University of Regina research attempts to ease social anxiety with self-compassion

A University of Regina psychology researcher is trying to use self-compassion as a tool to help people overcome social anxiety disorder.

"My goal is to find an alternative approach that is accessible by most people," said Michelle Teale Sapach in an interview with CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning.

We all suffer some social anxiety, Teale Sapach said. It may surface, for example when giving a presentation or having to speak to the boss at work.

But with social anxiety disorder, she said, people find themselves having difficulties in day-to-day situations.  

"So their work suffers or they have difficulties in their social relationships."

Finding a friend within 

That's where self-compassion comes in; the practice is well-known and has established itself as the more mindful alternative to medicine when trying to build self-esteem.  

Teale Sapach said quieting that negative inner voice is the key.

"Being self-critical is associated with a whole host of negative psychological outcomes like depression, anxiety and stress."

Self-compassion, she said, asks people to change that critical inner voice and to begin "talking to ourselves like we would to a friend in distress or in a difficult situation, cultivating our inner capacities for self-compassion, and directing that towards ourselves."

Online self-help 

So, although the practice of self-compassion is well established, it has not been proven to be an effective treatment for social anxiety disorder, according to Teale Sapach.

"We have effective treatment out there," she said. "But they're not always effective for everyone."

Teale Sapach is now looking for 75 people who suffer from social anxiety disorder to take part in a study to determine if self-compassion is an appropriate treatment.

Accessibility, she said, comes in the form of an on-line self-help approach that Teale Sapach believes will be extremely useful in rural areas where face-to-face care is impossible to find.