BBC radio show The Daily Bacon recently featured an interview with sports psychiatrist Dr Steve Peters about his new book ‘The Chimp Paradox’.
Dr Peters has helped the British Olympic Cycling Team to improve their mental processes and has worked with hospital patients suffering from depression and other mental health issues for 20 years. So when he shares his insights on how you can improve your thought processes and quality of life, you tend to listen.
You can listen to the podcast by clicking here (or right clicking and downloading), and then fast forwarding to 20 mins 40 seconds (after an interview with Simon Mayo). The reason I’m writing about this is because of the parallels between what he describes as the ‘chimp’ part of the brain and the unhelpful, negative and irrational thoughts that cause social anxiety.
It’s the chimp that causes impulsive and inaccurate thoughts and reactions
Dr Peters describes the brain (based on a simplification of clinical research) as having three parts:
1) The human front – our rational thoughts and how we’d like to feel and behave
2) The chimp – our irrational thoughts that cause us to think and behave in an unhelpful manner i.e. feel anxious in social situations
3) The computer – all the knowledge and experience we’ve accumulated over our lives
It’s the chimp part that causes us to react impulsively to situations before our rational part kicks in. And research shows that social anxiety is caused by irrational and unhelpful thoughts that are rooted in our fight or flee mechanism. So to reduce your anxiety, you need to be able to counter the chimp part of your brain.
Dr Peters doesn’t go into details on how you can do this on the podcast, other than that his model incorporates elements of cognitive behavioural therapy. I haven’t read the book (I managed to beat my social anxiety a few years ago through a combination of CBT, exercise, living a more active lifestyle and taking up social hobbies which involved interaction with other people), but it gets a five star rating based on 39 reviews on Amazon. You can find out more by clicking here (yes, it’s an affiliate link, but I only recommend products I genuinely believe cam help you).
The podcast also features a clip of former England rugby international player Brian Moore (skip to 30 mins 50 seconds) talking about his inner golumn, which used to cause him to suffer from negative thoughts but it’s a voice he’s now learned to ignore.
‘Don’t engage your inner golumn on a long, fruitless discussion you can never win’
When I first started on my journey to beat social anxiety I had no idea it was even a treatable condition until I started researching it on the web (and when I visited a doctor they just put me straight on medication!).
But there seems to be a growing understanding amongst psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals on the fact that its inaccurate, unhelpful and irrational thoughts that cause issues like social anxiety disorder, and as such they need to be challenged or simply ignored.