[progress update] The *cure* for social anxiety has been found! - Social Anxiety Forum
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post #1 of 2 (permalink) Old 10-05-2015, 02:22 PM Thread Starter
The Awesome One!
Join Date: Jun 2004
Location: My Path
Posts: 1,023

[progress update] The *cure* for social anxiety has been found!

Bonus videos at the end of this post!

Okay, those were only a marketing gimmick to have you look. However, if I look at my current situation and how SA is pretty much gone now - in a way I could say I am *cured*. Actually, I prefer to use the other "C" word i.e. CHANGE since I never really considered my situation to be part of the "dis-" labels (disorder/disability/disease). Yes, the fear symptoms were there: sweating, heart racing, head aches, nausea, muscle tension and in more intense situations, such as giving a speech at Toastmasters in front of many people sometimes mind going completely blank for a short time. SA was also present during standing in line, going around in a circle and waiting for your turn to speak, talking on the phone and few other issues. However, overall I was probably lucky in that even though it wasn't easy, I was still able to push myself and there were literally only a handful of situation when the intensity of SA was too much and I had to stop. (Kinda like when I went bungee jumping and became frozen for the first 6 attempts ... and finally number 7 was successful!) Also, most of the time I felt like being held back from being able to do freely what I wanted (i.e. imagine driving a car and the breaks lock up in certain situations) and wasn't as "graceful" as others and some things took longer than it did for others. However, after lots of change, now I can do a lot of things that at one time didn't even think was a possibility (e.g. hosting a meeting) and feel "normal" before, during and after. :smile:

As mentioned in a recent bump of my last update post (from 2006) progress that started in 2004 was consistent from week to week yet took a lot longer than expected - even though I was able to finish Toastmasters CTM (10 speeches) by 2006. Overall, I'd say the 11 years that it took to change is somewhat EXCEPTION (more about it below) but on the plus side, now SA is pretty much gone and only feel slight tension in some situations but I do expect those to be gone soon also.

During this update, I'll touch on:
-my experience
-why change is possible
-"Shortcut" like tools/techniques and why CBT doesn't work for everyone. (To keep things organized, I'll post this in Therapy: http://www.socialanxietysupport.com/...esn-t-1617410/)

For some, the main issues tend to be the worry type thoughts, beliefs, self esteem and for others the physical symptoms of fight or flight or freeze response. For me, as mentioned above, the main issues were the physical symptoms and not really the thinking related issues. There were some what if type worry thoughts (if I can't perform > no job > no money > no survival) but if SA would not have been present, then those wouldn't have been issues either. Interestingly, with some "mental martial arts" training, I was able to deal with those.

Before I continue, I need to mention the my most interesting observation while attending SA support groups over the last 11 years. People seem to fall into two groups based on answering the following question.
Do you believe that SA will be completely gone or will it be always present?
-Yes. SA issues will be completely gone and will be able to live a "normal" life.
-No. SA will always be present but it may be possible to cope or manage it.

For me, SA started at a very early age. I remember a few situations of being "held back" by some strange force and had to keep pushing a lot. I kept wondering if it was my "personality" or was it something that I could change. The only relevant tip that I've received was to speak in front of a mirror. I did that for a while but it made no difference. In a way, I kept thinking that "I would like to change it if I could" but weren't aware of any way to do so. ( If you are reading this then you are in a much better situation because at that time the internet wasn't even around )

However, a few things gave me hope (about two decades ago).
Reading about the experience of a person on the website called Shy and Free http://shyandfree.com/ and how he was able to transform his shyness gave hope that change is possible.
Around the same time later I saw two documentaries.
-One was about phobias. Some fairly common: snakes, spiders, mice, etc. There was a common theme though: they had one scary event and after that they re-experience the panic when the trigger was present. This gave me the idea how easy it is to *learn* to fear something. And there also some really strange ones e.g. there was a guy being afraid of opening closet doors because he was scared that his [email protected] would get stuck there. :
-The other one was more interesting. That was about how to *un-learn* such fears. One approach was the common gradual exposure based desensitization, another was hypnosis. They also showed before and after brain scans. The *before* brain scans showed activity in the fear region of the brain but the *after* showed no activity there. Of course, people reported that the fear was gone and they felt fine and were able to feel and act normally but it was interesting to have an independent objective confirmation that change has indeed taken place in the brain. While exposure based approach took longer, amazingly, hypnosis could resolve issues in one or a few sessions.

Later, I've read about other ideas that explained how the so-called irrational fears can be "learned". When we experience a really emotional situation (fear, shame, embarrassment or can be positive emotion also), the brain may store/remember something regarding that event for future reference. As mentioned above, fear of spiders, birds, bugs, etc seems logical. However, it can also remember something general. Have you ever been punished (physically or verbally) and were afraid for your life or been embarrassed in some situation? These events can create many issues that people with SA deal with: issues in the presence of peers, authority types, younger or older people, opposite sex, being center of attention, etc. So, it's not necessary to have a "chemical imbalance". Anyone with a normal brain can "learn" to fear anything.

