What is Going On?

09.03.2017 |

Episode #1 of the course Overcoming social anxiety by Eileen Purdy MSW, M.Ed.


Humans are inherently social creatures, and yet many suffer from anxiety that makes being social difficult, if not downright painful. How and why does this happen?

The short answer is that scientists and doctors don’t entirely know. Understanding anxiety, in all its forms, is in its infancy despite affecting millions of people worldwide. The most widely suggested contributors to the cause of social anxiety include inherited traits and family background, life experiences and environment, and brain structure.

Regarding the role one’s brain structure may play, researchers are making great strides thanks to advanced neuroimaging technology. Scientists are gaining insight into social anxiety and social anxiety disorder in ways that were previously only subject to speculation. Of particular promise are studies that show increased activity in the brain’s amygdala in people with social anxiety compared to those without. The amygdala regulates your emotions, survival instincts, and memory.

Some of the findings in these studies, although not totally conclusive, suggest that people with social anxiety may have an increased tendency or bias toward ways of processing information in the brain that may contribute to their anxiety. These include a higher tendency to respond more negatively or fearfully to social signals, people’s facial expressions, and eye contact. Also, those with social anxiety showed more of a tendency to selectively remember the negative information about oneself and one’s social performances instead of the positive or neutral memories. Those with social anxiety showed a bias toward making negative evaluations about past events and negative predictions about their future performance. Lastly, participants showed a tendency toward spending more time processing threat-related information than those without social anxiety.

Does that happen to describe you too? Do you tend to respond in an apprehensive way in social situations? Do you predict your presentation will be a flop and that you’ll embarrass yourself at the annual manager’s meeting? Do you already dread that happy hour you said you’d attend? Do you play over and over in your mind how awful it was to go into the grocery store or to your child’s school?

If you do, no problem! Although we don’t yet know the evolutionary function of this brain structure, we do have many strategies to help compensate for it. The words “tendency” and “bias” give us clues as to where to start. While they do illustrate a way your brain may be “neurologically leaning,” your brain isn’t set in stone! More on the amazing neuroplasticity of our brains tomorrow.

Over the next nine days, you will learn how to be more aware of what is going on in your brain and with your behaviors. You’ll learn tools to help mitigate the parts you don’t like and strengthen the parts you do. The fact of the matter is that social anxiety has a high treatment success rate, and this course will get you started toward your own success!


Tomorrow, you’ll learn more about the brain and its infinite ability to help you.


Recommended book

“10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works” by Dan Harris


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