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Benefits of Family Therapy in the Caregiving Process

Benefits of Family Therapy in the Caregiving Process

When one has to live with debilitating chronic conditions or even degenerative disorders, it is natural that we place emphasis on seeing that the afflicted recover and receive the appropriate management. As our society rapidly ages, the number of elderly living with medical conditions or dementia is also increasing exponentially. However, the care should extend beyond the patients themselves. More often than not, there are other individuals involved, including family members and friends dedicated to supporting their recovery. Is it time we acknowledge their efforts and ensure they are coping well? 

 

Caregiving can be exceptionally draining – both physically and emotionally – when a family member becomes a patient at home. Needless to say, we are unable to predict such unfortunate circumstances, and caregivers are often thrown into their roles without prior knowledge and preparation. This leaves them with no choice but to adapt and pick up new skills in order to commit to their caregiving responsibilities. However, this can take a toll on the primary caregiver as well as family relationships. 

 

With a large part of their time allocated to caring for another person, caregivers are much more susceptible to fatigue and prolonged stress, with little or no time for self-care. It can be a big problem if the caregiver feels that there’s no support – family and social relationships can be compromised, thereby further reducing any support network that a caregiver can receive. This can lead to burnout and immense feelings of helplessness. 

 

A survey by the Singapore Management University (SMU) with the support of Caregivers Alliance Limited (CAL), Enable Asia and the Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH), reveals that 3 in 4 caregivers are tired and exhausted caring for a person with mental health issues. Furthermore, the Family Caregiver Alliance estimates that close to 20 percent of family caregivers suffer from some form of depression. In addition, mental health disorders are even more common among dementia caregivers. A study conducted on mental health issues in those caring for Alzheimer’s patients found that the prevalence of depression was an alarming 34 percent, anxiety was 43.6 percent, and the use of psychotropic drugs was 27.2 percent.

 

Some other common problems that caregivers face include (but are not limited to):

 

Mental health concerns Physical health concerns  Secondary Stressors
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • High rates of negative affect including guilt, sadness, dread, irritation and worry
  • Ambivalence about care
  • Witnessing the suffering of relatives
  • Feeling isolated or abandoned by others
  • Anticipatory grief
  • Fatigue
  • Sleep problems
  • Risk of illness, injury, mortality
  • Adverse changes in health status
  • Dysregulation of stress hormones

 

 

  • Work/employment (e.g., reduction in work hours, family to work spillover, and work to family spillover)
  • Financial strains
  • Relationship stress
  • Loss of time for self-care
  • Reduced quality of life

 

 

 

This is where family therapy comes in. Families might find therapy useful when they are adapting to a major change in the family such as dealing with a chronic illness or death in the family, or conflicts between family members in the caregiving process. Family therapy is a method to engage family caregivers in active and focused problem-solving approaches related to family caregiving to improve the quality of care, reduce burden and improve family functioning. Family therapy for caregivers, in particular, encompasses six core processes – naming the problem, structuring care, role structuring, role reverberations, caregiver self-care and widening the lens. Therapy is conducted in a way that is tailored to each household. Depending on the needs that caregivers and their families must address, the aspects that are challenging them will become the focus of intervention. Not covering all six areas doesn’t mean that the therapist isn’t taking a comprehensive approach – the core processes simply act as a guideline, and do not imply a rigid prescription of intervention work. 

 

Conflicts and resentment often arise for anyone in the role of family caregiver, and these are exacerbated when trying to share tasks with siblings or other members of the family. Many a time, caregivers tend to bottle up their feelings and put up a positive front so as to avoid passing on any negative feelings to their care recipients. However, this can be extremely detrimental to their own mental and physical health in the long run. The main part of family therapy for caregivers, therefore, involves helping the caregiver and family members sort through challenging emotions and reach resolutions. Speaking about your feelings can help you find comfort, and allows you to gain further insight and through the guidance of the therapists, various emotional-coping strategies. Implementing them will certainly take some weight off your shoulders, and perhaps give you some enlightenment with regards to discovering new problem-solving strategies. 

 

Undeniably, caregivers will benefit tremendously from any assistance in their caregiving responsibilities from family members. Family therapy is extremely beneficial in helping to improve the interactions and support network among family members, especially in providing new perspectives on problems that are seemingly unmanageable (part of which involves building trust, mutual respect and openness). This hence reduces the level of stress within the family and the level of caregiver burden, on top of enhancing communication skills and boosting a positive sense of empowerment. 

 

Family therapy is focused on achieving precisely what is best for the whole family and its cohesiveness, and sorting out obstacles or issues challenging the family dynamics. It is important that you take the important step toward seeking help from professionals in order to achieve a better quality of life for yourself and your family. 

 

While face-to-face consultations are the norm, we understand that as caregivers, you may be faced with time constraints or other concerns. Thankfully, with technological advancement, virtual consultations are also becoming increasingly popular. They are equally effective and allow for more individuals to connect with their family therapists with greater ease. Of course, the decision is entirely yours to make. If you find yourself struggling, or simply feel that you need a trustworthy individual to speak to, feel free to get in contact with us

 


References:

  1. https://news.smu.edu.sg/news/2020/12/09/3-4-caregivers-persons-mental-health-issues-highlight-need-temporary-separation#:~:text=This%20survey%20by%20the%20Singapore,person%20with%20mental%20health%20issues. (Accessed 16/03/2022)
  2. https://au.lifestyle.yahoo.com/caregivers-take-care-of-person-with-mental-health-condition-help-wellness-031845657.html (Accessed 18/03/2022)
  3. https://www.apa.org/pi/about/publications/caregivers/practice-settings/common-problems (Accessed 18/03/2022)
  4. https://www.apa.org/pi/about/publications/caregivers/practice-settings/intervention/family-therapy (Accessed 18/03/2022)
  5. https://www.agingcare.com/articles/counseling-for-caregiver-burnout-126208.htm (Accessed 18/03/2022)
COVID-19, Singapore Easing Measures and Mental Health

COVID-19, Singapore Easing Measures and Mental Health

The COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented. The ubiquitous influence of the pandemic has been—and continues to be— felt by individuals globally. Many experiences the fear of being infected or infecting others, disruptions in their daily routines, social isolation, the likelihood of unemployment, financial hardship and the looming economic uncertainty (Ministry of Health Singapore, 2020). As such, there is a detrimental impact on the mental health and wellbeing of individuals, including an increased risk of suicidal behaviour.

Globally, the prevalence rates for depression and anxiety in the COVID-19 pandemic were 28.0% and 26.9% respectively (Nochaiwong et al., 2021). Factors contributing to depression and anxiety include suffering, fear or potential death, grief and financial stressors (World Health Organization, WHO 2022).

Young people have been identified as at increased risk for suicidal and self-harming behaviours (WHO, 2022). Women’s mental health, compared to men’s, has been more adversely impacted by the pandemic (WHO, 2022). In addition, people with existing medical conditions such as asthma, cancer and heart diseases, have been found to be at higher risk for developing mental health disorders (WHO, 2022).

In Singapore, a study conducted by the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) (Ministry of Health Singapore, 2020) found that 8.7% of Singapore residents reported having clinical depression, 9.4% reported having clinical anxiety and 9.3% reported mild to severe stress levels.  Older adults were identified as a vulnerable group, particularly, those who lived alone. Similar to the findings from WHO (2022), youths in Singapore were also identified as vulnerable to experiencing poor mental health in response to the pandemic. There is an urgency for countries to boost their mental health and psychosocial support services as part of the pandemic response plan.

According to the COVID-19 mental wellness task force, initiatives in Singapore include providing psychological support via helplines such as the National CARE hotline and a mental health help bot (‘Belle’), incorporating mental health materials in the school curriculum, fostering family resilience and supporting parents with parenting skills.

Here are some recommendations for mental health support during this pandemic:

  • Parents are encouraged to have conversations with their children about their children’s worries and responses to the pandemic. Parents have been found to underestimate such responses (Pfefferbaum & North, 2020). Such “talk time” can also help in trust and bond-building
  • Seniors can be equipped with digital skills and also expand their options for help and support i.e. the provision of telehealth counselling and support services (Brydon et al., 2022). 
  • Health care workers can monitor their stress responses and seek assistance in relation to both their work and personal lives from a mental health professional (Pfefferbaum & North, 2020).  
  • People can be encouraged to limit their consumption of news related to COVID-19 to once a day and to focus solely on credible news sources. 
  • Having social interactions with family and friends and offering to help support one another during this difficult period can also be particularly beneficial.
  • Being outdoors and exercising are good habits for maintaining healthy wellbeing. 

As restrictions are slowly easing around the world, it can also be challenging for most people to adjust back to when restrictions were first introduced (during lockdowns). With new changes and uncertainty, being mindful of one’s mental health and well-being is crucial. For example, larger social gatherings (e.g. group of 10) may seem overwhelming at first, therefore it is important for people to recognise their anxiety levels related to social gatherings. 

Here are some suggestions that might help regulate your emotions as you enter this new season of Singapore opening up amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic (Black Dog Institute, 2022):

  • Gradually, increase your time spent in a larger social gathering at your own pace. 
  • You can also start to focus on things that are within your ability and control. For instance, you can engage in different relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and focusing on being in the present in order to better cope with your stress levels (American Psychological Association, 2021). 
  • it can be useful to discuss reasonable adjustments back to work with your managers such as flexible working arrangements and other training opportunities in order to increase work efficacy 
  • Seek professional help if there are concerns regarding stress levels related to the easing of restrictions.

It is particularly evident that the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on the well-being of Singaporeans and the rest of the world. The pandemic has highlighted the importance of mental health and wellbeing and there is an urgent call for countries worldwide to provide people with mental health and psychosocial support to help them maintain psychological wellness.

Some Local Helplines and support:

Additionally, you could make an appointment to speak with one of our mental health professionals (a psychologist or counsellor) should you require counselling support.


References 

Black Dog Institute (2022). Coping with anxiety about COVID-19 restrictions easing.  https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/news/coping-with-anxiety-about-covid-19-restrictions-easing/

Brydon, A., Bhar, S., Doyle, C., Batchelor, F., Lovelock, H., Almond, H., Mitchell, L., Nedeljkovic, M., Savvas, S., & Wuthrich, V. (2022). National Survey on the Impact of COVID-19 on the Mental Health of Australian Residential Aged Care Residents and Staff. Clinical Gerontologist, 45(1), 58-70. https://doi.org/10.1080/07317115.2021.1985671 

Ministry of Health Singapore (2020). COVID-19 Mental Wellness Taskforce Report.  https://www.moh.gov.sg/docs/librariesprovider5/covid-19-report/comwt-report.pdf

Nochaiwong, S., Ruengorn, C., Thavorn, K., Hutton, B., Awiphan, R., Phosuya, C., Ruanta, Y., Wongpakaran, N., & Wongpakaran, T. (2021). Global prevalence of mental health issues among the general population during the coronavirus disease-2019 pandemic: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Scientific Reports, 11(1), 10173. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-89700-8

Pfefferbaum, B., & North, C.S. (2020). Mental health and the Covid-19 pandemic. The New England Journal of Medicine, 383:510-512, 291-299. https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMp2008017

World Health Organization (2022, March 12) COVID-19 pandemic triggers 25% increase in prevalence of anxiety and depression worldwide. https://www.who.int/news/item/02-03-2022-covid-19-pandemic-triggers-25-increase-in-prevalence-of-anxiety-and-depression-worldwide

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash 

What Are Panic Attacks and How To Manage?

What Are Panic Attacks and How To Manage?

Written by: Dr Elaine Yeo, Senior Clinical Psychologist

All of us have felt anxiety at some point in our lives, whether before a big test, public speaking, or a job interview. Anxiety is a perfectly normal emotion that serves the purpose of motivating us to prepare for a big event or protect ourselves from potentially dangerous situations. However, too much anxiety may put us at the risk of experiencing panic attacks. In this article, we will discuss the symptoms, causes, and strategies for managing panic attacks. 

 What are panic attacks?

A panic attack is a sudden episode of intense anxiety and fear that triggers strong physiological reactions. These reactions can feel so intense that the individual feels as though they are having a heart attack. Common symptoms of a panic attack include but are not limited to:

  • Heart palpitations
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Fear of losing control or going crazy

It is important to note that panic disorder can develop if an individual starts to fear the panic attack itself (i.e., worrying about when the next panic attack may happen or avoiding situations and places when the panic attack occurred). 

What causes panic attacks?

Similar to anxiety, anyone can experience a panic attack. However, some of us may be more prone than others. Several factors play a role in increasing our risk for panic attacks:

  • Family history: Anxiety often runs in families. If you have a family member who has a diagnosed anxiety disorder or, tends to experience anxiety more intensely and frequently than others, you would be at a higher risk for panic attacks. 
  • Mental health issues: Individuals experiencing burnout, intense anxiety, depression, or any form of mental illness are more prone to panic attacks. 
  • Traumatic experiences: A past or recent experience of trauma can result in our bodies remaining in constant “fight-or-flight” mode—the physiological reaction of anxiety and fear—which may then increase the likelihood of panic attacks.
  • Substance abuse: Addiction to substances such as alcohol, drugs, and caffeine can put us at a higher risk for panic attacks. 

