhanced Patient Care Fund. The Inner City Youth Program provides care for at-risk youth in Vancouver’s inner-city area. We will be working with ICY to develop an online social anxiety treatment specifically targeted towards this population. Stay tuned for more updates on this.