A Simple Way to Reduce Social Anxiety

A Simple Way to Reduce Social Anxiety

Social anxiety is like the ‘friend’ who shows up at the worst time – every time – gives you a squeezy, suffocating embrace and promises to stay by your side, warn you about everything, and keep you safe (read, ‘keep you all to itself’). Just in case you think this time might be different, the chatter sets in, ‘You know everyone is looking at you, right?’ ‘Have you thought about what they’re thinking of you?’ ‘What if you can’t find the words – or worse, what if say completely the wrong thing?’ ‘Is it just me or are you sweating – I’m pretty sure people can tell. And is your face glowing red?’ It’s relentless and it’s exhausting.

Social anxiety happens on the inside. On the outside, people with social anxiety are generally really well-liked by the people who know them. They’re sensitive, intelligent and socially very capable, often with a high amount of the qualities that make people pretty great to be around – emotional intelligence, sensitivity, creativity – and fun. People with social anxiety can be so much fun.

Social anxiety is common but one of the planet-sized lies it will tell is that you’re the only one – the only one people are watching, the only one who runs out of words and the only one who seizes up at the worst possible times. 

Ok. So tell me. What can make a difference?

Recent research has found something that can make a difference to the symptoms of anxiety. The role of the gut in mental health is now widely accepted in the scientific community. The healthier your gut (yes healthy gut bacteria, we’re talking about you), the healthier your mental health. The link between the gut and the brain has been well established by reams of research. 

A recent study found that people who tend to be socially anxious report less social anxiety if their diet contained fermented foods (which contain probiotics). As explained by researcher Matthew Hillmire:

‘It is likely that the probiotics in the fermented foods are favorably changing the environment in the gut, and changes in the gut in turn influence social anxiety.’

The research is in its early days, but the findings are supported by an abundance of research that has come before it, which has found that foods that contain probiotics may have a protective effect against the symptoms of social anxiety.

There is no doubt that probiotics are kind of wonderful in the way they improve the health of the gut, which we now know also improves the health of the mind. Fermented foods are probiotic powerhouses that work by increasing the good bacteria in the gut, the home of our ‘second brain’.

As a side note, the research also found that exercise was related to reduced social anxiety. The relationship between exercise and reduced anxiety has been shown over and over and ov… you get the message. Exercise helps to neutralise the physiological symptoms of anxiety. When the brain senses threat, it powers up the body to deal with that threat by surging the body with neurochemicals (cortisol, adrenaline etc) to make the body strong, fast and powerful. When there is no need for fight or flight (because the threat is not real), the chemicals build up and can contribute to the physical feelings that are associated with anxiety. Exercise is the natural end to the fight or flight response. It burns up the neurochemicals and helps to restore the body to its neutral state.

But first, something to keep in mind …

The introduction of probiotics to has to happen slowly. Introducing massive amounts of probiotics can lead to a worsening of symptoms because when probiotics kill off pathogens, they release toxins. It is these toxins that are likely to be already contributing to symptoms (depression, anxiety, physical illnesses), but when the release of toxins is suddenly increased (by the increase of probiotics), the symptoms may also increase.

So, when you say fermented foods …

Okay, so now that the cautionary tale has been told and you know not to go nuts on fermented foods straight up, here are some popular fermented foods that are generally readily available:

Miso (a Japanese seasoning made from fermenting soybeans).

Yoghurt (look for the ones that say they contain live and active cultures.)

Kefir (a drinkable yogurt, slightly more tangy)

Sauerkraut (fermented cabbage)

Kimchi (fermented cabbage – the Korean version)

Tempeh (made from soybeans – tofu’s nuttier, chewier, firmer, less processed cousin).

And finally …

The connection between a healthy gut and healthy mind has been clamouring at us to notice – and we have. Strengthening the gut will strengthen the mind and is a low-risk intervention to relieve social anxiety – bring on the exhale.

[irp posts=”1675″ name=”Our ‘Second Brain’ – And Stress, Anxiety, Depression, Mood”]

[irp posts=”590″ name=”Anxiety, Depression and the Surprising Role of Gut Bacteria”]

4 Comments

Michele

I wish mental health professions (and regular doctors who treat our “physical” illnesses) treated our bodes and minds as a whole and looked at how one part affects another, as you so well explained in the article above. We just get medicated without trying to find the culprit of our anxiety or whatever the problem might be. Frustrating the state of our medical system…medicate, medicate first rather than educate and then look at meds as a last resort.