How to manage panic attacks? 

If you are experiencing panic attacks at an intensity and frequency that is distressing and debilitating, please seek professional help. Panic attacks can be treated with talk therapy, psychotropic medication, or a combination of both. If not, here are a few ways to manage panic attacks: 

  • Stay calm: It is important to remember that while panic attacks can be scary and extremely uncomfortable, they will not cause you to die. When a panic attack comes, notice and name it as a panic attack, and remind yourself, “It’s just a panic attack, it will pass.” For those of you who are unsure if it may be a medical issue, please see a doctor to rule out such concerns first. 
  • Practice grounding exercises: Grounding is a useful technique that helps us to detach from our anxiety, often with an added calming effect. It works best with regular practice, even when you are not experiencing a panic attack, so that muscle memory can kick in when you most need it. Examples of grounding include:
    • Notice the environment around you with all your five senses, such as what you can see, hear, touch, smell, and taste. Describe this to yourself, either mentally or quietly out loud. 
    • Carry a grounding object (e.g., a rock, gem, ring, small toy) in your pocket. Hold the object and notice its size, shape, texture, and temperature of it. 
    • Engage in slow, deep 4-2-4 breathing – inhale for four counts, hold your breath for two counts, exhale for four counts. You may also focus on your breath and notice the feel of the air entering your nostrils, the movement of your shoulders, chest, and stomach as you breathe, the feel of the air coming out of your mouth. 
  • Avoid caffeine: Caffeine is a stimulant that can activate your body’s “fight-or-flight” response. Adding caffeine to your anxiety-ridden body would be akin to throwing a lit stick of dynamite into a house on fire. 

Overall, please remember that the presence of panic attacks indicates high levels of anxiety. They are our body’s way of telling us that it is at its limit. Should you experience one, it would be helpful for you to reflect on your stress and anxiety levels, identify any triggers and manage them, as well as ensure that you engage in your self-care routine and practice adaptive coping strategies.

What Does Journeying with a Psychiatrist for My Mental Health Issue Look Like?

What Does Journeying with a Psychiatrist for My Mental Health Issue Look Like?

For many people, when they hear the word ‘Psychiatrist’, it would instantly conjure up an image of a doctor prescribing medicine for someone with a mental health condition. This is true to the extent that a psychiatrist is a medical doctor who has undergone training to become a mental health specialist. While prescribing medications are indeed part of the treatment process, what really goes on in between – from the first session to the very end? 

 

On your very first session, your psychiatrist will most likely spend 1-1.5 hours with you to gain a better understanding of what you’re coming in for. Mental health conditions can be a touchy subject for many, and it is understandable that you’d feel hesitant to open up to a complete stranger right away. However, trust that your psychiatrist has your best interests in mind, and will do his/her best to provide optimal treatment. Don’t be afraid of being judged for your symptoms, rest assured that the psychiatrist’s office is a safe and non-judgemental space. The psychiatrist will want to know as much as you’re willing to share, and being honest with your psychiatrist will be extremely helpful for an accurate diagnosis and the development of an effective treatment plan. Just as what you’d expect when you seek a General Practitioner for physical conditions, your psychiatrist would start off by asking broader questions such as, “What brings you here today,” or “How can I help you?” For some individuals, especially if it’s their first time at a psychiatrist’s, open-ended questions like these may be nerve-wracking. You may feel a little overwhelmed, not knowing how to start or where to begin. However, there are no hard and fast rules as to how the session should flow. Simply communicating your symptoms and your concerns would be a great start, and your psychiatrist will guide you through the interview. 

 

Your psychiatrist will also run through a history-taking process, paying special attention to your medical history, family history, your current lifestyle habits and general patterns of sleep. It is important to let your psychiatrist know if you’re on certain medications, as some may have side effects that may fuel certain mental health conditions. Avoid downplaying or dismissing any information related to your physical or mental wellbeing, the clue to an accurate diagnosis may very well lie in the details. As such, going for your first session prepared with a complete list of medications, dosages, and your compliance with them can be very beneficial. Many studies have also shown that genetics play a role in mental health disorders. If you have a family member who suffers from a psychiatric issue, be sure to let your psychiatrist know for him to have a clearer idea of the situation. If need be, your psychiatrist may also ask permission to speak with other family members.

