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.

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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.

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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!

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Big feelings, and the big behaviour that comes from big feelings, are a sign of a distressed nervous system. Think of this like a burning building. The behaviour is the smoke. The fire is a distressed nervous system. It’s so tempting to respond directly to the behaviour (the smoke), but by doing this, we ignore the fire. Their behaviour and feelings in that moment are a call for support - for us to help that distressed brain and body find the way home. 

The most powerful language for any nervous system is another nervous system. They will catch our distress (as we will catch theirs) but they will also catch our calm. It can be tempting to move them to independence on this too quickly, but it just doesn’t work this way. Children can only learn to self-regulate with lots (and lots and lots) of experience co-regulating. 

This isn’t something that can be taught. It’s something that has to be experienced over and over. It’s like so many things - driving a car, playing the piano - we can talk all we want about ‘how’ but it’s not until we ‘do’ over and over that we get better at it. 

Self-regulation works the same way. It’s not until children have repeated experiences with a adult bringing them back to calm, that they develop the neural pathways to come back to calm on their own. 

An important part of this is making sure we are guiding that nervous system with tender, gentle hands and a steady heart. This is where our own self-regulation becomes important. Our nervous systems speak to each other every moment of every day. When our children or teens are distressed, we will start to feel that distress. It becomes a loop. We feel what they feel, they feel what we feel. Our own capacity to self-regulate is the circuit breaker. 

This can be so tough, but it can happen in microbreaks. A few strong steady breaths can calm our own nervous system, which we can then use to calm theirs. Breathe, and be with. It’s that simple, but so tough to do some days. When they come back to calm, then have those transformational chats - What happened? What can make it easier next time?

Who you are in the moment will always be more important than what you do.
How we are with them, when they are their everyday selves and when they aren’t so adorable, will build their view of three things: the world, its people, and themselves. This will then inform how they respond to the world and how they build their very important space in it. 

Will it be a loving, warm, open-hearted space with lots of doors for them to throw open to the people and experiences that are right for them? Or will it be a space with solid, too high walls that close out too many of the people and experiences that would nourish them.

They will learn from what we do with them and to them, for better or worse. We don’t teach them that the world is safe for them to reach into - we show them. We don’t teach them to be kind, respectful, and compassionate. We show them. We don’t teach them that they matter, and that other people matter, and that their voices and their opinions matter. We show them. We don’t teach them that they are little joy mongers who light up the world. We show them. 

But we have to be radically kind with ourselves too. None of this is about perfection. Parenting is hard, and days will be hard, and on too many of those days we’ll be hard too. That’s okay. We’ll say things we shouldn’t say and do things we shouldn’t do. We’re human too. Let’s not put pressure on our kiddos to be perfect by pretending that we are. As long as we repair the ruptures as soon as we can, and bathe them in love and the warmth of us as much as we can, they will be okay.

This also isn’t about not having boundaries. We need to be the guardians of their world and show them where the edges are. But in the guarding of those boundaries we can be strong and loving, strong and gentle. We can love them, and redirect their behaviour.

It’s when we own our stuff(ups) and when we let them see us fall and rise with strength, integrity, and compassion, and when we hold them gently through the mess of it all, that they learn about humility, and vulnerability, and the importance of holding bruised hearts with tender hands. It’s not about perfection, it’s about consistency, and honesty, and the way we respond to them the most.♥️

