Can sauerkraut cure social anxiety? Yesterday an article was published in the Huffington Post with the title “Sauerkraut Could Be The Secret To Curing Social Anxiety“. The timing of this article is interesting, as only a few weeks ago John Bohannon conducted a fantastic experiment that demonstrates why you should be skeptical of health new stories. I highly recommend you read the full article. In brief, he conducted a bogus study that appears to demonstrate that eating chocolate helps people lose weight (wouldn’t that be great!?). Pretty soon his results were being reported by media outlets around the world. This exposed several weak links in the way scientific studies are conducted and distributed:

  • Statistics: There are many ways that statistics can lead a scientific study astray. One of the most common is a process known as data dredging, which involves testing a large number of hypotheses until one is found that appears to be statistically significant. However, effects found in this manner are usually due to random chance. Data dredging is often done unconsciously by scientists who are under pressure to publish results.
  • Effect size: Even when an effect is real, it is important to know how strong the effect is. In some cases it will be so weak that its impact is negligible.
  • Peer review: Peer review is one of the strongest tools we have to prevent the publication of poor quality work. However, even this system is flawed. As John Bohannon discovered in another expose, there are many so-called “academic journals” that claim to conduct peer review but will actually publish anything if a fee is paid.
  • Lack of fact checking: Often a journalist will lift a story directly from a press release without doing any background research about the publication or its authors.
  • Stories that sell: In order to increase sales, stories are usually given a “spin” to make them more exciting. This often involves catchy, but misleading, headlines, or twisting and oversimplifying the results.

All of these factors contribute to the poor state of health science reporting. It is not uncommon to see completely contradicty stories that are published within weeks of each other.

med_news

When you see a headline like “Sauerkraut Could Be The Secret To Curing Social Anxiety” you should resist the temptation to run to your local German deli and stock up on fermented cabbage. Rather, you should base your decisions on research that has stood the test of time, with multiple independent studies showing the same outcome. If you are serious about tackling social anxiety you should use a technique like cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), which has been demonstrated to be effective in hundreds of studies.

Fjola

Fjola  Helgadottir, PhD, CPsychol, is a clinical psychologist, who has 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 program and the author of Flourish: Living happily while trying to conceive. Twitter: @drfjola

It can be very hard to understand the impact that anxiety problems have on those who suffer from them. For example, people with social anxiety are often told to simply “get over it” by the people in their lives. This attitude usually doesn’t stem from a lack of compassion, but rather a lack of understanding. In reality, you can’t “just get over” anxiety problems any more than you can “just get over” a broken leg. Effective treatments for both conditions exist, but recovery can be a lengthy and a challenging process.

I came across an excellent cartoon series where an artist illustrates the role of anxiety in her life. Click below to see the whole post:

Anxiety cartoon

Fjola

Fjola  Helgadottir, PhD, CPsychol, is a clinical psychologist, who has 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 program and the creator of Flourish: Living happily while trying to conceive. Twitter: @drfjola

In this video I explain one of the core concepts behind social anxiety: safety behaviors. Safety behaviors maintain social anxiety, because when we engage in them we are missing opportunities to learn from our success. Therefore, we continue to feel anxious and lose confidence.

In a recent testimonial, a user of our Overcome Social Anxiety program describes how stopping safety behavior has made major changes to his life! Our program creates a personalized formulation for each user. This includes identifying safety behaviors, and learning techniques for stopping them. You can learn more about the program here.

Fjola

Fjola  Helgadottir, PhD, CPsychol, is a clinical psychologist, who has 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 program and the creator of Flourish: Living happily while trying to conceive. Twitter: @drfjola

For my PhD I created an online social anxiety treatment for people who stutter or stammer. The results were fantastic. In fact, they were so good that Ross Menzies and I wanted to make the tool available for everyone with social anxiety, and that’s how AI-Therapy was born.

AI-Therapy now has hundreds of users from all over the world, and our results (technically known as the program’s “effect size“) have been just as strong as the original PhD version. Actually, they are even more promising as they are now based on a larger population of users.

Statistics aside, it’s also important to hear people’s stories. Unfortunately, the nature of social anxiety makes it difficult for those who suffer to speak openly about the problems. Therefore, I was extremely excited to (quite randomly) come across the following article:

How cognitive behaviour therapy helped me

It was written by a user of my PhD program, and talks about the impact CBT has had on his life. I found it humbling that the program I created made such a difference to someone who has lived with social anxiety for over 70 years.

Here are a few quotes:

The programme was one of the great events of my life. It acknowledged that people who stammer often have undesirable thoughts and beliefs and I was shown how to change these. The results were immediate. The major item I picked up from the programme was the dropping of safety behaviours.