 

Depending on the patient’s circumstance, the psychiatrist may conduct a physical check-up if necessary, or possibly laboratory tests to exclude other possible causes for your condition. These are done to confirm that what you’re experiencing are not due to other medical conditions which may give rise to similar symptoms. Hence, if your psychiatrist asks for these procedures to be carried out, don’t feel too worried! Questionnaires to further assess your symptoms may also be given, so do make sure to answer them as truthfully as possible.

 

Depending on the complexities of your condition, medication options or other forms of treatment may be prescribed. If you are given medications, the psychiatrist would counsel you on how you can tell if the medications are working. Over the course of your recovery journey, take note of how subtle changes to the medications made by your psychiatrist affects you. Do they stabilise or improve your condition, or do they seem to send you on a downward spiral? How have you been feeling since you started taking them? Whatever the outcome, keep your psychiatrist in the know of how you’re coping. In the same vein, it is very important that you do not adjust your medications on your own without seeking professional advice! Patients may get impatient if they’re not seeing the desired change after a while, but constant and unregulated changes can cause undesirable fluctuations, potentially worsening the situation. We need to understand that there could be catastrophic, life-threatening consequences if we do not take them seriously.

 

In general, psychiatrists usually work closely with psychologists and therapists, as some mental health conditions are best treated with both neuropharmacological support and psychotherapy. Thus, your psychiatrist may also refer you for psychotherapy if deemed fit. Depending on the level of care required to address the patient’s symptoms, psychiatrists may recommend treatment programmes if more intensive care is needed. 

 

It is natural to feel nervous or uncomfortable about seeing a psychiatrist, but don’t let these emotions hold you back from getting the help you need. We hope that giving you a better sense of what to expect will help alleviate your concerns, and give you the courage to seek professional help.

 

References:

  1. Psychiatrists and psychiatry. Healthdirect.gov.au. (Accessed 21/05/2021)
  2. What Questions Do Psychiatrists Ask? | PHS San Diego (Accessed 21/05/2021)
  3. What to Expect During Your First Psychiatry Appointment (Accessed 22/05/2021)
What Are Anxiety Disorders and How Do They Affect Us?

What Are Anxiety Disorders and How Do They Affect Us?

We are no strangers to feelings of anxiety – at certain stages of our lives or in particular situations, we would have experienced anxiousness and worry with relation to our careers, studies, relationships and even our environment. However, anxiety levels may go beyond the healthy norm for some people, and may instead develop into anxiety disorders that may have a debilitating effect on their lives. According to the American Psychology Association (APA), an individual who suffers from an anxiety disorder is described to have “recurring intrusive thoughts or concerns”, where the duration and severity in which the individual experiences anxiety could be blown out of proportion to the original stressor, resulting in undesirable tension and other physical alterations. In this article, we will be exploring a few types of anxiety disorders as well as how they can manifest within us.

 

Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Generalised Anxiety Disorder is a psychological issue characterised by persistent and pervasive feelings of anxiety without any known external cause. People who are diagnosed with GAD tend to feel anxious on most days for at least six months, and could be plagued by worry over several factors such as social interactions, personal health and wellbeing, and their everyday routine tasks. For example, an individual with GAD may find himself experiencing headaches, cold sweats, increased irritability and frequent feelings of “free-floating” anxiety. Others may also experience muscle tension, sleep disruptions or having difficulty concentrating. Often, the sense of anxiety may seemingly come from nowhere and last for long periods of time, therefore interfering with daily activities and various life circumstances.  

 

Panic Disorder

In contrast, Panic Disorders are characterised by the random occurrence of panic attacks that have no obvious connection with events that are co-occurring in the person’s present experience. This means that panic attacks could occur at any time, even when someone is casually enjoying a meal. Of course, panic attacks could also be brought on by a particular trigger in the environment, such as a much-feared object or situation. Some individuals have reported that panic attacks feel frighteningly similar to a heart attack, especially with the rapid increase in heart palpitations, and the accompanying shortness of breath. Other symptoms also include trembling, sweating, and feelings of being out of control. With these panic attacks bringing on sudden periods of intense fear and anxiety, it can be exceptionally terrifying when these attacks reach their peak within mere minutes. However, a notable difference between a panic disorder and GAD is that an individual diagnosed with panic disorder is usually free of anxiety in between panic attacks.  

