They wanted to test whether it was possible to “train” the patients stop constantly focusing on negative or threatening things in their environment.
So in the intervention group, whenever a subject focused on a “threatening face,” the researchers turned off their music. And when they focused on a “neutral face,” their music would turn back on again, rewarding them for maintaining focus on non-threatening images.
The control group—unlike the other group—was allowed to listen to music and look at any photo they chose for as long as they liked, without interruption.
The researchers found that in the intervention group, 70 percent of participants achieved clinically significant reductions in their anxiety symptoms, compared to 30 percent in the control group.
Plus, researchers found that this decrease in symptoms was still in effect three months following the study!
Though this was a first-of-its-kind study, researchers are planning for larger studies and to test this technique with other emotional disorders.
I’ll be sure to report on their new work as soon as it becomes available. In the meantime, I’ve put together an easy exercise based on today’s research that you can try on your own, whenever you’re feeling anxious.
Your custom solution for turning down social anxiety
First, you’ll want to create a 20-minute playlist of some of your favorite music. (To make your playlist, you can use music-streaming services like Spotify, Google Play, or Apple Music. You can also burn a CD. Whatever works best for you!)
Next, find roughly 10 to 15 “comfort images” that make you feel at ease. These could include photos of:
- Loved ones
- Pets or photos of your favorite animal
- A piece of art you really enjoy
- Your favorite television or movie character
- Photos of people who inspire you or who you admire
- Screenshots of motivational quotes, mantras, or messages
Keep these photos somewhere handy—like in your wallet—or save the images to your phone.
This way, if you’re about to enter a situation that could potentially make you anxious (like going to a party, the grocery store, or to a job interview etc.) you can take a few moments to collect yourself beforehand.
Take a deep breath, start on your playlist, and begin focusing on your comfort images. Spend as long as you’d like looking at each image.
Continue focusing on your images for the entire duration of your 20-minute playlist, or until you feel your anxiety has dissipated.
Resist the urge to do any other activities during this time (especially checking social media, which is notorious for amplifying anxiety in many people).
If you don’t feel huge anxiety-relieving results after the first time, don’t give up! Remember, the participants in the study underwent a gradual process (eight 20-minute sessions) before feeling dramatic results. It’s a process, so be patient with yourself.
Lazarov, A., Pine, D., nad Bar-Haim, Y. (2017). Gaze-Contingent Music Reward Therapy for Social Anxiety Disorder: A Randomized Controlled Trial. The American Journal of Psychiatry. Retrieved from: ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/full/10.1176/appi.ajp.2016.16080894
Facts and Statistics. (n.d.). Anxiety and Depression Association of American. Retrieved from: adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics
Social anxiety Disorder: More Than Just Shyness. National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved from:nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/social-anxiety-disorder-more-than-just-shyness/index.shtml