How visualization can help you overcome shyness and social anxiety

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Published: 16th July 2010
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There have always been many self-help methods available for people seeking to overcome their shyness and social anxiety. But visualization remains as one of the most effective, and most widely tried, method among therapists and lay people alike.

Visualization has long been recognized as one of the best stress reduction methods. Stress reduction is strongly linked to anxiety reduction; this concept can be extended to social anxiety and shyness. The way this works is by recognizing that social anxiety is created by the stress reaction the shy person experiences as a result of his mental processes and the set of mental images that they have day in and day out.

Consider this scenario: a teenager getting ready for a party imagines herself in the dress that she had bought. She either "sees" herself in her mind's eye as beautiful and graceful, or awkward and ugly. She can imagine her friend's reactions to her walking in the party-if she mainly imagines them as negative, her level of stress will dramatically increase. This stress will translate as a social anxiety attack when she goes to the party-or at least she will be painfully shy and withdrawn for fear of eliciting the reactions that she repeatedly imagined.

If such a teen is trained to use the art of visualization, she could drastically improve her social performance and reduce her shyness and social anxiety. Instead of imaging negative situations, she should be trained to turn them -in her mind-into positive ones. She could, for example, be taught to visualize success in this particular social situation in vivid details: she walks in, looking her best, and greets everyone with a confident smile. She compliments her friends, and moves gracefully to the dance floor where she starts dancing and trying out the new dance moves that she had earlier been practicing, whether she has been asked to dance or not. She has a lot of fun dancing the night away and impresses everybody with her positive attitude.

Notice that visualization is different from "fantasizing". The shy person will not experience reduced stress if they engage in a fantasy where they are the most popular/loved kid on the block. This will only create more performance anxiety, and later a sense of failure as they fail to live up to their fantasy. Instead, it is important that socially anxious people focus in their visualization on elements they can control like the way they feel and act.

Given that these guidelines are followed, visualization can be very effective in stress reduction and dampening shyness and social anxiety.

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