Saturday, April 25, 2009

Social Anxiety Symptoms Melt Away with Laughter

By Todd Snyder, Psy.D.

You probably already have some gut-level understanding about what I'm about to tell you. But you have no idea just how powerful these methods can be for decreasing social anxiety symptoms if leveraged correctly. Read on.

By now you may or may not have realized that "trying to not feel anxious" doesn't work. Neither does an effort to use logic to tell yourself that you are being ridiculous. When your social anxiety symptoms strike, your mind is not reacting to your intentional efforts or your logical appraisal of the situation. That's why you need to use laughter to reduce the automatic reactions of your brain. Laughter reduces both the mind-based symptoms of self-conscious nervousness and the physical sensations of social anxiety (like shaking, blushing, sweating, or feeling yourself become quiet and less spontaneous). These symptoms come up because your mind labels social situations as dangerous if there is a risk that other's will judge you negatively. While most people's brains do not label these types of situations as dangerous, the mind of someone with social anxiety does. Keep reading to learn the basics of how to actually get yourself into a different state of mind (one where the danger symptoms subside).

What doesn't work is telling yourself that you "shouldn't" be having social anxiety in a given situation. If you walk into a party scene and start feeling nervous and shaky (or start staring at the floor and feeling uncomfortable about making eye contact), it won't help to tell yourself to "get over it," and it won't help if you try to use logic to stop feeling nervous. The parts of your brain that cause those nervous sensations don't respond to logic.

What does work? Any mental action that decreases self-awareness and increases your focus on things outside of you will help to reduce your automatic social anxiety reactions. So how can you use laughter to accomplish that? The answer lies in the subtle forms of laughter. By "subtle laughter" I mean the kind where you are laughing a little on the inside, and there is only a small smirk (if anything) showing on the outside. This is a state of mind that relaxes the limbic system (the part of your brain that controls emotional reactions to stressful events). But what's even better is that the actual process of getting yourself into that state of mind will end up reducing your self-consciousness (and thereby reduce your anxiety). So how do you get yourself into that "process" of subtle laughter? It's easier to do than you might think. You use the creative aspects of your mind to create absurd internal images in your mind that have to do with the situation you are currently in. Here's an example. I'm standing in line at the post office and I start feeling self-conscious when several people get in line behind me. I notice the people behind me are making small talk and the people in front of me are making small talk, and I start to worry that I look out of place or anxious or something. But I'm even more worried that one of them is going to start a conversation with me and I will blush, stare at the floor, or otherwise feel uncomfortable. This gradually increasing social anxiety then gets me feeling uncomfortable about the fact that I will have to interact with the postal clerk in front of the people standing behind me. So here's what I do. I imagine what the look on people's faces would be if I suddenly turned around and started making cat noises while maintaining a perfectly straight face. Then I imagine what people might do if I suddenly started making the most annoying nasal laugh I could muster. Picturing these absurd ideas in my head causes me to think about other people (and less about myself). It also puts me in that unique state of mind in which I feel like I could burst out laughing. This is a relaxing state of mind. It calms my anxiety automatically and makes me feel more jovial, comfortable in my own skin, and more sociable.

The key is that you want to think of the most bizarre scenarios you can possibly come up with, while still linking the imagination scenario to your real-life situation. But this is just a weak-example of what is possible if you use the system designed to teach you how to unleash the power of humor and mental games. There is a course that teaches very powerful methods for using mental games to beat social anxiety. I like it so much that I have a link to it on my website But you can access it directly by clicking on this link:

So how does the anger system work? Anger works a little differently. Generally speaking, if you are angry, you are usually focused on what's wrong with other people or your environment. This takes the focus of your mind off of yourself. Anger also unleashes endorphins that cause you to feel a little less vulnerable and less susceptible to pain. The best way to access anger is to channel someone who you have known at some point in your life who is excessively aggressive and overly self-confident. Don't worry, you won't appear that way to others, because trying to act and think like such a person will only move you toward the average mark. That's because those of us who suffer from an overly anxious brain are the nicest people on the planet (at least when dealing with people face to face). Channeling an angry person can be accomplished by using your mind's hologram to experience what it would be like to be the overly aggressive and confident person. Experience what it would be like to think and feel like they do, in the situation that makes you nervous. To learn a system of mental games that dwarfs these ideas in power and scope, check out a course that I link to at

Be Courageous and Fearless!

Todd Snyder, Psy.D.

About the Author:

No comments: