Alternative treatments for social anxiety are sometimes used to complement the more formally recognised approaches. Some people say the so-called alternatives are even more effective.
Social anxiety disorder SAD is a recognized psychological condition that for some people can become quite disabling. They may find it difficult to make friends or to take part in many of the activities that so many people take for granted.
If you suffer from Social Anxiety Disorder, there are many things you can do to help your anxiety levels. While there is no magic bullet for anxiety that will make it all go away, there are plenty of alternative options that will do no harm and probably do a lot of good!
As well as conventional treatments like Cognitive Behavior Therapy, counseling and medication, there are some positive, life-affirming therapies you can try to help manage and overcome your SAD. Many therapists recommend that you try a combination of methods to get the best results.
Emotional Freedom Technique
Emotional Freedom Technique or Tapping is a simple, non-invasive way of lowering your anxiety levels. EFT draws on the concepts of multiple alternative therapies including Traditional Chinese Medicine, acupuncture and neurolinguistic programming to help you work through issues related to your anxiety. It also takes in elements of cognitive behavior therapy, somatic intervention, and brief exposure therapy.
Each tapping session takes a core issue that you ‘tap through’ until you find a resolution. By tapping gently with your fingers on a series of points along the body’s energy meridians, you focus your attention on what is causing distress and interrupt the cycle of anxiety. One of the characteristics of anxiety is feeling trapped in a churn of worrying about the same issue. Tapping allows you to get unstuck from the problem and work through all the aspects of the worry.
Studies by the Harvard Medical School have found that techniques that utilize the meridian points can affect the part of your brain that controls your fear and stress response. Further research found that an hour of EFT can reduce the level of the stress hormone, cortisol, by up to 50%.
EFT has proven to be particularly effective in lowering stress and anxiety levels and is an excellent method for treating PTSD, depression, and phobias.
One or two sessions with a professional EFT therapist can help you master the technique. But you don’t need any training to start using EFT to help overcome your social anxiety. There are many resources available online and YouTube videos to help you become familiar with the technique and the right tapping points.
Essential oils are a particularly comforting even luxurious way of helping to manage your anxiety. Studies have shown that scents have a powerful effect on the brain and emotions. How often has a particular perfume suddenly brought up a memory? Or think of the enticing smell of freshly made coffee, baking bread or frying bacon.
Scents are more than just evocative. Although aromatherapy is barely a century old, we’ve known about the healing power of essential oils for thousands of years. Modern science tells us that the part of the brain that processes smells is right next to the limbic region. The limbic region not only deals with emotional processing and memory recall but it is also the part of the brain that regulates stress responses such as heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure.
The American College of Healthcare Services conducted a study of hospice patients who received daily hand massages with almond oil blended with bergamot, lavender, and frankincense essential oils. All patients reported feeling less stressed, pain and depression.
Essential oils are easy to use. Simply dilute sweet almond oil with a few drops of your chosen essential oil and massage gently into the skin. You can also use a vaporizer or oil burner to diffuse the essential oil molecules through the room.
Recommended oils to lower anxiety and increase calm and relaxation include:
Some people have reported good results from using cannabidiol (CBD) oil. This therapy is relatively new and is used increasingly for the treatment of anxiety and insomnia. Cannabidiol is a compound found in the marijuana plant, but unlike tetrahydrocannabinol, it doesn’t give you a ‘high.’ CBD is legal in some states but not all.
Current research has been small scale, and there have not yet been large-scale clinical trials of CBD. There have been some initial reports of unpleasant side-effects such as nausea and vomiting, dizziness and even a degree of liver damage.
As CBD may interact with medication such as antihistamines, beta-blockers, and anti-epileptic drugs, it is wise to be cautious and consult your doctor about whether it is right for you.
Art therapy is a form of psychotherapy that harnesses your creative processes to work through emotional issues.
If you’re suffering from extreme anxiety, art therapy can be a low threshold and a non-confronting way of starting to engage with your fears. If you’re so anxious that you find it hard to verbalize, art therapy can help you express your feelings without having to find the ‘right words.’
Making art keeps you focused on the present moment, and so less likely to be caught up in a spiral of worries and fears. Once your focus is on your artwork, your nervous system can start to regulate itself. The very act of sitting and drawing or painting or making a collage is meditative and calming. Studies have shown that making art can lower your blood pressure and heart rate and stimulates the production of the feel-good hormones serotonin and dopamine.
You can try formal art therapy with a psychologist, who will give you prompts to start working through some of your anxiety triggers. It’s also an easy and straightforward hobby that can bring great satisfaction as well as relaxation.
Yoga is renowned for its calming effects. Therapists are increasingly recommending yoga as part of a holistic approach to managing stress and anxiety.
Extreme anxiety keeps your mind on future worries and past failures. When you practice yoga, your attention is focused on achieving and maintaining the current pose, keeping you firmly grounded in the present. You don’t have the time or attention to worry about anything more than what your body is doing right here, right now.
The emphasis on the breath also helps to decrease anxiety both by regulating your breathing pattern and keeping your blood oxygen levels high.
Research has also shown that yoga may have a positive effect on the levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid of GABA in the brain. GABA is a powerful calming neurotransmitter that targets the same brain receptors as anti-anxiety medications.
Yoga is also easier to try than ever before. If your anxiety is high enough to prevent you from attending a class, you can find plenty of online yoga classes.
Like yoga, meditation has been shown to have a dramatic effect on stress and anxiety levels. The essence of meditation is to slow down the chatter of the mind and use the breath to achieve an inner state of calm. There is now a wide body of research which demonstrates that meditation doesn’t just help reduce anxiety at the moment it’s practiced. Meditation can reprogram the neural pathways in your brain, making structural changes that help you to help regulate your emotions long after an individual session.
The process of meditation teaches you to acknowledge, sit with and detach from distracting thoughts. You learn that your anxious thoughts are not you, they don’t define you, and they are not in control of you.
Plus, you learn to control and use your breath to calm and center your awareness on the present moment. In that present moment, you can become aware of what your physical body is experiencing and how it is reacting to the world.
Some have described meditation as the ultimate stress buster, mainly for its almost instant effect on your levels of cortisol, the stress hormone that can cause inflammation, high blood pressure and heart racing. Cortisol even affects blood sugar level, your immune system and your ability to sleep. When you meditate, your body has a chance to reregulate. The calming effect on the brain sends signals to your body that your anxiety-stoked levels of cortisol are no longer needed. You can stand down from being in constant fight or flight mode, and your cortisol can return to safer, healthy levels.
Meditation can be as simple as sitting or lying comfortably and focusing inwards, breathing slowly and deeply. You can join a class or find a meditation teacher. You can also meditate without having to speak to anyone or leave your apartment, as there are plenty of meditation websites and apps for your smartphone or tablet.
Many alternative therapies have been proven to help with Social Anxiety Disorder. Psychologists are increasingly seeing the benefits of a holistic approach that combines traditional treatments with complementary approaches chosen to suit the individual. In conjunction with mainstream psychological treatments and medications, alternative therapies can help you to regain some control over your life and to learn to manage your social anxiety.