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Conquer Your People Phobia

written by: Alicia Miller • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 6/28/2011

Social phobia is a condition that causes overwhelming anxiety and fear, especially the fear of being judged by others. Fortunately, you don't have to suffer endlessly. There are treatments that can help you conquer your phobia of people allowing you to enjoy social settings.

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    Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

    Cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, is a type of psychotherapy that was developed in the early 20th century. CBT is a combination of behavioral therapy and cognitive therapy and is based on the underlying premise of how the way you think affects your behavior. CBT is typically a short-term form of treatment and a therapist specifically trained in cognitive-behavioral techniques will work with you to identify negative or unhealthy thought patterns that cause you to feel anxiety and fear in social situations.

    The behavioral component of treatment equips you with the tools you'll need to actually handle those social situations in a healthier, more productive and effective manner. The therapist may teach you relaxation techniques that you can use when you're confronted by a fear-invoking social situation, so you can calm your mind and body. These techniques may involve deep breathing or progressive relaxation. Your therapist may also help you develop social skills so that you feel more confident in social settings. Finally, your therapist will encourage you to gradually confront your fears, instead of avoiding them. Avoidance is a behavior which only serves to reinforce your fears.

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    Self-Help Techniques

    A number of self-help techniques can also help you conquer your phobia of people. These can include:

    • Making sure you get enough sleep, since sleep deprivation can be a key trigger of anxiety
    • Eating healthy
    • Avoiding or minimizing caffeine intake, as caffeine can stimulate anxiety
    • Avoiding or minimizing alcohol intake, as drink can trigger a panic attack

    Holistic techniques like yoga, meditation, aromatherapy, herbs and biofeedback can help manage the symptoms of anxiety. In particular, a study published in 1992 in the "American Journal of Psychiatry" showed that mindfulness meditation techniques were very effective at helping patients suffering from a variety of anxiety disorders.

    The research examined the effects of mindfulness meditation on 22 study participants suffering from either generalized anxiety disorder or panic disorder with or without agoraphobia. A meditation-based program as well as relaxation techniques were taught to participants over the course of three months. At the end of this period, study participants showed substantial reductions in levels of anxiety, depression and panic when compared to pre-study ratings.

    Support groups may also be helpful, in that they provide you with the opportunity to obtain advice from and connect with others who are going through a similar experience. If you're fearful of social settings, support groups can be a useful way to break through the ice, in that you're exposing yourself to a safe situation where you do not have to fear judgment or disapproval of others.

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    Medication

    Sometimes, psychotherapy and self-help techniques simply aren't enough. Despite your best efforts, you might still be suffering from a phobia of people. In this case, you may need to consult a psychiatrist. Anti-anxiety medications can help alleviate your symptoms and help you to better handle fearful or stressful social situations.

    The National Institute of Mental Health lists three different types of medication, such as beta blockers, anti-anxiety medications and certain antidepressants that may help you manage your symptoms. Remember that medication is not a cure for social phobia - once you stop taking the medication, you'll probably experience the same symptoms again. Medication is generally best used in combination with other types of treatment, such as psychotherapy and self-help.

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    Hypnotherapy

    Hypnosis, or hypnotherapy, is a treatment frequently used to help people overcome phobias and change undesirable behaviors. Some people fear that hypnotherapy is the same as the stage hypnosis used in cartoons or in magic shows. However, hypnotherapy is not something that is used to make you do something against your will. The therapist will not be able to make you bark like a dog or get you to do anything you don't want to do.

    Simply put, hypnotherapy is a form of treatment that teaches you relaxation skills, instils a more peaceful frame of mind using visualization techniques and gentle suggestive messages, and helps you overcome your people phobia through a method known as systematic desensitization. Systematic desensitization is a technique used to help you become less sensitive to your fears by desensitizing you to the fearful stimulus, for example, a party or a social setting at work.

    In a hypnotherapy session, your therapist will help you achieve a more relaxed mind-set through deep breathing techniques or a guided visualization. The next step is to vividly visualize your feared situation. The therapist will use suggestions and other techniques to help you replace negative, unrealistic or dysfunctional thoughts with more positive, realistic and adaptive thoughts. The idea behind this technique is that by mentally overcoming your fears, you'll be better equipped to face your fears in real life.

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    References

    National Institute of Mental Health: Social Phobia http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/social-phobia-social-anxiety-disorder/index.shtml

    "American Journal of Psychiatry"; Effectiveness of a Meditation-Based Stress Reduction Program in the Treatment of Anxiety Disorders; J. Kabat-Zinn, et al; 1992 http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/cgi/content/abstract/149/7/936