Emotional Resilience Blog from The Fear Course

The latest research, realisations and thinking in the world of emotional resilience, anxiety and fear reduction from around the world.

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What Causes Social Anxiety? New Research

Social anxiety is one of the most frequent and debilitating anxieties around. The effects range from mild discomfort in social situations to full scale avoidance of and panic attacks during social events and even phobic responses such as agoraphobia. A series of research studies examining this common series of anxieties have found that people who have at some stage in their life been a victim of bullying, criticism and or rejection in any situation are significantly more likely to develop a social anxiety compared to the rest of the population.
Indeed the definition of a social anxiety centres around the fear of scrutiny or negative evaluation/judgement by others. This usually results in people having the feeling that they are not good enough for other people, and/or the assumption that others will automatically reject them and includes often intense feelings of insecurity in a wide range of situations.

It is estimated that about 1 in 5 or 20% of the population suffer from some form of social anxiety. This can be a severely debilitating and distressing disorder for the sufferer which can have massive negative effects on the quality of life of the sufferer and as a result I pay particular attention to research in this area. A student at University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Klint Fung has just gained his Masters this month with an interesting series of experiments which helps us to understand a bit more about social anxiety.

What Fung did was get a group of 88 people and initially test them for their level of social anxiety. He then subjected them to an experimental social event where they would be either rejected (rarely interacted with) or included (frequently positively interacted with) in the activity of the event. All the participants were then invited to a second social event.
The research found that rejection or inclusion from just one event had a significant effect on the anxiety the individuals felt towards and during the second event. Importantly it was discovered that virtually all of the anxiety experienced stemmed from the hurt feelings induced during the first event.

It would appear and is backed up by other research that how hurt we feel following an incident can then predict how sensitive we are likely to be to the possibility of future exclusion especially when this is interpreted as rejection by the individual.

What this and other pieces of research shows is that treatment which helps to reduce sensitivity to exclusion and helps the individual to regulate their own emotions (prevent the hurt feelings) is likely to be most effective. Certainly from my experience the development of emotion regulation techniques coupled with cognitive reappraisal (both strategies I teach) have a significant impact on social anxiety disorders.
Indeed one client I finished with this week went from agoraphobic (unable to leave the house due to social anxiety) to returning to work in 16 days.

On Wednesday 3rd September I will be running a live online seminar about 'How We Catch Fear and Anxiety'. Click here for more details.

Free Live Seminar - How we catch Fear and anxiety - September 3rd

Fung, K. (2014) How does rejection induce social anxiety? A test of hurt feelings as a mechanism. University of British Columbia - Masters Thesis August 2014.

Levinson, C. A., Langer, J. K., & Rodebaugh, T. L. (2013). Reactivity to exclusion prospectively predicts social anxiety symptoms in young adults. Behavior Therapy, 44(3), 470-478.

Lissek, S., Levenson, J., Biggs, A. L., Johnson, L. L., Ameli, R., Pine, D. S., & Grillon, C. (2008). Elevated fear conditioning to socially relevant unconditioned stimuli in social anxiety disorder. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 165(1), 124-132.

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A simple way to help with exam nerves - new research

Researchers from Universities in the Netherlands and Australia have just published an interesting paper reporting on a series of experiments they conducted on school children taking exams.

One of the big problems that anxiety causes during exams is that it degrades performance significantly. In particular it it uses up valuable processing power in the brain, particularly in the areas used for working memory, which is a vital component especially during tests. We use the working memory to store short term information whilst we are working things out during an exam.

The researchers tested the hypothesis that if the students simply read through all of the questions before starting to answer anything, this would in effect reduce some of the anticipatory anxiety and as a consequence lower the loading on the working memory. The result of this should be more 'space' for problem solving and therefore better results.

The researchers showed the method of reading through all of the questions before putting pen to paper to 50% of a group of 117 students, chosen at random before a real exam. Those students that did read through the exam paper first performed significantly better than those that didn't. Additionally the students who carried out the tactic reported lower levels of anxiety during the exam compared to those that didn't.
Interestingly this tactic worked regardless of the level of anxiety the student was experiencing before the exam.

I have a free live webinar you can join next Wednesday all about the latest research on How We Catch Fear and Anxiety. Click here to find out more and book a free place.


Free Online Seminar - How We Catch Fear And Anxiety



Mavilidi, M., & Hoogerheide, V (2014) A Quick and Easy Strategy to Reduce Test Anxiety and Enhance Test Performance. Applied Cognitive Psychology. 1099-0720 August 2014 DOI: 10.1002/acp.3058


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Ever Have a Fear or Anxiety and Not Known How You Got It?

Do you have, or have ever had a fear or anxiety and not known how you ended up with it?

