Mindfulness & Acceptance-Based Interventions for Social Anxiety Disorder
Despite the existence of effective treatments for social anxiety disorder, research steadily advances to improve the results of therapeutic approaches.
Far too many people do not respond to traditional CBT treatment and the greatest part of SAD sufferers never even seeks professional help (Coles, Turk, Jindra, & Heimberg, 2004; Grant et al., 2005).
Meditation for social anxiety represents a new, promising intervention for people with SAD. The recent mindfulness wave in Western culture has led researchers to investigate the effects of incorporating meditation practices in social anxiety treatment, with promising results.
Here, we will review some of the most interesting findings and provide some guided meditations for social anxiety for those interested in becoming more mindful as well as in preparing their brain for stressful social situations.
Introduction to Mindfulness: An End In And Of Itself
Mindfulness has been described as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally”, by Jon-Kabat-Zinn (1994), who famously created the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program.
Its main principles date back to ancient Buddhist and Hindu traditions, and emphasize acceptance of the present experience, without the intention of altering it in any way.
Furthermore, mindfulness highlights to actively notice the present moment and cultivate an increased awareness of evolving psychological experiences (Herbet, Gershkovich, & Forman, 2014, p. 590).
Here are the three main components of mindfulness summarized:
- actively take notice of the present moment
- cultivate an increased awareness of ongoing psychological experiences
- accept the present experience without trying to change it in any way
Traditional mindfulness practices are viewed as an end in and of itself and are not used to enhance focus, well-being, or any other quality.
When it comes to psychological interventions, such as when incorporating mindfulness to cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), mindfulness is a means to an end, meaning it is seen as a tool which can be used to improve treatment results (Herbert, Forman, & England, 2009).
Mindfulness in Psychotherapy: A Means to an End
Generally speaking, psychotherapy attempts to bring about improvements in well-being and help people live more fulfilled lives.
Oftentimes, this implies behavior change. It has been suggested that incorporating mindfulness in psychotherapy can help achieving these goals (Herbert, Gershkovich, & Forman, 2014).
Mindfulness and meditation are not synonyms. Meditation can be regarded as a method to practice mindfulness, while mindfulness is best viewed as a psychological state, which can be accessed through different techniques and practices, of which meditation is one (Marchand, 2012).
Mindfulness-based psychotherapy interventions for social anxiety shift away from actively changing negative and irrational beliefs related to social situations.
Instead, they accentuate acceptance of upsetting thoughts and feelings, while pursuing the change in behavior previously mentioned (Herbert, Gershkovich, & Forman, 2014).
Therefore, in contrast to traditional Hindu and Buddhist values, mindfulness in psychotherapy is not incorporated for the sake of doing it, but rather with the intention of reducing psychological suffering and bringing about improvements in well-being for the patient.
The Current Science on Mindfulness & Meditation for Social Anxiety Disorder
Throughout the last two decades, researchers have been busy investigating the effects of mindfulness-based interventions for people with depression and anxiety disorders.
One of the most researched programs is Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR; Kabat-Zinn, 1990). MBSR is an eight week intervention which teaches participants mindfulness meditation practices.
Here are some of the most interesting research findings regarding Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for people with social anxiety disorder:
- MBSR reduces anxiety in a wide range of disorders, including in people who do not qualify for an official diagnosis (Baer, 2003; Vøllestad, Nielsen, & Nielsen, 2012).
- It has been associated with reduced emotional reactivity (Ramel, Goldin, Carmona, & McQuaid, 2004).
- MBSR has been linked to enhanced emotional self-regulation (Goldin, & Gross, 2010; Lykins & Baer, 2009).
- It has been associated with improved attention regulation as well as interruptions of negative self-views (Goldin, Ramel, & Gross, 2009).
- MBSR has been linked to clinically significant reductions in anxiety along with improvements in mood and quality of life (Koszycki, Benger, Shlik, & Bradwejn, 2007).
- It has been associated with improvements on social anxiety measures and well-being (Jazaieri, Goldin, Werner, Ziv, & Gross, 2012).
Additionally to MBSR, there are slightly different approaches which are based on similar principles.
For instance, metacognitive therapy addresses socially anxious people’s beliefs about thinking (Wells, 2009). Instead of directly targeting the content of upsetting thoughts in social situations, beliefs about the usefulness of attempting to control negative thoughts are questioned and acceptance of disturbing cognitions is advocated.
Another such approach is mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT; Segal, Williams, & Teasdale, 2001). It also addresses social anxiety disorder from a metacognitive perspective, trying to promote a detached perspective regarding one’s personal experiences.
By adopting a more neutral, objective point of view, subjective suffering may decrease as a result. This is mainly achieved through mindfulness meditation practices, which are mostly derived from MBSR (Herbert, Gershkovich, & Forman, 2014).
So far, MBCT has shown promising results in the treatment of social anxiety (Bögels, Sijbers, & Voncken, 2006; Piet, Hougaard, Hecksher, & Rosenberg, 2010).
Guided Meditations for Social Anxiety Disorder
As becomes clear, mindfulness and meditation practices are a great intervention for most people with social anxiety. Making mindfulness meditation a daily habit can have a huge impact on your chances of overcoming your SAD.
In order to get you started, we have created the following guided meditations for social anxiety, each of which fosters mindfulness as well as cultivates a particular aspect which is usually scarce in people with SAD.
In order to expect results, you may practice the following meditations for a couple of weeks on a regular basis. Ideally, you sit down to meditate everyday, even if it is just for a few minutes.
Additionally, we recommend cultivating mindfulness during your everyday activities, such as while walking, waiting in line, or simply while sitting down, taking a break.
Try to pay attention to what is happening around you, such as the sounds you perceive, or what is happening within you, such as your physical sensations, emotions, and your thoughts.
For a good and thorough introduction to mindfulness, we also recommend mindful.org. There, you will find tons of resources regarding mindfulness and meditation in general. For now, let’s get started with our guided meditations for socially anxious people.
Guided Meditation for Social Anxiety: Self-Compassion
Guided Meditation for Social Anxiety: Loving Kindness
Guided Meditation for Social Anxiety: Acceptance Technique
Share This Article