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Social phobiaCentre of attention
The Spotlight Effect
Build-up, panic & avoidance
If you want to be free from your social phobia quickly and gently, if you want to feel comfortable and natural in social and work situations, then welcome to the MindSpa phobia clinic.
You're in the right place because social phobia is one of the most common phobias we treat. So although it can feel like you are the only one, you are not.
What is social phobia?
Social phobia (or social anxiety) is an intense and irrational fear of being judged by others in a social, work or performance situation - or of being embarrassed or humiliated in such situations - causing dread, panic and avoidance.
More accurately, it is not the scrutiny and negative judgements themselves but the sufferer's own emotional response to them - the feelings of shame, rejection or humiliation.
Sufferers recognise that their fear is excessive or unreasonable but they feel powerless to do anything to change their responses. So the feared situations are avoided or else endured with intense anxiety or distress.
When sufferers feel that all eyes are upon them - "the spotlight effect" - their acute self-awareness makes it very difficult to focus on what is going on around them, to engage in conversation, follow a meeting or read notes. Their mind goes blank. Their distress is further fuelled by their efforts to hide or mask their discomfort which may become apparent through blushing, sweating, shaking, twitching, or an inability to speak normally or coherently.
Not only will these feelings be present for some time before the event - anticipatory anxiety - but they may linger afterwards as the sufferer analyses and ruminates on how other people may have judged them.
Social phobia is distinguished from shyness by the intense, often debilitating, fear it generates. At its worst it will end in a panic attack. So it's way beyond shyness or butterflies.
How it manifests itself
Social phobia is linked to different things for different people.
In social situations it can manifest as excessive blushing, shaking or sweating. It can show as an inability to eat, drink, write or talk on the telephone in front of others, to initiate or maintain conversations or to make eye contact.
In work situations it is most commonly an intense fear of speaking in front of groups (in presentations, meetings or when introducing oneself to a group of people). It will typically start around formal presentations then spread out to meetings, smaller groups and then to informal situations like one-on-one conversations (especially with more senior people). It can then even spill into social situations with friends and family.
In most cases social phobia is limited to one specific situation, such as public speaking (the most common social phobia). But in severe cases just being around people generally will trigger the fear.
Safety behaviours & avoidance
Safety and avoidance strategies are used by the sufferer to reduce the danger and to control, accommodate and conceal their panic and embarrassment.
Many people will create elaborate ways to reduce or hide their distress. For example, by talking slowly, creating distractions, wearing dark glasses to avoid eye contact or using make-up to hide blushing. They often self-medicate with alcohol.
Energy and time are used in planning and avoiding the feared situations. Excuses are made to avoid certain activities. Sickness may be feigned. People and situations may be manipulated. Jobs, promotions, invitations and trips may be turned down. Intimacy, dating and parties are avoided. Partners and friends may be let down. And there is a loss of freedom and independence as the comfort zone shrinks.
Many people accommodate their phobia like this for a long time - typically for years, even decades. But eventually these "solutions" become part of the problem: the avoidance and control behaviours become the handicap, using up time, energy and attention needed for other things and threatening jobs and relationships. When this happens most sufferers think "enough is enough". And do something about it. And get help
Who does it affect?
Most people with a social phobia are normal, happy and balanced.
They want to talk to people, make friends, enjoy good company, or, at work, share their knowledge and expertise. But in these situations they come across as reserved, unfriendly, disinterested or unenthusiastic because they have got this phobia, this thing.
So it's very frustrating because a part of them (the rational thinking part) knows that it doesn't make sense. But they nevertheless find that when they are exposed to that situation, or thinking about it, another part of them (the irrational unconscious part) drives out rational thought and fear floods in.
In our experience it is the more imaginative, creative or artistic people who are more prone to developing phobias. This is because phobias have a lot to do with the misuse of the imagination. That's why we treat all kinds of people in our clinics: from a barman frightened of making eye contact to city bankers terrified of public speaking. We have treated them all and at all extremes: from mild panic to people who used to vomit or pass out when exposed to their phobic trigger.
Social phobia can be caused by many things. It can be an extension of childhood shyness where the necessary social skills have not been given a chance to develop.
More commonly it seems to start later in life at a time when background stress levels have been raised by things like relationships or work. Then something happens that the individual can usually cope with but because of the background stress they tip into a mild panic attack. This is frightening and embarrassing. It destroys self-confidence. And it builds into a phobia as the sufferer starts to fear it happening again and begins to panic about panicking.
At the start, it may take some time for people to recognise that they have a phobia. They may mistakenly put it down to excessive shyness. But then the panic starts to occur more frequently and consistently and a pattern emerges. The response is reinforced each time it happens and they panic, and each time they avoid the feared situation and feel relief.
A social phobia is like getting a puncture: it happens to lots of people, it can happen to anyone, it makes certain things very difficult or impossible, it's very frustrating, and it doesn't matter when, where or how you got it: you just know you've got it and that it can be fixed.
We do this fixing using the Fast Phobia Cure. It's fast, gentle and without the scare tactics and exposure used by the older and less effective social phobia treatments. It simply allows your mind to re-evaluate the feared situations as non-threatening. It does this by engaging the part of your mind that has run the phobia - the imaginative creative side - which, as any sufferer will tell you, is stronger than logic, reason and willpower have ever been.
It usually requires just two or three pleasant and enjoyable sessions for people like you to be free from social phobia and to feel comfortable, natural and at ease in social and work situations. Sometimes it needs just one session.
If you are reading this and think this is what you have been looking for call us now to speak to a specialist about your social phobia and how we can help you.
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