On Wednesday 3rd September 2014 I will be running a free live online seminar at:

19.00 / 7pm BST - UK time (20.00/8pm CET (Paris) - 14.00/2pm EDT (New York) - 11.00/11am PDT (Los Angeles))


How We Catch Fear And Anxiety And What To Do About It

I will be sharing the very latest research with you on how we catch fear and anxiety and what you can do to deal with it.

There will also be time for questions and answers after the seminar.

As many of you know I lecture at a number of universities including Oxford, however don't worry; The seminar will be 100% jargon free and easily understandable.

I can only fit 200 people on this live seminar and once its full, I'm afraid that's it.

So if you want to book a place Click Here. It's totally free.


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How To Forgive And Let Go

I have heard over the years lots of people say how important forgiveness is and I never ever really understood what they meant. I didn't know how to do it and I certainly had no appreciation of what it was. In fact forgiveness became a word I would end up squinting at sideways, with suspicion.

"Forgiveness became a word I would end up squinting at sideways, with suspicion"

I have heard religious people talk at length about forgiveness and therapists (yes I've had a few) talk about forgiving myself to the extent that it had become a sort of non-word for me. I kept hearing the word but no-one told me how to do it.

It was only in the last few years that I think I have started to understand what it is and how to do it.

Most of us carry around hurts and anger about things other people have done or said and embarrassment, shame or even horror at things we ourselves have done or said.

It wasn't until I realised that at any particular time, everyone is doing the best that they can, with the thoughts, emotions and beliefs that they have - at that moment. At any moment in time they make the decisions they make believing them to be the best response right then. Even if the outcome has dire consequences.

I was a police officer for 18 years and over that time met many many criminals and people who had done terrible things including murder. When I look back on the long line of people I dealt with, every single one of them (even the odd socio and psychopath) were doing what they believed was a reasonable response given the way they saw, felt and believed the world to be at that moment.

When I think back to the hurts I have carried, inflicted by loved ones and others and perpetrated myself...

When I think back to the hurts I have carried, inflicted by loved ones and others and perpetrated myself, they were each and every one, responses to how they (and I) saw the situation at that moment. They (and I) were doing the best they could in that moment with everything they felt, understood and believed.

Now that's not to say they (and I) couldn't do better. It is only after the fact that we may (or may not) reflect on what happened and hopefully learn.

This realisation has helped me to 'forgive', let go of things and find peace.

This understanding is also the basis of another thing I never understood. Be gentle with/on yourself. For me, now being gentle requires forgiveness which in turn requires understanding the nature of the way we often decide to do and say things.

"The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong." ~Mahatma Gandhi

The problem is if we don't forgive and let go, we become prisoners, locked in the cells of our own making - with only our hurt, anger or shame as cell mates.


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Does it matter if your friends are online or face-to-face? How to be happy.

There are a lot of assumptions about the value of online friends versus face-to-face friends (in the flesh as it were) and the impact of these on our general level of happiness and well-being, what is known as Subjective Well-Being or SWB by researchers. Usually it is assumed that face-to-face contact is superior to online contact, but is it true?

A student researcher, Lena Holmberg at the Örebro University in Sweden looked at this very question and the answer may surprise you.

In her thesis, published yesterday, Holmberg examined the levels of social connectedness of 293 young adults aged between 18 and 48 and their levels of happiness. Social connectedness refers to three things:

  1. the desire people have to create and maintain relationships
  2. the social bonds you have with others, and
  3. the feeling of belongingness that results from these bonds

What she found was that there is no difference in terms of the amount of happiness that online or offline friends brought to the people in the study. She did however find that often the most happy people had what they would term as more genuine online friends than the others.

It would appear from this study that the the more genuine friends you have have happier you will be. It would also appear that it is easier to maintain relationships, build deeper social bonds and get a greater feeling of belonging through online social networking.

If anyone wants to connect with me on Linked-in my profile is here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/centrei



Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117(3), 497-529. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.117.3.497

Grieve, R., Indian, M., Witteveen, K., Tolan, G., & Marrington, J. (2013). Face-to-face or Facebook: Can social connectedness be derived online? Computers In Human Behavior,29(3), 604-609. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2012.11.017

Holmberg, L. (2014) Seeking Social Connectedness Online and Offline: Does Happiness Require Real Contact?. Thesis. Örebro University. Available at http://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:736737/FULLTEXT01.pdf.



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Robin Williams 1951 - 2014

As I was posting my last blog about the problems Experiential Avoidance can escalate into, including suicide and addictions, a heart-breaking drama was playing itself out in the Californian home of the Oscar winning actor and comedian Robin Williams who was 63.