 

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is a disorder marked by patterns of persistent and unwanted thoughts and behaviours. Obsessions are recurrent thoughts, urges or mental images that cause anxiety. On the other hand, compulsions are the repetitive behaviours that a person feels the urge to do in response to an obsessive thought or image. One common example often exhibited in films is where an individual has an obsessive fear of germs. This person may avoid shaking hands with strangers, avoid using public restrooms or feel the urge to wash their hands way too frequently. However, OCD isn’t purely limited to feelings of anxiety due to germs. OCD can manifest in other ways as well, such as wanting things to be symmetrical or in perfect order, repeatedly checking on things (“Did I leave my stove on?”), or the compulsive counting of objects or possessions. While everyone double-checks their things and has their own habits, people with OCD generally cannot control their thoughts and behaviours, even if they are recognised to be rather excessive. They can spend at least 1 hour a day on these thoughts and behaviours, and will only feel the much-needed brief sense of relief from their anxiety when they perform their rituals. As such, OCD can be exceptionally debilitating to one’s mental health.

 

Social Anxiety Disorder

Persons with Social Anxiety Disorder, or SAD, experience high levels of anxiety and fear under particular or all social situations, depending on the severity of their condition. They are often afraid of being subjected to judgement, humiliation or rejection in public, causing them to feel embarrassed. As such, individuals with SAD may feel extra self-conscious and stressed out, and try to avoid social situations where they might be placed at the centre of attention.

 

Phobic Disorders

A phobia involves a pathological fear of a specific object or a situation. This means that one may experience intense anxiety upon encountering their fears and will take active steps to avoid the feared object. Phobias may centre on heights(acrophobia), birds (ornithophobia), crowds and open spaces(agoraphobia), and many others. People with agoraphobia, in particular, may struggle to be themselves in public spaces, for they think that it would be difficult to leave in the event they have panic-like reactions or other embarrassing symptoms. In severe cases, agoraphobia can cause one to be housebound. 

 

Options for the treatment of anxiety disorders include medication from a psychiatrist and therapy with a psychologist, psychotherapist or counsellor, and anxiety disorders can be treated with either one or both methods. While medication does not cure anxiety completely, it helps to relieve its symptoms, allowing the individual to cope better. Psychotherapy methods such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can be particularly effective as well, for it aims to help victims of anxiety disorders change their way of thinking, behaving, and their way of reacting to certain anxiety-causing stimuli. 

 

It is important for us to recognise that seeking treatment for anxiety disorders is crucial, especially if it hinders or interferes with our daily life. While one may choose to adopt the “I can handle it myself” attitude – perhaps due to any pre-existing stigma or societal expectations –  we need to acknowledge that we will ultimately be worse off if we do not seek help early. Don’t struggle alone, talk to us about ways to manage your anxiety and find the support you need.

 


References:

  1. https://www.apa.org/topics/anxiety (Accessed 03/12/2020)
  2. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml (Accessed 03/12/2020)
  3. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd/index.shtml (Accessed 03/12/2020)
Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash
How Does CBT Help with Social Anxiety Disorder?

How Does CBT Help with Social Anxiety Disorder?

In Singapore alone, 10% of the population is plagued by anxiety disorders – one of which includes Social Anxiety Disorder, or SAD for short. And on a global scale, approximately 4.5% of the world’s population – 273 million people – are estimated to experience anxiety disorders as of 2010. Commonly misunderstood to be merely an over-exaggerated form of shyness, Social Anxiety Disorder is much more than that. Individuals with SAD experience symptoms of anxiety or fear under particular or all social situations, depending on the severity of their condition. For some, even doing the simplest day-to-day activities in front of others can cause extreme worry of being judged, humiliated or rejected. However, some research has also suggested that SAD may be especially manifested in individuals that have ongoing medical, physical conditions such as Parkinson’s Disease, obesity, facial or bodily disfigurement (including amputees), and any other sort of conditions that may cause one to look different from the norm.

What are the symptoms of SAD?

