How can hypnosis help beat social anxiety?
We have all felt some degree of social anxiety in our lives. Perhaps you have been nervous when meeting new people or attending an important meeting? Most commonly, we feel shy around people that we find attractive. Perhaps you put yourself under pressure to 'act normal' for fear of drawing negative attention toward yourself?
Wanting to fit in and be accepted by our peers is a perfectly normal desire and nothing to be ashamed of. It is a skill that anyone can learn. But sometimes, as with many areas of life, our thinking and emotional responses can get in the way.
Are you anxious or just shy?
Social anxiety is often confused with shyness or being an introvert and, although there can be overlap, these are very different things. Overcoming shyness is usually only a matter of relaxing in your surroundings and getting to know new people at your own pace.
Introversion is just a preference for small groups or solo pursuits, and shouldn’t be a cause for long-term concern (although our society certainly rewards extraverted traits more so than introverted ones, leaving many introverts to think that they are not as valued – which ironically can lead many to feelings of social maladjustment).
However, if your fear of social gatherings is either causing a strong psychological response (panic attacks, palpitations, shaking, sweating) or becomes so extreme that you deliberately avoid all social interactions and relationships at the expense of your well-being and enjoyment of life, then you may well have social anxiety.
“Introversion is your way; social anxiety gets in your way."
The evolutionary roots of social anxiety
Our fear of social evaluation has its roots in our ancestral evolution. As cave dwellers, we learned that our survival could be greatly prolonged if we were part of a tribe. Should we be cast from our tribes, we would undoubtedly have perished and gone without food, companionship, and defense from saber-toothed tigers. Trying to survive alone would have been a vain task with an inevitably fatal outcome.
So why, despite the 200,000 years the Homo sapien brain has had to evolve, do we still stumble over what to say at barbeques?
“He who fears he will suffer already suffers from his fear.“
Michel de Montaigne
Since the industrial revolution 200 years ago, humans have poured from the rural glades toward the smog of the cities, ready for work and living in crowded conditions. Despite the economic and societal advances since then, two centuries have not nearly been enough time for humans to adapt to such extreme changes.
The brain has evolved primarily to function in small clusters of tribes dotted around the savannah, rather than the sprawling cityscapes and the cosmopolitan throng we bustle through each day.
Within our cohort of 20 - 500 tribespeople, we were able to meet the most basic needs of survival. And although passing on our genes has always been the ultimate drive, this cannot be achieved without first meeting at least six fundamental criteria:
- Avoid/kill predators
- Eating/cooking the right food (the discovery of fire allowed us to eat rice and grain which we are not able to digest otherwise)
- Forming communities and friendships (we are social creatures that thrive in societies)
- Giving care to children and the elderly (our own and other peoples within our tribe – it was commonly believed that it takes a village to raise a child – another great departure from modern attitudes)
- Communication (the development of our language 50,000 and 100,000 years ago)
- Selecting a mate
Because societies and their demands have evolved faster than we have been able to adapt, we can begin to see the deeper meaning behind why our place in the social sphere can drive adverse levels of anxiety should we feel unwelcome or excluded.
It is imperative to our survival to be anxious about social exclusion because, without that fear, we would not be here today. So it is crucial to remember that social anxiety is not an illness, it’s a survival instinct.
It is understanding the positive intention behind social anxiety that offers us a key to overcoming it.
“When I let go of what I am, I become what I want to be.”
As with many problems related to anxiety or depression, an imbalance between our emotions and our thinking can lead us to cultivate behaviors that may at first seem to protect us (eg: avoiding parties), but, gone unchecked, can lead to making the problem worse (feeling lonely).
Fortunately, social confidence is something we can all learn, and it is a skill available to everyone. No matter how anxiety affects you, there is always hope. When we understand this we can integrate our emotional responses better, meaning that there is no longer a need for social resistance or fear.
How can hypnosis improve my social life?
As a hypnotherapist, it is quite possible to alleviate conditioned fear reflexes associated with social anxiety, so that you have a choice over your responses in otherwise triggering situations. This can be achieved by using hypnosis to help separate your body's anxiety response from the imagined threat of social situations.
Additionally, a hypnotherapist can use powerful, post-hypnotic suggestions that help you to feel more relaxed in social situations. This will often be complemented by a specially recorded audio that the hypnotherapist will prepare for you which by listening to, will prime your mind to notice how much calmer and in control you are now becoming, as it becomes easier to focus on what it is that allows you to connect with other people so much more.
Finding your voice allows you to confidently take up space in the world.
If there is an upside to anxiety, it’s that it has worked: you are alive and safe and well. Now with the right help, it is time to take back the reigns and choose the meaning of the life you are now preparing yourself to live.
Society can indeed seem daunting and unfair, but part of the recovery of social anxiety can lay in knowing that you have a contribution to make to the world.
There can be great liberty in the revelation that not only do you have a voice, but the world would be better off for hearing it.
If you'd like to try hypnotherapy to help you overcome social anxiety, reach out to me via my profile below.
To watch a video version of this article, please visit my YouTube channel.