Reply
Waismann Method

That is very interesting. We treat patients who have become addicted to opiates, and more often than not they are self-medicating emotional issues. Anxiety is a huge part of it. Sometimes small thing that we oversee, can make a difference.

Reply
Debi Powell

Your articles and this website save people thousands of dollars every week. 😉 Thank you for sharing your knowledge, at no cost to us. (don’t get me wrong, I’ll pay if you ever decide to charge to become a member of your website!). Thank you so much…. you will never know the impact you have made, just on my little family!

Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Follow Hey Sigmund on Instagram

The temptation to fix their big feelings can be seismic. Often this is connected to needing to ease our own discomfort at their discomfort, which is so very normal.

Big feelings in them are meant to raise (sometimes big) feelings in us. This is all a healthy part of the attachment system. It happens to mobilise us to respond to their distress, or to protect them if their distress is in response to danger.

Emotion is energy in motion. We don’t want to bury it, stop it, smother it, and we don’t need to fix it. What we need to do is make a safe passage for it to move through them. 

Think of emotion like a river. Our job is to hold the ground strong and steady at the banks so the river can move safely, without bursting the banks.

However hard that river is racing, they need to know we can be with the river (the emotion), be with them, and handle it. This might feel or look like you aren’t doing anything, but actually it’s everything.

The safety that comes from you being the strong, steady presence that can lovingly contain their big feelings will let the emotional energy move through them and bring the brain back to calm.

Eventually, when they have lots of experience of us doing this with them, they will learn to do it for themselves, but that will take time and experience. The experience happens every time you hold them steady through their feelings. 

This doesn’t mean ignoring big behaviour. For them, this can feel too much like bursting through the banks, which won’t feel safe. Sometimes you might need to recall the boundary and let them know where the edges are, while at the same time letting them see that you can handle the big of the feeling. Its about loving and leading all at once. ‘It’s okay to be angry. It’s not okay to use those words at me.’

Ultimately, big feelings are a call for support. Sometimes support looks like breathing and being with. Sometimes it looks like showing them you can hold the boundary, even when they feel like they’re about to burst through it. And if they’re using spicy words to get us to back off, it might look like respecting their need for space but staying in reaching distance, ‘Ok, I’m right here whenever you need.’♥️
We all need certain things to feel safe enough to put ourselves into the world. Kids with anxiety have magic in them, every one of them, but until they have a felt sense of safety, it will often stay hidden.

‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what they feel. At school, they might have the safest, most loving teacher in the safest, most loving school. This doesn’t mean they will feel enough relational safety straight away that will make it easier for them to do hard things. They can still do those hard things, but those things are going to feel bigger for a while. This is where they’ll need us and their other anchor adult to be patient, gentle, and persistent.

Children aren’t meant to feel safe with and take the lead from every adult. It’s not the adult’s role that makes the difference, but their relationship with the child.

Children are no different to us. Just because an adult tells them they’ll be okay, it doesn’t mean they’ll feel it or believe it. What they need is to be given time to actually experience the person as being safe, supportive and ready to catch them.

Relationship is key. The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains in our way. When we feel someone really caring about us, we’re more likely to open up to their influence
and learn from them.

But we have to be patient. Even for teachers with big hearts and who undertand the importance of attachment relationships, it can take time.

Any adult at school can play an important part in helping a child feel safe – as long as that adult is loving, warm, and willing to do the work to connect with that child. It might be the librarian, the counsellor, the office person, a teacher aide. It doesn’t matter who, as long as it is someone who can be available for that child at dropoff or when feelings get big during the day and do little check-ins along the way.

A teacher, or any important adult can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
There is a beautiful ‘everythingness’ in all of us. The key to living well is being able to live flexibly and more deliberately between our edges.

So often though, the ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’ we inhale in childhood and as we grow, lead us to abandon some of those precious, needed parts of us. ‘Don’t be angry/ selfish/ shy/ rude. She’s not a maths person.’ ‘Don’t argue.’ Ugh.

Let’s make sure our children don’t cancel parts of themselves. They are everything, but not always all at once. They can be anxious and brave. Strong and soft. Angry and calm. Big and small. Generous and self-ish. Some things they will find hard, and they can do hard things. None of these are wrong ways to be. What trips us up is rigidity, and only ever responding from one side of who we can be.

