Social anxiety disorder greatly reduces the quality of a person’s life. People who suffer from social anxiety miss out on so much that life has to offer. Opportunities are greatly limited, because the person who suffers from social anxiety cannot take advantage of any opportunity that might require social interaction – and most opportunities in life do require some sort of social interaction.
Visualization has been proven to be a very effective tool for dealing with social anxiety. Visualization is used to treat many disorders, and it is even used for pain management. Visualization can work in two ways: You can visualize yourself somewhere else, doing something else when you are in a social situation that is causing you anxiety, or you can visualize how a social interaction or event will play out before it occurs to prepare your mind for it.
The first method of visualization, where you visualize yourself in a different place from the one you are currently in is often used for pain management, or to calm down during anxious or stressful situations. The second method of visualization, where you visualize how a situation or event will play out, is the best visualization method for treating social anxiety disorder.
Using the second method of visualization, the concept is fairly simple. The theory is that if you visualize the situation or event in a positive way, over and over, before the event occurs, not only are you more prepared to handle it mentally, but it has been proven that if you think in a positive way, and visualize in a positive way, you will get positive results.
The second method prepares you for the event, but the first method is used during the event, in case you are feeling totally overwhelmed with the social situation that is going on around you. You simply remove yourself from the situation – mentally. People who suffer from social anxiety often use this method, but it should be considered a back-up plan, in case the first method fails to work once you are in the situation.
Visualization can be done with or without the aid of visualization tapes. There are tapes that can be purchased, but in the case of social anxiety, it is better to make your own tapes, since each tape will need to pertain to a specific social situation or event that is coming up in the future.
Visualization begins with some deep breathing exercises. Then, you close your eyes and begin to visualize the event. It is important that you visualize the event completely, starting from where you leave your house to go to the event. Make sure that you use all five senses to make it as real as possible in your mind. Be able to feel the clothes you are wearing, the smells that will be around you, the taste of the food that will be served, and the sound of people talking or music playing. Whatever the social situation will be, imagine it as clearly and realistically as possible.
Do not allow negative images to come into your mind. In your visualization, you should be handling the social situation very well. There is no fear. Nobody is staring at you or judging you. You are saying all the right things at the right times, and it is all going very well. Keep it positive!
Visualize a successful social interaction as many times as possible before the event, and make sure you do the visualization again right before the event. Also, prepare your backup visualization – the first method of visualization. You will need to practice the first method of visualization, where you can mentally remove yourself from an anxious situation, over and over again, until you are able to visualize yourself somewhere else that you consider safe and stress-free, without the use of visualization tapes.
If both methods fail you, first realize that it may take quite a bit of practice until it stops failing you. Then, just tell yourself that the event will end soon, and picture yourself arriving back at your home, where it is safe and comfortable. See yourself kicking your shoes off and fixing a bowl of ice cream. The event will be over soon, and then you can practice for the next event.
The important thing is to not stop trying. You will get it down eventually, and visualization will start to work for you, allowing you to do things that you never dreamed were possible!
Gary Miller is the author of “Prisoners of Our Thoughts: How to break free from the grips of Social Anxiety and Fear.”