Mindfulness for Social Anxiety

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Social anxiety disorder is very common, affecting up to 6.8% of women in the UK, and up to 4.9% of men. Sadly, many people who struggle with social anxiety feel as though they are the only ones who suffer from it.

Even those who don’t suffer from social anxiety disorder itself can find some social situations highly stressful, which can take a toll on their mental and physical health.

While there are a range of treatment options available, very few people who suffer with the disorder seek treatment, instead believing it’s just their personality or shyness.

However, one of the most effective treatments for social anxiety disorder is mindfulness, and this can even be practiced from the safety of your home.

What is Social Anxiety Disorder?

Social anxiety disorder or social phobia is more than just feeling nervous in a social situation.

While walking into a room full of strangers or meeting someone for the first time are situations that can make us all feel a little on edge, social anxiety disorder can be totally debilitating.

Many people with social anxiety disorder experience physical symptoms such as panic attacks, muscle tension, lightheadedness, stomach trouble and out of body sensations.

Even once the event is over, individuals may feel unable to relax, spending their time and energy going over what they could have done differently.

Mindfulness for Social Anxiety - a woman practices mindfulnes

When can Social Anxiety Occur?

Social anxiety can occur in a huge range of situations, and we may all experience crippling social anxiety at times. We are often worried about saying the wrong thing, embarrassing ourselves, or making others feel awkward. 

Social anxiety commonly occurs when meeting or talking to strangers, speaking in public, going to parties, eating in front of others or going to work.

Other more specific situations can bring about social anxiety, such as making eye contact with a stranger or going to a wedding or funeral.

The less time you spend in social situations, the worse social anxiety can become. One of the unexpected side effects of the pandemic has been an increase in feelings of social anxiety, as people head back into the office after a year of working alone from the comfort of their living room.

Likewise, most people in the UK haven’t properly socialised for months, which can make it all the more difficult to return to social situations feeling calm and confident.

People who struggle with social anxiety usually have a fear of being judged by others, being embarrassed, accidentally offending someone, or being the centre of attention. Panic attacks and other symptoms can occur before, during and after the social event.

Mindfulness for Social Anxiety - a woman practices mindfulnes
Mindfulness is an effective tool in treating social anxiety

How can Mindfulness Help with Social Anxiety?

Mindfulness is one of the recognised treatments of social anxiety, and it’s often in the form of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). At home, certain meditation practices can help to ease social anxiety and boost confidence in certain situations. 

Part of mindfulness is distinguishing between what our thoughts are telling us, and the facts of the here and now. CBT seeks to change thinking patterns by teaching individuals to recognise damaging thoughts for what they are – simply thoughts.

It uses strategies such as facing one’s fears and uses techniques to calm the mind and body. Passively observing thoughts, watching them come and go without judgement, is something individuals undergoing CBT learn to do.

It’s relatively easy to see how CBT can link to mindfulness meditation, and this is something individuals are encouraged to take up. A mindfulness meditation can be a valuable tool in any anxiety disorder treatment program.

During meditation, practitioners are encouraged to observe their thoughts as they come and go, before returning their focus to their breath or body.

Not only can a mindfulness meditation calm you down in the moment when you’re feeling anxious, regularly practicing mindfulness can actually alter various structures in your brain.

A regular practice can increase the part of the brain that regulates your emotions, helping those suffering with anxiety disorders to calm themselves any time they feel overwhelmed.

Mantra

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Best Meditation Techniques for Social Anxiety Disorder

Anxious thoughts are a part of being human, and while meditation won’t curb anxious thoughts altogether, it will certainly reduce the symptoms of most anxiety disorders. 

Body scans and mantra meditations are highly effective when it comes to calming the body and instilling feelings of confidence. 

The best meditation technique for social anxiety is often thought of as the body scan. During a body scan meditation, individuals bring their attention to each body part, working from their feet upwards.

They spend a few seconds focusing on the sensations and feeling of each body part, before moving onto the next one.

During a body scan meditation, you will be able to identify where the physical symptoms of anxiety manifest, for example in the stomach or neck, and then move on to another sensation.

By acknowledging your anxiety is affecting you then moving on, you can start to reclaim control and power over the physical symptoms.

A mantra meditation can also be deeply reassuring for those suffering with anxiety. Mantra meditations involve using a specific word or sound to bring your attention to the present moment.

Many people find focusing on a specific sound easier than focusing on the breath, especially if they are in the midst of an anxiety or panic attack.

Mantra meditations can be invigorating and empowering, encouraging those suffering with anxiety disorders to reclaim power over their disorder.

Key Facts

  1. While some anxiety in social situations is to be expected, individuals suffering with social anxiety disorder can find many social occasions completely debilitating.

  2. Mindfulness is a recognised treatment of anxiety disorders, and it can also help those who only struggle in very specific situations – such as public speaking or job interviews.

  3. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy uses elements of mindfulness to teach individuals that their thoughts are not facts. This technique seeks to calm the mind and body, while also recognising damaging thinking patterns.

  4. A regular mindfulness meditation practice is also invaluable when it comes to treating a range of anxiety disorders.
  5. Both a body scan meditation and a mantra meditation can help individuals reclaim power over their disorders, easing physical symptoms of panic attacks or social anxiety.

  6. A regular meditation practice can alter various brain structures, helping individuals better manage their emotions.