The most effective approaches to overcome social anxiety and build happier lives

How can we live happy lives?

Harvard University has been running a study for 80 years1 to answer that magic question. The main conclusion is that warmth of relationships throughout life has the greatest positive impact on happiness. The connections we make with our family, friends, lovers, and colleagues make all the difference.

What can prevent you to connect better?

Research shows that anxiety is a significant barrier preventing people from making meaningful connections and improving their personal and professional relationships2.

Social anxiety refers to nervousness in social situations. It’s a natural part of the human life, but sometimes it can be overwhelming and paralyzing.

Studies on how the mind works show that when someone experiences social anxiety, the brain generates distorted beliefs that affect how the person perceives himself and the situation3. These beliefs lead to exaggerated negative emotional responses, like fear and anxiety, and maladaptive behaviors, like social avoidance and isolation, which create an imprisoning cycle holding the person to achieve her full potential.

Effective solutions backed by science

Findings from more than 100 trials and thousands of individuals evaluated, confirm that pharmacological, psychological and self-help approaches are effective for overcoming social anxiety4.

Studies demonstrate that pharmacological interventions that have greater effects on outcomes compared with waitlist are monoamine oxidase inhibitors (SMD −1·01, 95% credible interval [CrI] −1·56 to −0·45), benzodiazepines (−0·96, −1·56 to −0·36), selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs and SNRIs; −0·91, −1·23 to −0·60), and anticonvulsants (−0·81, −1·36 to −0·28).

Compared with waitlist, efficacious classes of psychological interventions are individual cognitive–behavioural therapy (CBT; SMD −1·19, 95% CrI −1·56 to −0·81), group CBT (−0·92, −1·33 to −0·51), exposure and social skills (−0·86, −1·42 to −0·29), self-help with support (−0·86, −1·36 to −0·36), and self-help without support (−0·75, −1·25 to −0·26).

Effective self-help and internet-based solutions

These studies show that psychological treatments can also be successfully applied as guided self-help or internet-based therapies4.

Self-guided approaches offer new possibilities to deliver effective treatments more easily to individuals and to lower the threshold for seeking help.

The American Psychological Association list four reasons on why people would choose online therapy: convenience, lower costs, more comfortable to communicate, and more access5.

The National Institute of Mental Health adds more three items as mobile care advantages6:

Interest: Some technologies might be more appealing than traditional treatment methods, which may encourage clients to continue therapy.

24-hour service: Technology can provide round-the-clock monitoring or intervention support.

Support: Technology can complement traditional therapy by extending an in-person session, reinforcing new skills, and providing support and monitoring.

Taking self-help to next level: Artificial Intelligence

Researchers have found that interventions are most effective when people like them, are engaged and want to continue using them.

At Youper, we are combining the engineers’ skills for making an app easy to use and entertaining with the clinician’s skills for providing effective treatment options.

Our engineers make use of artificial intelligence and behavior analytics technology to collect and analyze data and constantly evolve Youper to provide the psychological approach that better fit with each personal user need.

Dr. Jose Hamilton is a psychiatrist and co-founder at Youper. He leads our science team to continuously assembling and translating the latest evidence-based into the app.

Are you a scientist interested in partnering with us? We’d love to hear from you! Just fill out the form to apply.

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References

1. Triumphs of Experience: The Men of the Harvard Grant Study.

Vaillant GE.  

Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard University Press. May 4, 2015.

4. Psychological and pharmacological interventions for social anxiety disorder in adults: a systematic review and network meta-analysis.

Mayo-Wilson E, Dias S, Mavranezouli I, Kew K, Clark DM, Ades AE, Pilling S.

The Lancet Psychiatry. 2014;1(5):368–376.

2. Social fears and social phobia in the USA: results from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication.

Ruscio AM, Brown TA, Chiu WT, Sareen J, Stein MB, Kessler RC.

Psychological Medicine. 2008;38:15–28.

5. What you need to know before choosing online therapy.

American Psychological Association.

APA. 2017.

3. Cognitive factors that maintain social anxiety disorder: a comprehensive model and its treatment implications.

Hofmann SG.

Cognitive Behavior and Therapy. 2007;36:193–209.

6. Technology and the Future of Mental Health Treatment.

National Institute of Mental Health.

NIMH. 2017.