Feb 17

Overcome Social Anxiety and Shyness With A Mobile Solution

These days it seems like there is an app for everything. Innovators are finding ways to bring solutions to even the most intricate areas of our lives. Youper is just one example.

The original version of this post appeared on Medium.com.

“Suddenly, my hands started to sweat, my knees began to tremble, my mouth dried up and my thoughts became scattered. That’s how I felt when it was my turn to give a presentation in front of the class. I was enjoying my course, but those reactions could’ve ruined everything” — says Melinda, a college student.

With the mission to help people like Melinda, Jose Hamilton and Diego Dotta created Youper, the first mobile platform to help users overcome shyness and social anxiety.

“In the past ten years, I’ve helped more than two thousand people achieve their mental health in my clinical practice, but I want to do more. I believe that by blending psychiatry and technology we can help not just thousands, but millions of people.” — says psychiatrist Jose Hamilton.

“Since launching Youper a few months ago, we’ve helped more people than Hamilton has in his entire medical career.” — adds Dotta, Youper’s CTO and lead programmer.

A lot of people have problems with social anxiety. Who hasn’t felt butterflies in their stomach when needing to speak in public or talk to a crush?

“How to overcome shyness” is one of the most searched phrases on Google, and for this it’s no surprise that research reports shyness affects the lives of almost half the world’s population.

Shyness is a pattern of behavior, thoughts, and emotions that generates discomfort or inhibition when a person is faced with interpersonal interactions. Simply put, shyness is experiencing some degree of anxiety in social situations.

A little bit of shyness is common for all people, and can have its benefits. After all, fear is an important protection mechanism. Shyness becomes a problem when it creates obstacles that prevent people from achieving their life goals, whether professional or personal.

Research show that 48% of the American population has some degree of shyness, and a survey from Harvard Medical School estimates that the lifetime prevalence of extreme shyness, characterized as social phobia, is 12.1%.

When we turn these statistics into numbers, we see that shyness affects 140 million Americans, and 15 million people suffer from severe cases. Unfortunately, only a small fraction has been able to overcome it successfully.

Someone struggling with social anxiety may try self-help strategies, like books or apps, but it’s hard to find science-based solutions, and most of them have one-size-fits-all approaches.

The other option is to seek professional help, like psychiatrists and psychologists, but it can be intimidating and expensive.

In this unfortunate scenario, it can take as long as ten years to find help and, according to the American Psychological Association, only 1 in 10 people get the solution they need.

A new way to overcome social anxiety

Hamilton and Dotta are set on changing this scenario. “With Youper, we’re rethinking how people take care of their mental health.” says Hamilton.

The co-founders created Youper to be a fun, effective and affordable way to overcome social anxiety.

Anyone wishing to feel more confident and less anxious in social situations, whether it be public speaking or interacting with people, can benefit from using Youper.

In the words of its co-founders, “To use Youper, the only prerequisite is to accept the challenge to improve. You just need to be willing to take small steps to leave your comfort zone.”

Youper starts empowering people with digital self-help tools that have been designed using scientific protocols for social anxiety and are tailored to each user’s needs.

Digital self-help tools provide actionable information, behavior changing experiences, emotional resilience, and peer support. These tools have the potential to deliver all the users need to overcome their social anxiety.

Sometimes users will need professional help, and Youper can anticipate that. The platform analyzes the user’s behavior, suggests professional help, and helps the users to engage better with a mental health professional.

“As a psychiatrist, I feel very happy knowing people are no longer taking ten years to find help. Our mission is to empower people to improve themselves, and if they need professional help, provide the tools for them to stay well between consultations, or once professional help is no longer necessary. “ says Jose Hamilton.

Within a few months of the launch, the application had over 2000 downloads and had been receiving high ratings from users.

To evaluate the effectiveness the digital self-help tools, Youper uses interactive tests that utilize the same scientific scales adopted by clinical research on social phobia and shyness.
The results were surprising: Those who completed all activities in the application had an improvement comparable to what research has reported comes from medication or psychotherapy.

