The next time you go to a party, one out of every ten people you talk to will be having a huge anxiety attack, be frightened to the core and trying hard desperately to function in that social setting. In fact, 15 million people suffer from social anxiety disorder —the third most common disorder after depression and alcoholism.
The roots of social anxiety disorder could be genetic or biological, caused by abnormal functioning of the brain circuits that regulate emotion and the brain’s “fight or flight” response. They might be environmentally conditioned—e.g., as with children who are overly sheltered at a young age—or psychological, as in a youngster who may have been embarrassed by her teacher in school or mocked by friends.
We’ve all felt some degree of nervousness in public, but usually not to the point where it has crippled our behavior. People who have social anxiety disorder depend on what others think of them to make them feel good. To become free of social anxiety, we have to be comfortable in our own skin. Being comfortable with who we are as a person is easy to say – but if severe stress or anxiety is present, that comfort is tough to achieve.
Our mind is like a computer—our thoughts manifest in our daily life, just as the instructions we give to the computer produce what appears on the screen. There is a verse in the Bhagavad Gita (6:6):
He who has conquered his self by his Self alone is himself his own friend; but the self of him who has not conquered his self will behave with enmity like a foe.
Treatments for Social Anxiety Disorder
Intense anxiety is enmity that we create in our mind as a response to stress. Drugs may help calm us down and temporarily relieve the anxiety, but they only mask the symptoms. Unfortunately widespread overdosing on anxiety drugs has become a major problem in society. They are not a long-term solution. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), the most widely used therapy today, teaches people to react differently on an intellectual level to the situations that trigger their anxiety. Often a person will imagine the situation that causes their anxiety and then, in the safety of the therapist’s office, work through their fears. However, the underlying stress is still there and can rear its ugly head unexpectedly, at any time.
How can we get rid of stress? The most scientifically validated way to do it is through regular practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique, which allows the mind to settle down to ever-quieter levels. Because the mind and body are intimately connected, as the mind settles, so does the body. The body slips into a profound state of rest that allows stress and anxiety to be released.
Veterans suffering from debilitating post-traumatic stress disorder have used Transcendental Meditation, with positive results. In about three months of practicing TM they have reduced their PTSD symptoms by 50%.
This shows that practicing Transcendental Meditation can get rid of both deep-rooted stress as well as day-to-day surface anxiety.
[Video 2:36] Liv Tyler Talks About Meditation
Becoming our Own Best Friend
Experiencing deeper levels of the mind is soothing to one’s well being. The endless chatter and insecurities that skitter about on the surface of our mind automatically begin to dissolve. We feel healed—at peace, and whole—ready to tackle the world.
One of the first things I noticed after learning TM was that I felt more at home with myself. I began not to care what other people thought of me because I felt happy and relaxed inside. In time, I even started to feel empowered to do anything I wanted. I had become my best friend. I felt self-nourished. I stopped constantly getting upset with myself, which sabotaged the things I attempted to do.
At any time we can be faced with a stressful situation that causes stress and anxiety to bubble up inside us. Although we tell ourselves not to worry, we often can’t stifle the endless dialogue and worries running in our minds. When faced with this situation, I notice what seemed to be a problem before my regular meditation session is no longer a problem after I finish my meditation. Over time, I have also observed that these stressful external situations fail to disrupt my inner well being as much as they used to.
Everyone should have a best friend with whom they feel supported, nourished, loved, and completely comfortable. Fortunately, you don’t have to go anywhere to meet your dearest friend. She (or he) is right inside you. The more you rendezvous with her in the stillness of your being, the more you will become invincible and able to tackle any storm that blows your way. When you’re comfortable with yourself, you can be comfortable in any social situation.
It is not necessary to suffer from the crippling effects of social anxiety disorder. If you dive within to the calm and peace that already exists in the silence of your mind, your day-to-day anxiety gradually will dissolve and you’ll rise to be an attractive, sparkling light in any social situation.