What is social anxiety?
Most of us have experienced a mild form of social anxiety before attending a function. Behavioral therapists will often ask the client to rate their fear on a scale of 0 – 10. If 10 was a panic attack, then most of us would have experienced between a 3 and a 5 at some point in our lives. The difference is, most people would still go to the party and have a good time. The person suffering from social phobia would stay at home.
How do I know if I have a social anxiety disorder?
It is not difficult to diagnose social anxiety. There are three things to look out for.
- You do not have another mental illness that causes the same symptoms.
- Your anxiety is triggered exclusively in social situations.
- Avoiding social gatherings.
What is fueling my anxiety?
Mind-reading or future telling, assuming what people might think of you or predict what terrible thing will happen next. Exaggerating the negative outcome of an event in your mind and trusting that distorted thought. Always focusing on the negative and disregarding the positive side of the narrative.
The most common treatments for social anxiety is a combination of psychotherapy and drugs. Recent studies show that cognitive behavioral therapy, without medication, is producing the best results. Treating social phobia with drugs lead to dependency. When a patient decides to wean off the medication, the physical symptoms of anxiety most often resurface. CBT is out-performing other schools of thought with an 85% success rate in the treatment of social anxiety. This still means 15% of those been treated by behavioral therapists are not enjoying any results. In many instances, their fear of judgment and rejection are not unfounded. CBT practitioners have a high success rate due to their method of proving to the client that their phobia is irrational.
If you want to go the DIY route, then you could try the following. Challenge your negative automatic thought. You might think, “If I go to this party tonight, I will say something stupid and totally humiliate myself.”. Challenge this thought by asking, “Am I guaranteed to make a fool of myself, as this has not always happened in the past?” “If I find the courage to attend this party, I am likely to prove myself wrong and perhaps even enjoy the event.”. If you don’t feel ready to attend a party just yet, then make that your goal and build up to it slowly. Start by greeting an acquaintance and beginning a simple conversation. Ask that person how they are or compliment them on a new hairstyle. Once you feel comfortable with some regular small talk, invite that person for coffee. This could develop into a regular thing and progress to an after-work meet-up with a few colleagues.
Someone suffering from anxiety should be able to recognize an oncoming panic attack and know what to do. A great technique for stopping a panic attack in its tracks is moving your attention to the breath. Emergency room physicians often tell people suffering from panic attacks to breathe into a paper bag. The theory that re-breathing exhaled, carbon dioxide-rich air will raise carbon dioxide levels in the blood and stop the panic attack. Some might say the paper bag exercise has a placebo effect. Regardless of whether the theory is right or wrong, there are countless testimonies to support it. Any breathing practice that promotes deeper breaths, taking in more oxygen, is beneficial to the victim. Ultimately, we want the victim to steer away from short, shallow breaths and encourage deep diaphragmatic breathing.
Check in with ourselves
Many people encounter unkindness in social situations. An unkind word towards a person suffering from social anxiety, prove that their fear is not unfounded. This makes the therapist’s job far more challenging. The fact remains, people are publicly humiliated, gossiped about and rejected by others from all demographics. Fear does not always originate from irrational thinking. Sometimes our anxiety stems from real life encounters. We can all be guilty of triggering another person’s anxiety in social situations. Very often our response to someone telling a joke could cause that person to withdraw and reaffirm their fear. Before engaging with another person, we should check in with ourselves and analyze what we are about to say.
Don’t camouflage the issue
Alcohol is very often a culprit in establishing long-term social anxiety. It causes people to be less attentive to what they say, not been mindful of another person’s emotional state. Using alcohol to socialize will never help a person overcome social phobia and can lead to addiction. There are many ways of camouflaging the presenting issue, which only prevents a person from overcoming their anxiety.
The best is to seek help from someone who has experience and a proven track record in treating social anxiety disorder. At some point, you will need to face your fears. In extreme cases, this is often easier under the guidance of a qualified professional.
Looking out for one another
I hope whoever reads this article can empathize with others who are struggling with this difficult mental health issue. Most people with anxiety are good at hiding their symptoms to a certain degree. Symptoms to look out for; blushing, shortness of breath, sweating, trembling or speaking with a shaky voice. We can show compassion and support, simply by imagining ourselves in their shoes.
If anything, I hope to make people aware of what others are going through. Mental health articles like this are not just aimed at people struggling with issues. We should all educate ourselves on such topics, as it affects so many in our society.
Please leave a comment below and consider sharing your own experience. We would love to hear how you overcame your anxiety or how you are managing it. Should you feel the need to reach out, contact me HERE