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.

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

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

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

Emma Watson did a wonderful speech for the UN recently, and if you haven’t seen it yet you should really check it out:

She launched a campaign called “HeForShe”, where men around the world are asked to join the gender equality agenda. The speech has gone viral (when I opened my Facebook this morning it seemed like half of my friends were raving about it). I came across some coverage of it with the headline “Her Voice Might Tremble, But Emma Watson’s Message Is Strong and Clear.” In my opinion, I found her voice to be very human and down to earth. I think her message was stronger because of this touch of tremble, which highlighted the fact that the speech wasn’t easy for her. Remember, this is a famous actress whose career is performing. She was nervous because nobody feels confident all of the time, and stepping outside of our comfort zone is when we grow.

This made me think of social anxiety and how we treat it. Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) for social anxiety challenges people by moving them out of their comfort zones. We learn the most when we “put ourselves out there”. It is about experimenting with your thoughts and behaviors, and helping you live your life without fears.

I think a lot of social anxiety behavior in women is linked to gender equality. Sometimes we fear that by speaking our mind we will be labelled as “bossy”, whereas a man in the same situation could be called a “leader”. This is something we need to move past. For women, overcoming social anxiety can have a fantastic impact on their careers and self-confidence.

Fjola

Fjola  Helgadottir, PhD, CPsychol, is a clinical psychologist, who has trained all over the world. She 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.

I recently came across an article on the failure of the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) treatment model. It makes a strong case, and is well worth a read (the full article is here).

Dealing with social anxiety with alcoholIf AA works for you that’s great, but you are in the minority.

I’ve been skeptical of AA for years now.  On one hand, I personally know several people who have successfully used the program, and I’m sincerely happy that they have found a way to deal with their alcohol problems. However, I have treated many more people in my professional practice for whom AA has simply not worked. 

I have serious objections to the way AA is run. In particular, their reluctance to publish information on success rates is unacceptable. The article claims that AA fails for up to 90%-95% of attendees. Until AA shows a willingness to become more transparent and adopt evidence-based treatments, there is little hope that the program’s efficacy will improve.

It is not always about the alcohol.

One flaw in AA’s treatment strategy is the assertion that alcohol is the root cause of all problems in an alcoholic’s life. In many cases this is not true, as alcohol is often used to cope with other issues. For example, let’s consider how social anxiety might cause someone to abuse alcohol, as I’ve come across this many times.

People usually feel more confident and have fewer inhibitions while drinking. This can be appealing for those with social anxiety, and can even appear to be effective in the short term. However, using this as coping mechanism has several disadvantages. For one thing, after the effects of alcohol have subsided many people find themselves in a cycle of rumination that increases feelings of anxiety. Furthermore, if you need to drink in order to deal with social situations, this can lead to a dependency or addiction.

Any treatment that focuses purely on abstaining from alcohol (as AA does) is bound to have limited success.

Fjola

Fjola  Helgadottir, PhD, CPsychol, is a clinical psychologist, a senior research clinician at the University of Oxford, and is a co-creator of AI-Therapy.com, an online CBT treatment program for overcoming social anxiety