Social anxiety: improving skills should be part of treatment

People with social anxiety (or social phobia) need to improve their social skills to break the cycle of social rejection, according to recent research published in the British Journal of Clinical Psychology .

Previous research has indicated that people with social anxiety are considered less friendly, less friendly and less comfortable to contact than people who are not as anxious.

In this research from Maastricht University, people with social phobia were observed during two social tasks: speaking in front of a group and participating in a conversation to get to know each other. Observers and participants reported how they felt about people who were socially anxious.

People with social anxiety did not perform well in these situations and their poor performance led observers to have negative feelings towards them, leading to rejection.

“The fear of rejection is one of the central issues for people who suffer from social anxiety, but we have found that their anxious behavior causes rejection,” says Marisol Voncken, lead author.

These people would need help finding ways to be less self-centered and should be encouraged to socialize with people with similar characteristics and interests, says Voncken. 

People who suffer from social phobia (also called social anxiety) are particularly sensitive to negative comments about themselves, confirms a recent research published in the journal Archives of General Psychiatry .

It is the most common anxiety disorder in the general population with a lifetime prevalence of 13.3% and is associated with a higher risk of depression, drug and alcohol abuse, and suicide.

Previous studies have shown differences in how the brain responds to facial expressions in people with this disorder, suggesting a greater response to social stimuli in emotion-related regions. The new study shows greater responsiveness to critics.

Karina Blair and her colleagues compared images of brain activity in 17 people with the disorder and 17 people who did not have it. Images were taken while participants were reading positive comments (you are beautiful), negative (you are awful), or neutral (you are a human) about them or someone else (he is handsome).

Participants with social phobia exhibited greater activation in the medial prefrontal cortex (a region related to self-concept) and the amygdala (related to fear, anxiety, and stress response) by reading negative comments about themselves. There was no difference with the comparison group in response to positive and neutral comments or about others.

“Since the regions of the medial prefrontal cortex are involved in self representations (self-concept), it is possible that these regions, along with the amygdala, play a prominent role in the development and maintenance of phobia. and that the pathology in this disorder reflects, at least partially, a negative attitude towards oneself, especially in connection with criticism, “the authors conclude. 

How to overcome social anxiety?

1) Become aware of the automatic beliefs and thoughts that sustain this anxiety and work to change them. For example: I am not interesting for others. My image is not good. I will forget what I have to say. We’ll realize that I’m nervous, I’m going to look stupid, etc.

2) Identify social skills that need to be improved (engage and maintain conversations, make requests, receive reproaches and express disagreement or dissatisfaction, learn to congratulate, thank, etc.) and read to learn the practical ways to proceed.

3) Make a list of goals for improving social contacts according to their level of difficulty . Evaluate on a scale of 1 to 10 the level of difficulty of different social contacts. For example: exchange a few words with the cashier at the convenience store, exchange a few words with a co-worker or his boss, invite a client to dinner, go to the office party, etc. Of course it can be easier said than done for some. Check this out if you still feel stuck.

It is important to start by working on the easiest goals. This allows you to develop your skills and gradually overcome the feeling of anxiety by progressing successfully. It may be helpful to be prepared to deal with certain situations by visualizing in advance, when relaxed, how one can proceed in these situations as often as it takes to be comfortable enough with the idea of confront this situation. (Relaxation techniques)