Shortly after the course finished I attended a dinner with 25 people. Normally this would involve the minimum of social conversation from me. On this occasion I made use of the techniques I had picked up and talked just about non-stop and on several occasions I was told to stop talking and eat as everyone was waiting for me to finish my meal so they could have the next course served.

Each conversation that I approach I now face with determination and courage. No longer do I stand back and rehearse what I am going to say before saying it. I have become very outspoken and have no problem at all in speaking up at meetings to add to the discussion. People I have met since completing the CBT programme have no idea that I stammer and when I tell them they are amazed by my story of how CBT changed my life.

I highly recommend you read his whole story. As I mentioned, AI-Therapy’s Overcome Social Anxiety program has been enhanced to be suitable for anyone with social anxiety. I hope it continues to change lives.

Fjola

Fjola  Helgadottir, PhD, CPsychol, is a clinical psychologist, who has 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 program and the creator of Overcome Fertility Stress. Twitter: @drfjola

Several hundreds of people from all over the world have already benefited from the program! We’ve had users from 28 different countries, and here is a message for each one:

  1. Australia: Happy New Year! (does anyone know how to say this in an Aboriginal language?)
  2. Bahrain:  سنة جديدة سعيدة
  3. Belgium: Gelukkig nieuwjaar, Ein glückliches neues Jahr!, Bonne année!
  4. Canada: Happy New Year!, Bonne année!
  5. China: 新年快樂!
  6. DenmarkGodt NytÅr!
  7. FranceBonne année!
  8. GermanyEin glückliches neues Jahr!
  9. Iceland: Gleðilegt ár!
  10. Ireland: Happy New Year, bhliain nua sásta!
  11. Israel: שנה טובה ומבורכת and سنة جديدة سعيدة
  12. Japan: 明けましておめでとうございます
  13. Luxembourg: Bonne année!, Ein glückliches neues Jahr! (is there another term in Luxembourgish?)
  14. New Zealand: Happy New Year!, Tau Hou oaoa!
  15. NorwayGodt Nytt År!
  16. Qatar: سنة جديدة سعيدة
  17. Poland: Szczesliwego Nowego Roku!
  18. Saudi Arabia: سنة جديدة سعيدة
  19. Slovenia: srečno novo leto!
  20. Singapore: Happy New Year, Selamat Tahun Baru, புத்தாண்டு, 新年快樂
  21. South Korea:새해 복 많이 받으세요
  22. Spain: Feliz año nuevo!
  23. Sweden: Gott Nytt År!
  24. Switzerland: Bonne année!, Ein glückliches neues Jahr!, Buon Anno!, (does anyone know how to say this in Romansh?) 
  25. United Arab Emirates: سنة جديدة سعيدة
  26. United Kingdom: Happy New Year!
  27. United States of America: Happy New Year!
  28. Vietnam: Chúc mừng năm mới

There is a common stereotype about people who suffer from social anxiety. Many assume that they are shy and socially awkward people, and it would be easy to tell who has the disorder just by looking at them. This simply isn’t true. There are countless people who appear to be outgoing and confident, yet dread social events or public speaking, and spend hours ruminating before and after.

Prince Harry is a great example. He has been in the public eye since the day he was born. However, he still gets nervous and anxious before entering a room full of people.

I’d like to thank Prince Harry for speaking openly about his social anxiety. Every time a high-profile person shares their struggles it helps reduce the stigma, and encourages others to seek help.

Fjola

Fjola  Helgadottir, PhD, CPsychol, is a clinical psychologist, who has 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 program and the creator of Overcome Fertility Stress. Twitter: @drfjola

The Journal of Abnormal Psychology has just published an interesting study that addresses this very question. The researchers asked people with social anxiety to rate themselves at how good they think they are at being friends. Not surprisingly, most people with social anxiety didn’t rate themselves very highly. However, the study went further and asked people from their social circle to rate the subject’s “performance” as a friend. The result confirmed what psychologist have suspected for a long time: the friends liked them a lot more than those with social anxiety believed.

Woman Looking At Self Reflection In Mirror
People with social anxiety often have a negatively distorted self-image.

Psychologists know that the way people with social anxiety see themselves does not always reflect reality. In particular, they see themselves through the eyes of others in a highly negative way. This is a complex phenomena, but for many learning to correct these biases can lead to a major improvement of life.

This phenomenon is addressed in Part 6 our Overcome Social Anxiety program. Since a distorted self-image is the creation of the mind, it can be modified and replaced with a more positive and accurate representation. This is an important step towards curing social phobia!

Fjola

Fjola  Helgadottir, PhD, CPsychol, is a clinical psychologist, who has 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 program and the creator of Overcome Fertility Stress. Twitter: @drfjola