Robin had long been diagnosed with severe depression and had battles with drink and cocaine addiction for which he had famously received treatment for at a rehab centre.

Reporting the death of Robin in the early hours of this morning (UK time) the Marin County sheriff's office stated they suspected suicide by asphyxiation.

Robin's wife Susan Schneider said this morning "This morning I lost my husband and best friend, while the world lost one of its most beloved artists and beautiful human beings. I am utterly heartbroken,"

Robin openly talked about his battles with alcohol and cocaine in the early 1980s, and his relapse in 2006. He appeared to have recovered however last month he returned to rehab in Minnesota.

Suicide is often seen as a selfish act, however as one who had in the past seriously considered such action whilst suffering from depression myself, having dealt with depression and anxiety in many other people therapeutically and having attended suicides and prevented a number of suicides as a police officer, all the individual often wants is relief from the symptoms of the crushing depression.

In an interview in 2010, asked about his depression and had he felt happier, Robin replied : "I think so. And not afraid to be unhappy. That's OK too. And then you can be like, all is good. And that is the thing, that is the gift."

This comes back to the heart of the dangers of Experiential Avoidance.

My heart goes out to Robin's family and friends. We have lost a true talent and extraordinary fellow human being in very sad circumstances.

If you recognise and think you too may be avoiding feelings, thoughts, memories, physical sensations and other internal experiences please get help.


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Why the Fear of the Fear is More Damaging than the Original Fear

When someone gets anxious or has a fear the feelings, thoughts, memories, physical sensations and other internal experiences the the fear or anxiety bring about are frequently so unpleasant that the individual will do just about anything to avoid them. This fear of the fear, or more correctly the fear of the effects of the fear is so distressing for many people that even talking about the issue is a problem. The distress is often heightened when there is no apparent direct cause or fear as occurs with GAD or General Anxiety Disorder or SAD Social Anxiety Disorder. There is a fear that these feelings could strike at any time.

It is not surprising then that people with fear and anxiety often end up not just avoiding the object of the anxiety, if there is one, but also of the resultant feelings, thoughts, memories, physical sensations and other internal experiences. This second type of avoidance is known as Experiential Avoidance.

Recent research has shown that how one reacts to the emotions and feelings that result from the anxiety makes a huge difference as to whether the individual is likely to get worse or not.

A swath of research is showing that people who are unwilling to experience the feelings, thoughts, memories, physical sensations and other internal experiences associated with the anxiety are much more likely to find the symptoms escalating and deeper problems arising.

Part of the problem is avoidance can only ever be a temporary relief and will never 'fix or solve' the problem. It merely side-steps the issue, which means that it is left still to face later. This is one reason why people who engage in avoidance as an emotion regulation strategy keep having the same and often escalating problem.

Another issue is that avoidance of anything psychologically reinforces the idea that the thing, in this case the feelings and thoughts, being avoided are bad or even dangerous in some way.

In order to avoid something requires that you end up focussing on and in many cases often obsessing about the very thing you are trying to avoid. This then means that the individual is focussing and obsessing about a negative. This takes time and effort and in effect crowds out all the other experiences of being a human, many of which are positive and joyful. As the individual focusses more and more on avoiding the horrible feelings and experiences, less and less concentration is placed on the positive things in life. In effect it becomes a negative vortex, dragging the individual down, often resulting eventually in depression, OCD, resorting to drugs and alcohol, self-harming, restricting food intake and even suicide.
We are finding that all of these problems frequently stem from Experiential Avoidance.

This is one of the reasons I deal with the avoidance as a matter of importance whilst treating the presenting anxiety and help the individual develop better and more effective emotion regulation strategies.





Chawla, Neharika; Ostafin, Brian (2007). "Experiential avoidance as a functional dimensional approach to psychopathology: An empirical review". Journal of Clinical Psychology 63 (9): 871–90. doi:10.1002/jclp.20400.PMID 17674402.

Gámez, Wakiza; et al (2011). "Development of a measure of experiential avoidance: The Multidimensional Experiential Avoidance Questionnaire". Psychological Assessment23 (3): 692–713. doi:10.1037/a0023242. PMID 21534697.

Hayes, Steven C.et al (1999). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: An Experiential Approach to Behavior Change. New York: Guilford Press. ISBN 1-57230-481-2.

Hayes, Steven C. Et Al (1996). "Experiential avoidance and behavioral disorders: A functional dimensional approach to diagnosis and treatment". Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 64 (6): 1152–68. doi:10.1037/0022-006X.64.6.1152. PMID 8991302.

Losada, A. etal (2014) Development and validation of the experiential avoidance in caregiving questionnaire (EACQ). Aging & Mental Health. Volume 18, Issue 7, 2014


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