I’m aware that the course is coming to an end and aware that I still feel the pangs of social anxiety thoughts and fears creep up within me and overwhelm my mind and whole being as I move from person to person, interaction to interaction, conversation to chit chat. Words fail me – words, words, words! What to say? How to say it? It is like the words I use and how I say them are the test; they are how I am graded. Say it wrong, say the wrong thing and I’ll be thought less of. I have bracketed myself off to a lower level. A level that is not as fun, cool, intelligent, an all-rounder, funny, bubbly, exciting, spontaneous – someone people want to be around. It’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I think it therefore I am it.
I think it therefore it happens.
I think it therefore I expect it.
I think it therefore I create it.
Doesn’t everyone think as I do? Don’t we all have that monkey mind? I guess some more so than others. It takes time, effort, commitment, patience and self -compassion to change the thought process;
To not expect too much,
To be understanding of how difficult it might be,
I think I thought that I would be!
It is now twenty odd years later as far as I can remember. It will surely take time to heal and be turned around so that I am not constantly experiencing low levels of esteem, self-worth, and paranoia. At times, a self-critic,
a voice that compares,
a voice that judges,
a voice that is expecting the very best from me
a voice that is harsh, hard, destructive and very difficult to live with
I know that there’s a softer voice there. I have experienced it at times, but it is only heard when I genuinely take the time and take myself off the busy go-go merry go round to hear it and to listen to it. I feel so much better when I do. So why then, do I not take more time to listen to this voice or to allow it more air time? It’s because the harsh tones of this internal critic can be so loud and dominant at the best of times.
He/she turns up
When I’m talking to people
When I’m speaking/giving an opinion
When I’m in a shop
When I’m in gym and see someone, I like
When I’m in company with people I feel are so much more intelligent and talented……
When I’m composing a text or email
When I’m talking on the phone
When I’m passing someone on the street
ALL the time – He/she will find something to say – And most often, in fact ALL the time, it is not very positive.
How I think of myself?
I’m better off alone!
I’m a disappointment when/if people spend longer than the first initial 5/10 minutes exchanging pleasantries and Hello’s. As in ‘m thinking, “it’s not long before I bore them” and I’m lowering the tone of what should be an exciting night/social gathering. I’m a country girl who does not belong or does not fit in with where I find myself. Perhaps, I‘m just about getting away with it, that I maybe look okay but once I start talking (interacting)! I then worry that what people might have thought about me has changed and changed negatively.
I’m better off alone – maybe romantically as well as living by myself!
I do not want to approach anyone I find attractive.
If anyone was interested in approaching me, I don’t think they would because maybe I give off an aloof / don’t come near me demeanor.
Living alone because I think I am odd and that it’s easier to be odd alone than have the added knowledge that people see how I am odd spending more time in my room than out and about.
That maybe I don’t have a life for me. I like to exercise, eat healthily, do my work, prepare for my work, be organized and try to be as good a person I can be. I like people to think well of me, because I find it very hard to live with the concerns that people do not like me. I am aware that how I think, feel about myself is not good and I have been actively working on improving my self-worth and esteem for over ten years now. It is a constant job and one that maybe I have been coasting with. In order to really get a grip on this I need to not coast and actually put into practice the alternative ways of thinking that the SAI course has been teaching. I cannot expect to overcome this pointed and angular presence within if I do not diligently take the time to apply the methods.
What are the methods?
To distance myself from the thought
Find evidence to support my negative thought
Check in with people – inquire and see if I was accurate in my thoughts
Change the wording of my thought
Replace “should do something” to “I would like to do this because”
Shift my attention outwards
Give my full attention to those I am interacting with – It is the biggest gift
Observe others -are they really paying attention to me?