When people with Social Anxiety Disorder are surrounded by others or have to carry out a particular action around them, they may:

  1. Feel nauseous, experience an increase in heart rate, tremble, blush or sweat profusely.
  2. Be unable to make eye contact with others, move and act rigidly, or speak in an overly soft tone.
  3. Feel extremely self-conscious, as though others are judging their every move.
  4. Easily feel awkward, embarrassed and stressed out in social situations.
  5. Find it extremely difficult to be themselves around others, especially strangers.
  6. Have anxious thoughts such as, “I’m sure they won’t want to talk to me again,” or “Do I look plain stupid right now?”
  7. Apologise excessively, even when there is nothing to apologise for.
  8. Avoid conversations, such as by using their mobile devices or plugging in their headphones. 
  9. Avoiding situations where one might be placed at the centre of attention.

The list of symptoms above is not exhaustive, but we need to recognise that they may cause extreme distress to these individuals. For them, it can be tremendously helpful and relieving for them to seek treatment for their condition, more specifically through Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is a well-known form of therapy in the mental health profession. Considered to be a form of short-term therapy, CBT is usually delivered in a time-limited manner, often over the course of 8 to 12 sessions (although this may vary from person to person). Once the symptoms are reduced and the individual is well-equipped with the necessary skills to cope with anxiety triggers or social situations in general, treatment can be finalised. As it is not possible to change or alter emotions directly, CBT aims to tackle any maladaptive, limiting thoughts and behaviours that fuel or contribute towards agonising emotions. This, therefore, lowers the extent of anxiety that one goes through and instead, developing a sense of self-efficacy.

First off, CBT encourages individuals to open up and to be truthful regarding their automatic, instinctive (negative) thoughts so that they can work hand-in-hand with therapists to analyse the logic behind them. During the sessions, therapists will work to identify the assumptions (and their validity) that these people hold, which might be causing unnecessary anxiety or fear. Proper reasoning and clearing up of assumptions can be done by asking clients to do some self-assessment and to provide possible reasons as to why they maintain such assumptions. By doing so, therapists can then assess the situation and present evidence contrary to their beliefs. 

Another aspect of CBT includes ‘Decatastrophising’. One common thinking pattern found in people who suffer from anxiety issues is ‘Catastrophising’, which is the act of imagining the worst-case scenario and magnifying the bad in any given situation. CBT helps to counter such a mindset by helping these individuals prepare for the feared consequences, as well as to cope with their unhealthy ways of thinking. For example, therapists and clients will go through certain ‘Challenge Questions’, such as:

  • “Has anything this bad ever happened before? How likely is it to happen now?” 
  • “What makes you confident that your feared outcome will actually come true?”
  • “What is the best outcome that can happen in this situation?”

These are just a few examples of ‘Challenge Questions’, but they can certainly be beneficial in helping to ease feelings of anxiousness and to calm the individual. In some way, this can also decrease an individual’s inclination to avoid seemingly triggering social situations. 

Tying in with ‘Decatastrophising’, another technique introduced during CBT is ‘Reattribution’. ‘Reattribution’ is a method which challenges the negative assumptions held by the individual by considering the possible alternative causes of events. This is particularly advantageous for people who, in most situations, perceive themselves to be the cause of problem events. For example, this can mean having a discussion on the evidence which proves that the individual is/is not the cause of the problem. Eventually, this will help to tackle ‘Automatic Negative Thoughts’, excessive self-blame and worry.

Of course, in order for the treatment process to be carried out more effectively, some therapists do assign “homework” to their clients. This is to say that clients are encouraged to apply CBT principles in between sessions, and are tasked to self-monitor and focus on implementing tips and processes when dealing with actual situations. By monitoring their emotions and making a conscious effort to calm themselves through methods discussed during sessions, these individuals will eventually develop the much-needed skillsets to cope with emotionally-draining social environments.

 A combination of cognitive and behavioural therapeutic approaches, CBT has been proven to be an extremely effective treatment method for anxiety disorders, including SAD. In fact, the skills you learn in CBT are practical and highly applicable, and hence can be incorporated into everyday life to help you cope with future stresses more effectively.  As such, if you or a loved one is struggling with SAD, do seek treatment as it will ultimately benefit you in the best way possible. 

 


References: 

  1. https://www.mentalhealthacademy.co.uk/dashboard/catalogue/using-cbt-with-social-anxiety-disorder/chapters/1 (Accessed 3/11/2020)
  2. http://psychcentral.com/lib/social-anxiety-overview (Accessed 3/11/2020)
  3. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/social-anxiety-disorder-more-than-just-shyness/index.shtml (Accessed 3/11/2020)
  4. Photo by Luke Porter on Unsplash