#parenting #mindfulparenting
Anxiety and courage always exist together. It can be no other way. Anxiety is a call to courage. It means you're about to do something brave, so when there is one the other will be there too. Their courage might feel so small and be whisper quiet, but it will always be there and always ready to show up when they need it to.
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But courage doesn’t always feel like courage, and it won't always show itself as a readiness. Instead, it might show as a rising - from fear, from uncertainty, from anger. None of these mean an absence of courage. They are the making of space, and the opportunity for courage to rise.
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When the noise from anxiety is loud and obtuse, we’ll have to gently add our voices to usher their courage into the light. We can do this speaking of it and to it, and by shifting the focus from their anxiety to their brave. The one we focus on is ultimately what will become powerful. It will be the one we energise. Anxiety will already have their focus, so we’ll need to make sure their courage has ours.
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But we have to speak to their fear as well, in a way that makes space for it to be held and soothed, with strength. Their fear has an important job to do - to recruit the support of someone who can help them feel safe. Only when their fear has been heard will it rest and make way for their brave.
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What does this look like? Tell them their stories of brave, but acknowledge the fear that made it tough. Stories help them process their emotional experiences in a safe way. It brings word to the feelings and helps those big feelings make sense and find containment. ‘You were really worried about that exam weren’t you. You couldn’t get to sleep the night before. It was tough going to school but you got up, you got dressed, you ... and you did it. Then you ...’
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In the moment, speak to their brave by first acknowledging their need to flee (or fight), then tell them what you know to be true - ‘This feels scary for you doesn’t it. I know you want to run. It makes so much sense that you would want to do that. I also know you can do hard things. My darling, I know it with everything in me.’
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#positiveparenting #parenting #childanxiety #anxietyinchildren #mindfulpare
Separation anxiety has an important job to do - it’s designed to keep children safe by driving them to stay close to their important adults. Gosh it can feel brutal sometimes though.

Whenever there is separation from an attachment person there will be anxiety unless there are two things: attachment with another trusted, loving adult; and a felt sense of you holding on, even when you aren't beside them. Putting these in place will help soften anxiety.

As long as children are are in the loving care of a trusted adult, there's no need to avoid separation. We'll need to remind ourselves of this so we can hold on to ourselves when our own anxiety is rising in response to theirs. 

If separation is the problem, connection has to be the solution. The connection can be with any loving adult, but it's more than an adult being present. It needs an adult who, through their strong, warm, loving presence, shows the child their abundant intention to care for that child, and their joy in doing so. This can be helped along by showing that you trust the adult to love that child big in our absence. 'I know [important adult] loves you and is going to take such good care of you.'

To help your young one feel held on to by you, even in absence, let them know you'll be thinking of them and can't wait to see them. Bolster this by giving them something of yours to hold while you're gone - a scarf, a note - anything that will be felt as 'you'.

They know you are the one who makes sure their world is safe, so they’ll be looking to you for signs of safety: 'Do you think we'll be okay if we aren't together?' First, validate: 'You really want to stay with me, don't you. I wish I could stay with you too! It's hard being away from your special people isn't it.' Then, be their brave. Let it be big enough to wrap around them so they can rest in the safety and strength of it: 'I know you can do this, love. We can do hard things can't we.'

Part of growing up brave is learning that the presence of anxiety doesn't always mean something is wrong. Sometimes it means they are on the edge of brave - and being away from you for a while counts as brave.
Even the most loving, emotionally available adult might feel frustration, anger, helplessness or distress in response to a child’s big feelings. This is how it’s meant to work. 

Their distress (fight/flight) will raise distress in us. The purpose is to move us to protect or support or them, but of course it doesn’t always work this way. When their big feelings recruit ours it can drive us more to fight (anger, blame), or to flee (avoid, ignore, separate them from us) which can steal our capacity to support them. It will happen to all of us from time to time. 

Kids and teens can’t learn to manage big feelings on their own until they’ve done it plenty of times with a calm, loving adult. This is where co-regulation comes in. It helps build the vital neural pathways between big feelings and calm. They can’t build those pathways on their own. 

It’s like driving a car. We can tell them how to drive as much as we like, but ‘talking about’ won’t mean they’re ready to hit the road by themselves. Instead we sit with them in the front seat for hours, driving ‘with’ until they can do it on their own. Feelings are the same. We feel ‘with’, over and over, until they can do it on their own. 

What can help is pausing for a moment to see the behaviour for what it is - a call for support. It’s NOT bad behaviour or bad parenting. It’s not that.

Our own feelings can give us a clue to what our children are feeling. It’s a normal, healthy, adaptive way for them to share an emotional load they weren’t meant to carry on their own. Self-regulation makes space for us to hold those feelings with them until those big feelings ease. 

Self-regulation can happen in micro moments. First, see the feelings or behaviour for what it is - a call for support. Then breathe. This will calm your nervous system, so you can calm theirs. In the same way we will catch their distress, they will also catch ours - but they can also catch our calm. Breathe, validate, and be ‘with’. And you don’t need to do more than that.

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