Label the thought
Take demand away to be 100 responsible for conversation
Most of us intuitively know that there is a strong link between our gut and brain. Almost everyone has experienced ‘butterflies in the tummy’ when they are feeling nervous. For some people, stress and anxiety can cause or worsen stomach problems, such as with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Our gut has been referred to as ‘the second brain’ and it certainly seems to have the ability to mirror our emotions and mood. There is an intricate system of nerves in the gut which are connected to the brain by a large nerve called the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve can transmit signals between the gut and brain very rapidly and efficiently, allowing both organs to respond to each other almost simultaneously. Over the past decade, researchers have discovered that our gut bacteria play a huge role in the communication between our gut and brain and can actually influence how we feel and behave. This is both an exciting and startling finding! We have known for a long time that there were bacteria in our gut but we presumed that these were a harmless bunch of bugs that lived off our food and, in return, didn’t cause us any trouble. We now realise that they influence almost all aspects of our health, not least of all our mental well-being.
The sheer number of bacteria in our gut, termed our ‘gut microbiome’ is staggering. For every one human cell in our body we have at least ten bacterial cells. How exactly do these bacteria influence our brain? Researchers all over the world have been trying to uncover the answers and it appears that our microbes can impact our psychological state in various different ways.
Gut bacteria play a role in the development of our body’s stress response system which reacts to stress by producing the hormone cortisol. Researchers have shown that animals who lack gut bacteria are far more easily stressed and release more cortisol than animals with a normal microbiome. In humans, studies have shown that the consumption of certain probiotics seems to reduce a person’s response to stress.
Bacteria themselves can produce many of the chemical messengers that we use in our human brains. They have the ability to make serotonin, noradrenaline, dopamine and GABA, all chemicals which have been shown to play a role in depression and anxiety
As well as producing serotonin directly, the gut microbiome influences the way serotonin is used in our body. Many people will have heard of serotonin, a chemical messenger which plays a role in mood regulation. It is thought that low levels of serotonin contribute to the development of depression and anxiety disorders and most anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medications act by boosting the brains serotonin levels.
Our gut bacteria have a huge influence on our immune system, both in terms of development of immunity as an infant and ongoing functioning into adulthood. Immune changes are thought to be important in the development of many different mental illnesses.
Bacteria break down carbohydrates in our gut to produce butyrate, a tiny molecule which has been shown to have a protective effect on the brain. It is currently being researched for potential benefits in brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and autism.
So which bacteria, of the trillions out there, are good for our brains? Well it is early days and a lot more research and clinical trials need to be done before we can definitively answer this question. However, studies to date would suggest that various Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains appear to offer psychological benefits. One of the easiest ways to improve and maintain a healthy gut microbiome is through our diet. Green leafy vegetables, fibre, wholegrains and fermented foods such as yoghurt, kefir, kombucha and sauerkraut all promote the growth of good ‘probiotic’ bacteria in the gut. In contrast, the highly processed, high-sugar foods that are typical of the Western diet appear to negatively impact mental health. This concept about healthy eating is not a new one but research is now putting the science behind the message and demonstrating the effects of food on our gut microbiome and subsequently our mental health.
There has only been one study looking at the link between social anxiety disorder and the gut microbiome. In 2015, a research team in the US asked 710 university students to complete questionnaires on diet, personality factors and social anxiety. They found that people with higher levels of ‘neuroticism’ on personality tests were more likely to demonstrate social anxiety symptoms, a finding which is unsurprising. What was interesting was that in those with high neuroticism scores (i.e. at higher risk of social anxiety), greater consumption of fermented foods was associated with fewer symptoms of social anxiety. Although far from conclusive, this would seem to suggest that consumption of probiotic-containing fermented foods may offer some protection against the development of social anxiety disorder in those who are susceptible.
The gut microbiome is a new area of research and one which has generated a great deal of excitement and interest. The potential for improving mental well-bring and treating mental illness through targeting the gut bacteria with dietary change and probiotics is very appealing. It is not suggested that this will replace more traditional treatments, including psychotherapy and medication, but it is likely to become an important part of holistic care. Social anxiety disorder has been largely ignored in the research world despite the fact that is extremely common and causes a great deal of suffering. The APC Microbiome Institute based at University College Cork is currently running a research study investigating the composition of the gut microbiome in people with social anxiety disorder. If you are interested in this study you can find more details at www.sadgut.ie or contact Dr Mary Butler at email@example.com.