Photo used under Creative Commons from Kirsten Killer
Along with being more active and regular exercise, mindfulness meditation is highly recommended for overcoming social anxiety. Its popularity amongst psychotherapists has grown tremendously in recent years, because of its effectiveness in treating depression, anxiety and chronic pain.
Mindfulness helps you learn to let troubling thoughts pass through your mind without causing you to feel upset. When meditating, you simply suspend your judgement on whether something is good or bad. This can help you make more realistic assessments of the people and situations that would otherwise make you feel anxious.
Anxiety is driven by painful memories of the past and unhelpful predictions of the future. Mindfulness meditation helps you to break out of these modes of thinking, and focus more objectively on the present.
What is mindfulness meditation?
Mindfulness meditation originates in Zen Buddhism. Its success in helping those suffering from depression or anxiety has led to its popularity as a self help technique.
Mindfulness is a state in which you focus on the present: the sounds in the trees, the softness of your cushions and the feelings in your body. Whilst meditating, you observe your thoughts as they arrive and then simply allow them to pass by, without passing judgement on whether they’re true or not.
With practice (and patience) mindfulness meditation teaches you to treat thoughts as just temporary pulses in your mind. This can help to reduce your tendency to automatically assume your thoughts are facts, which in turn can reduce how they make you feel.
The ability to accept thoughts and feelings as temporary sensations can help you to control how you respond. If they’re unhelpful or inaccurate then you’ll be able to let them pass by without them making you feel upset.
How do I practice mindfulness?
Take ten minutes out of your day. Find somewhere quiet. Sit or lie in a comfortable position, and slowly relax your breathing.
Focus your thoughts on the world around you: where can you feel tension in your body, what you can hear from the street or smell in the room. Allow yourself to accept the present, and that things are just the way that they are.
When you first try meditating your thoughts will probably wander. So when you start playing over things in the past or worrying about the future, allow your thoughts to pass by without making judgements. Just accept them as merely thoughts, rather than facts.
A useful technique is to imagine your thoughts as passing cars. See yourself as a pedestrian watching them as they arrive and then disappear into the distance, without you catching a lift or giving them too much attention.
Through mindfulness meditation you should notice how your mind is constantly chattering away, with thoughts constantly coming and going.
Your thoughts aren’t facts
If you suffer from depression or low self esteem then your thought processes are often inaccurate and unhelpful. By using mindfulness to suspend judgement on your thoughts, rather than assume they’re facts, you’ll be able to make more objective judgements on whether they’re accurate.
You can practice mindfulness at anytime. Try using it when you’re walking down a crowded street. Treat your negative thoughts about people looking down on you as merely temporary impulses passing through your brain. Accept your negative thinking as something that’s rooted in your past, and not something that’s a fact about your present.
I know this sounds easier than done. But with practice and patience you should find that other time mindfulness meditation can help suspend your negative automatic judgements. If they’re unhelpful or inaccurate then just let them pass by like cars on the road.
You feel the way that you think
Social anxiety disorder is caused by your brain constantly making judgements based on past memories and future predictions. Mindfulness teaches you to focus on the present.
Learning to suspend your judgements on people and situations before you’ve got evidence to form an opinion will help you respond more objectively. Over time this should help reduce your anxiety and live in the present without letting unhelpful thoughts affect how you feel.
Mindfulness meditation takes practice and patience.
However, its effectiveness and popularity for treating depression and social anxiety disorder means it’s another valuable daily exercise you should add to your strategy for overcoming social anxiety disorder.