These results are reflected in the testimonies of real life Youper users:

“I was able to understand clearly the source of my anxiety, and now I’m learning to control it using the Youper exercises and tools.” — May

“I realize that I feel much better when speaking in public and talking to new people. I am more confident.”- Alex

“It is very interesting to interact with Youper tools. You get to find out a lot about yourself. I’m excited about the results.” — Fernando

“I have read many books; none has come close to what this app can do! It helps me to be a better me; it will help you be a better you.” — John

Science, technology and shoulders of giants

According to Hamilton, these results are only possible because the digital self-help tools were developed based on scientific protocols, adding that the success of Youper is born in the team’s belief that there is great potential in the synergy of science and technology.

“We are extremely committed to our users and plan to keep evolving our protocols for them. Also, we are looking for partnerships with universities to produce new clinical trials with the platform to continue Youper’s evolution.” adds Hamilton.

Despite Youper being the first mobile platform for social anxiety and shyness, its foundation is based on the pioneering scientific research that demonstrated the effectiveness of Internet-based therapies for cases of anxiety, phobia, and depression.

“We just got here because we rely on the shoulders of giants. “- says Jose Hamilton, quoting Sir Isaac Newton.

The co-founder’s comment refers to renowned scientists like Aaron T. Beck, founder of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Steven C. Hayes, founder of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Stress Reduction Therapy using mindfulness, and many others that have been involved in pioneering initiatives to bring these protocols and techniques to the online environment.

“However,” adds Hamilton, “we realized that the current predominant approaches are long overdue for innovation.”

According to Dotta, Youper has been a major challenge for everyone on the team because they had to understand the users’ needs precisely and think beyond the traditional approaches.
Youper’s innovation blends science, design, and technology to deliver a unique and disruptive solution.

The co-founders assert that Youper is more than an app for social anxiety, is a digital platform to empower users to achieve their goals and feel more confident in social situations.
Through Youper use, the user sees himself on a journey to becoming “super.”

A personal journey to overcome social anxiety

The journey is a sequence of interactive and self-guided activities. The activities are tailored to the goals of each user, so no two journeys are equal.

Some of Youper’s most fun activities are the challenges in which the platform encourages the user to face situations that will improve their social skills and give them greater confidence.

“There is a secret to overcoming social anxiety, and that is to face your fears. Escape and isolation only make things worse. But how should a person face these difficulties? We know how difficult it is overcome this barrier, so we developed a unique and original methodology to conquer the challenges. We are transforming the butterflies in the stomach into motivation to improve.” says Hamilton.

Smart tools to reprogram your brain

Actually, the platform goes beyond a simple app. In fact, it’s as if Youper is many apps combined to provide a self-improvement journey. As the user advances, new techniques are learned, new tools are unlocked, and the person has the feeling that they are closer to becoming super.

According to Hamilton, this is just the beginning.

“Youper is evolving to integrate the whole mental healthcare ecosystem, and starting to tackle other conditions and mental health challenges. Soon, you won’t Google your symptoms anymore; you’ll interact with a Youper powered device to improve your mental health and be happier.”

Anyone interested in Youper can download the application from the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.

Carducci, BJ, & Zimbardo, PG 1995. Are you shy? Psychology Today, 28, 34 -40 ff.
Kessler RC, Chiu WT Demler O, Walters EE 2005. Prevalence, severity, and comorbidity of DSM-IV 12-month disorders in The National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Arch Gen Psychiatry.
Wang PS, Berglund PA, Olfson M, Kessler RC. Delays in initial treatment contact after first onset of a mental disorder. Health Serv Res. 2004 Apr;39(2):393–415.
Candice A. Alfano, Ph.D., and Deborah C. Beidel, Ph.D., ABPP 2011. Social Anxiety in Adolescents and Young Adults:. Translating Developmental Science Into Practice. American Psychological Association.


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