Hypnosis for Improving Your Social Anxiety

July 1, 2023

Anxious man
Anxious man

Mental health issues are on the rise and according to the World Health Organization (WHO), there was a 13% rise in mental health conditions and substance use disorders between 2007 and 2017.

Social anxiety disorder (SAD) is no exception, and was increasing in prevalence even before the COVID pandemic. Social anxiety yearly affects about 15.1 million US citizens or 7.1%.

Hypnotherapy has relatively recently entered the mainstream clinical psychology space for treating different forms of mental health issues, including anxiety disorders such as SAD.

In this article, you will discover how hypnotherapy can be a powerful tool to reduce anxiety related to social situations.

What is social anxiety disorder?

Social anxiety disorder, previously called social phobia is a devastating, overwhelming and long-term fear of social situations.

It is normal for everyone at times to feel nervous about a job interview, a presentation or a date. Social anxiety is different from common nervousness as it more broadly interferes with people’s lives. Situations like approaching the barista at a coffee shop or having a good friend over at your house might cause tremendous anxiety. The fear of doing something wrong, being judged and maybe most of all, the feeling of losing control in social situations can be overwhelming.

Social anxiety usually starts in the early teens, but can also develop later.

Symptoms of social anxiety disorder

A wide range of physical, emotional and cognitive symptoms can occur. Some of which are:

  • Fast heartbeat
  • Sweating
  • Upset stomach or nausea
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Blank mind
  • Staying quiet or in the background as to not draw attention
  • Avoiding social or performance situations
  • Intense worry before upcoming social situations
  • Fear of being watched or judged by others
  • Fear that you’ll embarrass yourself
  • Fear that others see your nervousness
  • Panic attacks (in severe cases)

Diagnosis for social anxiety disorder

A diagnosis is performed by a healthcare professional. The process typically includes:

  • Interview: The person’s experiences, symptoms and history are discussed.
  • Evaluation of symptoms: The symptoms are compared to the ones outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) to check whether they meet the criteria for a diagnosis.
  • Rule out other conditions: Many disorders and diseases have similar symptoms, so it is important to rule out other conditions.
  • Impact assessment: How significant is the person’s distress interfering with their life? Find the best possible treatment options.

What is hypnosis?

Brain waves
Brain waves

Hypnosis is a state of heightened focus and concentration frequently referred to as a trance. Feeling calm, relaxed and more open to suggestion are some characteristics of the hypnotic state. It is not the case that people lose control or free will during hypnosis, but the improved focus enables focusing intensely on specific feelings, memories, thoughts or sensations while blocking out distractions.

Hypnosis and hypnotherapy are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same. Hypnosis is the state you achieve while hypnotherapy is the act of using hypnosis for therapeutic purposes.

How to achieve hypnosis

Hypnosis can be achieved by yourself through self-hypnosis or in a session with a professional therapist. Generally the process can be described like this:

  1. Induction: Getting into a state of focus and relaxation through techniques such as deep and slow breathing, muscle relaxation, visualizing a calm and peaceful place like a warm beach.

  2. Deepening: After a relaxing state is achieved the focus is switched to deepening the state of relaxation and suggestibility. Often this is done by visualizing a scenario of going deeper into the state of relaxation like floating down a river or descending down a staircase.

  3. Suggestion: This is the stage of therapeutic suggestions. These are statements or affirmations designed to influence emotions, sensations, behaviours and perceptions in a positive way.

  4. Emergence: This is the process of returning to normal consciousness. Often this is done gradually, and can involve reversing the deepening visualization like ascending rather than descending stairs.

  5. Reflection: Often there is a period of reflection or discussion after the session.

Benefits of hypnosis

Positive woman

Several studies and research suggest that hypnosis can help reduce the symptoms of social anxiety disorder. It is believed that hypnosis can help individuals change their negative thought patterns and instead focus on more positive and beneficial thoughts and actions.