We all have extremes or parts we favour. This is what makes up the beautiful, complex, individuality of us. We don’t need to change this, but the more we can open our children to the possibility in them, the more options they will have in responding to challenges, the everyday, people, and the world. 

We can do this by validating their ‘is’ without needing them to be different for a while in the moment, and also speaking to the other parts of them when we can. 

‘Yes maths is hard, and I know you can do hard things. How can I help?’

‘I can see how anxious you feel. That’s so okay. I also know you have brave in you.’

‘I love your ‘big’ and the way you make us laugh. You light up the room.’ And then at other times: ‘It can be hard being in a room with new people can’t it. It’s okay to be quiet. I could see you taking it all in.’

‘It’s okay to want space from people. Sometimes you just want your things and yourself for yourself, hey. I feel like that sometimes too. I love the way you know when you need this.’ And then at other times, ‘You looked like you loved being with your friends today. I loved watching you share.’

The are everything, but not all at once. Our job is to help them live flexibly and more deliberately between the full range of who they are and who they can be: anxious/brave; kind/self-ish; focussed inward/outward; angry/calm. This will take time, and there is no hurry.♥️
For our kids and teens, the new year will bring new adults into their orbit. With this, comes new opportunities to be brave and grow their courage - but it will also bring anxiety. For some kiddos, this anxiety will feel so big, but we can help them feel bigger.

The antidote to a felt sense of threat is a felt sense of safety. As long as they are actually safe, we can facilitate this by nurturing their relationship with the important adults who will be caring for them, whether that’s a co-parent, a stepparent, a teacher, a coach. 

There are a number of ways we can facilitate this:

- Use the name of their other adult (such as a teacher) regularly, and let it sound loving and playful on your voice.
- Let them see that you have an open, willing heart in relation to the other adult.
- Show them you trust the other adult to care for them (‘I know Mrs Smith is going to take such good care of you.’)
- Facilitate familiarity. As much as you can, hand your child to the same person when you drop them off.

It’s about helping expand their village of loving adults. The wider this village, the bigger their world in which they can feel brave enough. 

For centuries before us, it was the village that raised children. Parenting was never meant to be done by one or two adults on their own, yet our modern world means that this is how it is for so many of us. 

We can bring the village back though - and we must - by helping our kiddos feel safe, known, and held by the adults around them. We need this for each other too.

The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains that block our way.♥️

That power of felt safety matters for all relationships - parent and child; other adult and child; parent and other adult. It all matters. 

A teacher, or any important adult in the life of a child, can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child (and their parent) so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, I care about you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
Approval, independence, autonomy, are valid needs for all of us. When a need is hungry enough we will be driven to meet it however we can. For our children, this might look like turning away from us and towards others who might be more ready to meet the need, or just taking.

If they don’t feel they can rest in our love, leadership, approval, they will seek this more from peers. There is no problem with this, but we don’t want them solely reliant on peers for these. It can make them vulnerable to making bad decisions, so as not to lose the approval or ‘everythingness’ of those peers.

If we don’t give enough freedom, they might take that freedom through defiance, secrecy, the forbidden. If we control them, they might seek more to control others, or to let others make the decisions that should be theirs.

All kids will mess up, take risks, keep secrets, and do things that baffle us sometimes. What’s important is, ‘Do they turn to us when they need to, enough?’ The ‘turning to’ starts with trusting that we are interested in supporting all their needs, not just the ones that suit us. Of course this doesn’t mean we will meet every need. It means we’ve shown them that their needs are important to us too, even though sometimes ours will be bigger (such as our need to keep them safe).

They will learn safe and healthy ways to meet their needs, by first having them met by us. This doesn’t mean granting full independence, full freedom, and full approval. What it means is holding them safely while also letting them feel enough of our approval, our willingness to support their independence, freedom, autonomy, and be heard on things that matter to them.

There’s no clear line with this. Some days they’ll want independence. Some days they won’t. Some days they’ll seek our approval. Some days they won’t care for it at all, especially if it means compromising the approval of peers. The challenge for us is knowing when to hold them closer and when to give space, when to hold the boundary and when to release it a little, when to collide and when to step out of the way. If we watch and listen, they will show us. And just like them, we won’t need to get it right all the time.♥️

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This