A few nights ago I went for an evening stroll on the beach and came across a woman who suffered from social anxiety. She was resting on a red blanket, reading a letter. Suddenly, the letter is taken by the wind and sailing towards the Ocean. I noticed the fear on her face, and yet she sat frozen, not rushing after it. I knew something was wrong. I hurried off to retrieve the paper and brought it to her. She was incredibly grateful. Her late mother wrote the letter before she passed away. She quickly apologized to me for her “weird behavior” and hesitantly revealed that she was in therapy for social anxiety. Visiting the beach was part of her journey in healing. My heart broke. I did not mention that I was a Neurofeedback Therapist with a Ph.D. in Cognitive Behavior Therapy because as a therapist, that would have interrupted the exercise her therapist prescribed for her, and sent her home in a panic. So instead, I told her how incredibly brave I thought she was and I moved on.
The truth is, we all, at some point in our lives, without realizing, have interacted with someone diagnosed with Social Anxiety Disorder. Most likely, your experience with them was strange to you, or uneasy. That’s because people who have this disorder find it incredibly hard to interact with people, let alone leave their homes. People diagnosed with a social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia, have an intense and tenacious fear of social situations—particularly circumstances that are unfamiliar. They have a great fear of being watched, judged by others and or making fools out of themselves in public. These social situations are so terrifying that they feel anxious just imagining themselves doing anything social. They worry for days, weeks and months about a social event that might be coming up, and go to great lengths to avoid them at all cost. It is a debilitating lifestyle that interrupts a person’s school, work, and personal relationships. People who have social anxiety recognize their fears are irrational or extreme but find it difficult reasoning with their thoughts and feelings.
For those who have a social anxiety disorder, neurofeedback (brain training) and cognitive behavior therapy, combined, are the smartest and most effective treatments for you. These two treatments will provide long-lasting results. For those of you who follow my blog, you’re aware that I’m a Neurofeedback specialist. So let’s discuss CBT which I also practice at the Eustache Institute, and have yet to discuss with you. Cognitive Behavior Therapy is the most generally used therapy for social anxiety disorder. It involves the process of identifying and reframing our negative thoughts. CBT will address a person’s negative patterns and distortions regarding how we view ourselves and the world. Also, it will examine how you act and react in situations that trigger the anxiety. The fundamental basis of CBT is that our thoughts influence the way we feel, think and ultimately believe about the outside world, people or a situation. For example, the lady on the beach who suffers from Social Anxiety was so afraid of how she would appear to others, chasing her late mother’s letter, she sat frozen on her blanket hopelessly watching it fly towards the ocean. Her thoughts and fear influenced her decision to allow the sentimental letter to continue to be carried away by the wind, although she genuinely didn’t want that to occur.
At the Eustache Institute, I’ve helped many patients overcome their social anxiety with CBT, by identifying the negative thoughts, challenging the negative thoughts (evaluate those thoughts) by analyzing them, weighing the pros and cons, and then setting up experiments to test out the negative versus the positive thoughts. Then we work on replacing the negative thoughts with practical and sensible views (realistic). Once we have identified the false predictions and harmful distortions in an anxious mind, we can substitute them with new positive feelings that are more reliable and true based on that person’s history. For instance, let’s say a person is so afraid to leave the house because they are fearful of losing their keys, and not being able to get back into their home. We discuss past events. Did you ever lose your keys? What if you do lose your keys? What are the steps you can take to help you in that situation? Contact a reliable locksmith and provide a set of your house keys to a trusted neighbor or friend who can let you in your home. Replacing negative thoughts regarding outcomes and replacing it with logical steps to take if one should ever lose their keys, can allow a person to see past the doom and gloom. I also encourage and help many of my patients to write positive and soothing affirmations that they can say daily and or when they feel or anticipate a negative and worrisome thought coming on, especially before an event or regular activity. With both Neurofeedback therapy and CBT, the techniques taught during each session will improve a person’s quality of life by training their brain to make healthier patterns and choices, on a more regular basis. A calm mind, filled with positive thoughts will stay in control, bypassing anxiety behavior (thoughts and reactions.)
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Dr. Elena Eustache is a specialist in neurofeedback therapy, with a Ph.D. in Psychology and Cognitive Behavior Therapy. Dr. Elena Eustache helps her patients reach their full potential so they can live the life they’ve always dreamed. You can read more about neurofeedback therapy by visiting her blog. You may also find her on Instagram and Facebook.