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Why Use Self Help Methods for Social Phobia?
Social phobia, which can used interchangeably with social anxiety, is an intense, persistent, and irrational fear of social situations to the point that they are avoided at all cost1. Avoiding these social situations is thought to reduce the perceived judgment and scrutiny felt by someone who sufferers of this mental illness. While people who are shy can still attend social situations and function reasonably well at them, people who suffer from social phobia may avoid parties and other social functions entirely. They may even avoid eating, drinking, and writing in public because of this irrational fear. This avoidance may also include meeting new people, speaking in public, or even using public restrooms. Not surprisingly, this mental illness doesn't correspond well with treatment.
Over the years, many treatments have been used to treat social anxiety and are moderately successful. However, visiting a therapist, while probably the best option, is a terrifying new social experience that many people with social phobia cannot handle. Even if treatment is started, the situation may prove to be too stressful to continue. In fact, it's estimated that only 25% of people who suffer from social phobia seek treatment2. Where treatment fails to reach a large number of these people, self-help methods may provide some relief from social phobia.
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Social Phobia Self-Help Methods
Self-help methods have become common place in today's world. While self-help psychotherapy should not be encouraged, those with social phobia may benefit from these methods. Many such methods are available, but only a few of them will be outlined here. Self-help methods should be used as stepping stone toward seeking therapy and may not permanently relieve the symptoms of social phobia.
The first social phobia self-help method is a relaxation technique which incorporates slow breathing2. Situations which lead to anxiety may lead to rapid breathing which further worsens other symptoms of anxiety. The best way to combat this is to count the amount of breaths in one minute when you become agitated. The normal range for number of breaths in a minute is 10-12. The technique is fairly simple. First, elongate your breaths by inhaling for three seconds then exhaling for three seconds. As you breath out, relax your muscles as much as you can to loosen the tension in your body. Also, focus on taking deep breaths and breath through your nose. Continue this behavior for five minutes and count the number of respirations in a minute again. It should be reduced. This technique should also be practiced while you are relaxed so it becomes automatic. Once automatic, slowed down breathing will become a normal response to stress.
Another problem for people who suffer from social phobia is negative automatic thougths which leads to the second social phobia self-help technique. Negative thougths include fears that are based on assumptions which may not be real. In particular, there are two. These are mindreading, which is assuming to know the thoughts of others in regard to them, and personalizing, which is explaining an action of someone else by assuming a negative thought about themselves such as 'I am boring'. The best way to handle these negative thoughts is to identify them by writing them down. Then, these thoughts should be challenged by identifying other reasons for someone's behavior that doesn't include them. These automatic thoughts are difficult to overcome but can be overcome.
Finally, the last self help method is to face the fears which have become limiting. However, this is a gradual process starting with easier situations and gradually building to more difficult ones. For example, a suitable first step would be to tell a funny story about yourself to a group of friends and build from there. As a final step, they might give a speech to a group of strangers. Using these methods, social phobia should reduce to a point where it is able to be tolerated, or it may disappear altogether. If the symptoms do not subside, the best option is to seek therapy.
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