Here are some of the ways hypnosis can benefit those with social anxiety:

  • Reduced anxiety: Hypnosis can help individuals relax and manage stress, which can reduce overall levels of anxiety.

  • Positive thinking: During hypnosis, individuals are given positive suggestions which can help shift their thought patterns from negative to positive.

  • Increased self-esteem: Hypnosis can help individuals improve their self-esteem and confidence, which can alleviate some of the symptoms of social anxiety.

  • Better coping mechanisms: Hypnosis can also help individuals develop better coping mechanisms for dealing with anxiety-inducing situations.

  • Overcoming avoidance behavior: One of the key aspects of social anxiety disorder is the avoidance of social situations. Hypnosis can help individuals overcome this avoidance behavior and feel more comfortable in social settings.

Hypnosis for social anxiety 

Subcouncious iceberg

Since hypnosis allows access to the subconscious mind where anxieties and deep-rooted fears reside, it can be utilized to reshape responses and perceptions to anxiety-provoking situations, thus helping to reduce anxiety.

Relaxation: Physical symptoms like rapid heartbeat, sweating, racing mind etc. can be reduced.

Positive suggestion: Positive suggestions like 'I am confident in social settings and enjoy interacting with others' can replace negative thought patterns, empowering the individual to overcome social anxiety

Visualization: Imagining yourself succeeding in social situations can enable it to happen in real life.

Exposure therapy: Hypnosis can used to safely simulate fearful situations.

Addressing root causes: Social anxiety can sometimes be caused by past experiences or trauma. Hypnosis can help address these issues.

Self-Hypnosis for social anxiety

The easiest way to get started with self-hypnosis for social anxiety is to find a guided video or soundtrack. Just type in guided self-hypnosis on YouTube. Once you get familiar with the techniques you can get into the hypnotic state by yourself which can be very beneficial throughout your day.

Hypnotherapy for social anxiety

Self-hypnosis is obviously cheaper (free most of the time) compared to hypnotherapy (clinical hypnosis) guided by an expert hypnotherapist. A suggestion can be to try entering engage in hypnosis first and if that doesn’t work you could try hypnotherapy.

Case-study for hypnosis and social anxiety

Client: Sam, a 28-year-old software engineer.

Primary Issue: Sam suffers from severe social anxiety that hinders his professional and personal life. He dreads team meetings, presentations, and social events due to an irrational fear of being judged or humiliated. Sam has tried different treatments, including medication and talk therapy, but these approaches haven't fully addressed his symptoms.

Hypnosis Intervention

Phase 1 - Introducing Hypnosis: Sam's therapist suggests integrating hypnosis into his treatment plan. The therapist explains what hypnosis is, how it works, and addresses any misconceptions Sam might have about it. Sam agrees to try hypnosis as a part of his treatment plan.

Phase 2 - Hypnosis Sessions: Sam and his therapist start with relaxation techniques to induce a state of hypnosis. Once Sam enters a hypnotic state, his therapist uses visualization techniques, guiding Sam to imagine himself in various social situations, behaving calmly, confidently, and successfully.

For example, the therapist might guide Sam to visualize himself in a team meeting, comfortably sharing his ideas and positively interacting with his colleagues. The therapist then provides positive affirmations such as "You are confident in your knowledge and skills", "Your ideas are valuable and welcomed", or "You can express your thoughts freely without fear".

The therapist also works with Sam to reframe his fear of judgment, helping him internalize the understanding that everyone makes mistakes and it doesn't define their worth.

Phase 3 - Addressing Underlying Issues: As sessions progress, the therapist uses hypnosis to help Sam uncover and address any deeper issues or experiences that may have contributed to his social anxiety. They work together to heal these past wounds, further reducing his anxiety levels.

Phase 4 - Self-Hypnosis Training: The therapist teaches Sam techniques to use outside the therapy sessions. Sam learns to bring himself into a relaxed state, visualize success in difficult situations, and provide positive self-affirmations. This allows Sam to reinforce the therapy work in his own time and have a tool to use when facing anxiety-provoking situations.

