Here at the-Coaching Blog-run by Gerard O’Donovan, our aim is to constantly bring value to those seeking to improve their lives. Therefore we have a policy of publishing articles and materials by guest authors whom we value and appreciate. Today’s guest author is Carmen Gilfillan (UK)
Depending on who we interact with, our relationships with others can be a source of immense joy or debilitating stress. Joy if it’s a life partner with whom we have a great relationship, debilitating stress if it’s someone who intimidates us, and in whose presence we feel under threat. For some of us, we may even feel stressed in any social setting.
The stress we experience is a physical response in the body designed to keep us safe from “threat”. That threat could be relatively minor. It could be the way someone looks at us, the thought that someone is judging us or the prospect of losing face in front of strangers. However, depending on how we interpret the threat, our physical response could be akin to us being attacked by a stranger in a dark alley.
That physical response to a stressful situation (like meeting someone for the first time) can include us breaking out in a sweat, heart palpitations, butterflies in our stomach… and if we are on standing in front of a group, a blank mind.
The good news is that, in this state, we’re ready for action and able more easily to avoid real danger. The bad news is that a stress state dumps cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine into the system, forcing blood to flow away from the vital organs and the brain to our arms and legs to prepare the body to attack or run away. In this state, therefore, the chances of us truly being ourselves around people we may be meeting for the first time are minimal.
This kind of response has been termed social anxiety or social phobia, where we’re unable to relax around others. According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists about five in 100 people have some degree of social phobia (https://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/mental-health/problems-disorders/shyness-and-social-phobia).
If being in the company of other people triggers a response of fear or even dread within us, our body is on constant red-alert. The vital organs are being starved of their necessary blood supply and if this state is perpetuated, over time we can experience physical dis-ease.
In order to improve our relationships with others, if we find ourselves experiencing this level of social anxiety, there are a number of strategies we may need to use to begin to gain control over our instinctive responses.
Engaging The Higher Brain
The advantage of us being human is that we have our prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for reason. We can engage this part of our brain to override how we respond to that animal brain.
For example, if you walk into a room of strangers and this kind of situation is a trigger for you, a useful strategy is to engage your higher brain. Even though your body is on high alert, you can say to yourself, ‘I’m not going to die. Everything is fine. I’m not under attack, these are just sensations in my body I can choose to respond to or not.’
The animal brain may be responsible for keeping us safe, however, our pre-frontal cortex (our higher brain) can override that instinctive response through positive, constructive self-talk. This kind of approach to fear reduces the intensity of the stress response.
Taking long, slow, deep breaths in from your abdomen and on the exhale letting go of all the tension in your body begins to move you from a state of stress to one of peace. This type of meditative breathing can be carried out whenever you think about it and with our eyes open. Within a social setting, you can use the those times when you are not engaging in conversation to do this simple exercise of slowing your breathing and releasing tension until you begin to feel calmer.
Yoga is a gentle form of exercise combining movement, meditation and breath work to relax, centre and rebalance you. Yoga also keeps you physically flexible and supple. The soothing nature of yoga, over time, begins to allow you to let go of the kind of tensions you may hold when you’re around others.
Tai Chi is a fast martial art that has been slowed down to a very fluid set of movements. It is gentle, relaxing and helps to balance both body and mind. Like yoga, it combines breath work and movement and has a calming effect on your physiology and psychology.
Energy Healing – Reiki
A further key way to release the sort of tension associated with social anxiety may be through energy healing. Energy healing comprises a set of practices that work to clear our system of negative energy, leaving you feeling more grounded and balanced.
One such modality is Reiki. This practice works to rebalance the seven key energy centres (Chakras) in the body. The premise of Reiki is that clearing those energy centres restores the body’s natural equilibrium, leading to mental, emotional, physical and spiritual wellbeing.
Energy Healing – Tapping
Another example of an energy-healing modality that can be used to eliminate the kind of stress social anxiety triggers is ‘Tapping’. This technique is known officially as EFT (Emotional Freedom Therapy). It is also known as Emotional Freedom Technique or Energy Psychology.
Based on acupuncture, EFT involves tapping acupressure points on the body while focusing on the issue. This stimulation encourages the free flow of energy throughout the body that can lead to a sense of emotional release.
The above practices are just some of the ways in which we can proactively begin to reduce the effects of stress when interacting with others and promote self-healing. When we can engage in these techniques regularly over the long-term, we can increase our chances of letting go of social anxiety. This in turn will enable us to feel a sense of wellbeing around others and allow us to start enjoying richer, deeper and more meaningful social interactions.
About Carmen Gilfillan
Carmen Gilfillan is an emotional health consultant, owner of the Leicester-based wellness practice, Stimulus, and specialist in wellness and personal growth.
As an Emotional Freedom Therapist, Reiki Practitioner, Life Coach, trainer and speaker, Carmen facilitates personal growth and wellbeing workshops, is a keynote speaker and a member of the Association for the Advancement of Meridian Energy Therapists. Having overcome many of her own anxiety and fatigue issues using the tools she writes and speaks about, Carmen is now an associate of chronic fatigue specialist organisation, The Chrysalis Effect, and combines her Life Coaching and energy-healing skills into her flagship health and wellbeing programme,