Another example that illustrates this. An elderly lady mentioned that she felt sad when she saw purple flowers. That sounded strange at first but it all made sense when she later mentioned that her friend had just passed away and her casket was surrounded by purple flowers. Since she felt really sad, her brain "connected" that emotion to the purple flowers and after that she would feel sad whenever she saw purple flowers. Interestingly, in NLP it's called anchoring and can be used very effectively - though usually used for positive resourceful states: relaxation, confidence, curiosity, playfulness, etc. More info about anchoring in my "Shortcuts" post: http://www.socialanxietysupport.com/...esn-t-1617410/ .
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post #2 of 2 (permalink) Old 10-05-2015, 02:23 PM Thread Starter
The Awesome One!
Join Date: Jun 2004
Location: My Path
Posts: 1,023
So, back to my experience. Was I off to find a hypnotist? Unfortunately, that wasn't the case since SA was very intense when I had to meet new people. One one hand, I could've done it but had a very strong feeling that hypnosis wouldn't work if your mind and body is in a "I need to get out of here" mode. But at least I still had another option: gradual desensitization and I was off to Toastmasters (first attempt) when I attended university. Interestingly, even though I did most roles, and even gave speeches, SA didn't diminish and due to class workload plus the issue of not sleeping well the night before a Toastmaster meeting, I stopped after about 9 months. A few years later I finished university and SA was still present in areas where I had to interact with people (i.e. pretty much every situation outside) and began to wonder if it would be better for me find work where I could be away from people as much as possible and at the same time focus on SA and see if I can find something to change it. So I decided to work as a security guard, especially the graveyard shift Initially, there were only odd shifts meaning interaction with people but eventually started working at two sites regularly. At one site there were regular work shifts (i.e. had to meet people some of the time) but I was the only person at other site.

I also started doing various relaxations, meditation for about one hour a day. Meditation was especially useful at "work" since most of the time I just had to *observe* and that was the perfect place to do so.

Later, I also went back to Toastmasters and also found an SA support group that seemed perfect as it focused on exposure based desensitization activities to reducing anxiety. There were some common activities but you could also do something that would be mainly beneficial to you. This was in 2004. As I was attending the meetings, I could feel the SA symptoms becoming less and less and looking at my comments from 2006, I really felt a lot of change and thought I was close to my goal. That didn't quite happen for a while ... long while ... but, again, I'd say my experience is on of those "exceptions".

I read in the Anxiety and Phobia workbook that gradual exposure based desensitization tends to take 6 months to 2 years for most. Those numbers seemed to be reasonable based on the experience of people who put the effort into it and did the work.

I also kept looking to see if I could find something else to "speed up" the process and did: NLP and after SA decreased I started to explore hypnosis. I even found an NLP and later hypnosis group on meetup.com and decided to check out those. Interestingly, the same thing happened ... and by that I mean: "nothing". Even people with many years of experience were not able to do even a simple thing such as to help me relax. However, it was amazing to see how fast those techniques were indeed working for others - even for really intense issues such as phobias. I was so jealous of them ... and also puzzled as to what is going on with my situation.

As time went on, nothing could "speed up" my progress and interestingly after about 4 years of solid effort (and some life changes) I was doing very little in terms of changing SA. Yet, the rate of change of my progress remained the same. While I wasn't attending meetings, I could check my progress when I had to standing in line and talk on the phone.

So about a year or so later, I rejoined and started attending and help out with another SA support group and ... still the same thing. But, as mentioned earlier, I'm pretty much done now so I won't complain.

Interestingly, I do have an explanation for why it took about 11 years. Shortly after I went back to Toastmasters and started attending the SA support group and was making some progress, I had a "feeling" that my situation is like having a big boulder with cracks appearing and I could remove little pieces where the cracks appear. I didn't think much of it but as month and years passed by, I kept getting the same "feeling". Even though I've tried a lot of things, nothing could speed up my progress and it was that solid boulder that prevented me access to changing certain memories (see how to in my "Shortcuts" post: http://www.socialanxietysupport.com/...esn-t-1617410/ ) Interestingly, different SA situations had different sized boulders (more emotionally intense situations had larger) and also interestingly the rate of change was the same for all memories. That meant that smaller boulders disappear sooner and I was able to access certain memories and change them. I learned a lot about how my subconscious is trying to communicate with me and whether it can or can't make changes. As to whether my subconscious couldn't or didn't want to make faster changes to the boulders ... I'm not sure and may never get an answer other than the lessons I learned from the experience (e.g. acceptance, letting go, some things you can but others you can't change).

I remember reading in some NLP material that if you successfully change your memory of a negative event, then as you recall a that event, it'll feel like as if it hadn't happened. Of course, the content may be there but emotions will be gone. Now I know from experience exactly what that means and in a way even writing about my experiences now feels as I was just sort of making it up because the emotional charge is no longer there. That certainly wasn't the case a long time ago when I tried to watch a recording of speech or presentation that I did - I simply re-experienced the event. Also, as someone posted recently a topic about change, posting on this forum was similar to that, too.

Congratulations on reading this far (assuming you didn't skip here for the bonus videos : ). Since you are here in the Triumphs Over Anxiety forum, I'm guessing you are looking for something that can change your situation. Based on my and many others that I met and successfully changed, I can say that change is possible but you have to committed and persistent to find the right *key* (or more likely *keys* for multiple issues) that will unlock your situation. Yes, I know it can be a struggle, especially when dealing with so much uncertainty but even if your issues are somewhat different, I hope my story is able to provide some hope, belief, and/or info to those that need it to find the answers to what it is that you are looking for.

Can everyone be *cured* i.e. live life without SA? While scientific improvements continue to improve our understanding of the brain, body, mind connection, it'll take probably take a while to get exact answers as to what is really going on. But, for those that are committed, there are tools available (again the link in my "Shortcuts" post: http://www.socialanxietysupport.com/...esn-t-1617410/ )

If you have any questions, let me know and I'll try to answer them as best as I can.

Best of luck

How to overcome social anxiety in 30 seconds? (Note: Individual results may vary) Also, an overview of some of the techniques available for overcoming social anxiety.
How to become more confident? lay down on the street for 30sec - Till H. Gros

Yes, self confidence is a skill.
The skill of self confidence - Dr. Ivan Joseph

Have trouble with small talk?
How to engage in better small talk - Minister Faust
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