Outcome: After several weeks of hypnotherapy, in conjunction with ongoing cognitive behavioural therapy, Sam started to overcome his social anxiety, finding it less intimidating to participate in meetings and social events. He reports feeling less dread before meetings and social events, and he's able to participate more comfortably in these situations. While he still experiences moments of anxiety, he now has tools to manage it more effectively. Over time, with continued therapy and practice, Sam's social anxiety continues to decrease.

Conclusion: Hypnosis, as part of a comprehensive treatment plan, helped Sam manage his social anxiety. By addressing the root causes and providing a tool for ongoing self-care, hypnosis played a key role in Sam's path to improved mental well-being.

Common misconceptions and fears of hypnosis

Myths of hypnosis
  • Loss of control : People often fear loss of control; that they would be a complete slave to others’ suggestions. In reality, hypnosis is a state of focused attention where the individual remains in control.

  • Getting stuck: Some people fear getting stuck in the hypnotic state. It has been shown to be very safe and impossible to persist in the state. Even if the recording ended or the therapist left the room you would either naturally come out of it or fall into normal sleep.

  • Revealing secrets: Revealing secrets is sometimes a worry. Hypnosis helps accessing deeper thoughts and emotions, but it doesn’t make you lose control of what you choose to share.

  • Brainwashing: Stage hypnosis and movies have led many people to believe hypnosis to be a form of mind control or brainwashing. Hypnosis however doesn’t involve the therapist controlling the mind of the patient.

  • Weak-minded: Contrary to popular belief it is not true that only weak-willed people can be hypnotized. It is true though that not everyone can be hypnotized, and there is different degrees of hypnotizability.

Other treatments for social anxiety disorder

There is a number of other treatment options for social anxiety disorder if hypnosis or hypnotherapy don't work well for you.

  • Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT): This is the most effective form of therapy for SAD. It involves identifying and challenging negative thought patterns that lead to anxiety, and replacing them with healthier, more positive ways of thinking.

  • Exposure Therapy: This is a form of CBT where you gradually face the situations you fear in a safe and controlled way. Over time, this can reduce your anxiety as you build confidence in your ability to handle these situations.

  • Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR): This approach uses mindfulness meditation techniques to help individuals stay present and engaged during social interactions, rather than getting caught up in anxiety-provoking thoughts about the past or future.

  • Group Therapy: This involves meeting with a group of individuals who also struggle with social anxiety. Group therapy allows you to practice social skills and receive feedback and support from others who understand what you're going through.

  • Medication: Several types of medication can be used to treat SAD, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), benzodiazepines, and beta blockers. These medications can help reduce symptoms of social anxiety, but they're typically most effective when used in conjunction with therapy.


Free from social anxiety

In conclusion, social anxiety disorder is a pervasive mental health condition affecting millions of people worldwide. Hypnosis offers a unique approach to managing this condition. By promoting a heightened state of focus and tapping into the subconscious mind, it allows individuals to confront and reframe deep-seated anxieties. As a result, they can reshape their perceptions towards situations that typically provoke anxiety.

Self-hypnosis provides an accessible starting point, but professional hypnotherapy can offer more personalized guidance. When integrated with other treatment modalities the potential for substantial improvements increases, as demonstrated in the case study with Sam.

However, it's crucial to remember that every individual is unique, and the effectiveness of hypnosis can vary. Other treatment options, including medication, exposure therapy, group therapy, and mindfulness-based stress reduction, continue to hold value and effectiveness in managing social anxiety disorder.

Contrary to common misconceptions, hypnosis does not involve mind control or loss of free will. Instead, it's about accessing the mind's power to focus and reframe negative thought patterns. Recognized increasingly in the therapeutic landscape, hypnosis promises to be a significant tool in the fight against social anxiety disorder.


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