|A shy girl staying away from her doctor. / Photo by: Katarzyna Bialasieiwicz via 123RF|
According to the Social Anxiety Association, the third most pressing health issue in the world today is Social Anxiety. Studies show that about 7% of the world’s population are currently suffering from this disorder.
Social anxiety is defined by GoodTherapy.org as the fear of having interaction with other people besides close friends and family. This gripping fear may prevent a person from having a normal lifestyle if left untreated. It is a condition which is identified as chronic since it does not go away on its own. It is a condition that needs immediate attention and must not be treated lightly.
There are many factors that can prompt a person to have this. GoodTherapy.Org states that it can be a mixture of the genes, the brain and what the person has experienced.
To go into detail how the genes can be one of the triggers of social anxiety, if it is in a person’s family background that one of the members had it, it may possible for anxiety to be passed down to the future generations.
The brain can also be responsible for causing someone to be socially anxious. There are studies that prove that there are certain regions of the brain that are more active in people who have social anxiety and the amygdala is an example.
Life experiences may also trigger a person to have social anxiety. These feelings of insecurity may stem from not feeling enough, not feeling that they fit in and the feeling that they are constantly being judged.
Kinds of Social Anxiety
There are actually two types of Social Anxiety Disorders: Generalized Social Anxiety and Performance-Only/Specific Social Anxiety.
General Social Anxiety is basically being not wanting to interact with anyone other than close friends and family.
On the other hand, Performance-only or Specific Social Anxiety is only triggered by specific situations like for example interviews or giving speeches and may not mean they fear socializing with the public in general.
To compare both of these Social Anxiety Disorders, General Social Anxiety Disorder is seen to be more alarming than Performance-only Social Anxiety. Verywellmind.com states that it can impair day-to-day functions. Although patients with Performance-Only Social anxiety can do fine in most social situations, it can impede the advancement in your career or other performance-related goals such as doing well in school.
Verywellmind.com states that there are three classifications of the symptoms of social anxiety. These are the physical, cognitive and behavioral symptoms.
Physical symptoms are those that are visible such as sweating, shaking and blushing.
Cognitive symptoms involve the thoughts running through the person’s mind while being in a situation that triggers their social anxiety. These include negative thoughts and beliefs about one’s self and how that person feels he is perceived by the others.
Behavioral symptoms include the actions that a person takes while suffering from anxiety. These may include but are not limited to avoiding those triggers as much as possible, drinking or looking for reasons to leave the social situation like pretending to need to take a bathroom break.
Healthy Ways of Coping with It
It is not enough to be simply aware of social anxiety. A person must also be able to help one’s self or people they know who are facing this problem. Here are some suggestions on how to deal with social anxiety in a healthy manner:
1. Seek professional help and get treatment
A person who is struggling with social anxiety doesn’t always have to do it alone. According to the Social Anxiety Association, it is a fully-treatable condition. You just need the patience, the willingness to work on it and willingness to undergo therapy.
You can look for a specialist who can help you identify your problem and treat it.
It is also advised that you go through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy which has been proven by the studies funded by the National Mental Health Institute as having a very high success rate.
2. Practice deep breathing
Verywellmind.com says that being in anxiety-inducing situations can take a toll on your breathing. It makes your breathing become faster and your symptoms worse.
To be able to make your breathing slower and more natural here is what you can do:
Count how many breaths you have in a minute. An inhale and exhale makes one count of breathing.
Make a mental note of this. Remember that normally, a person takes 10 to 12 breaths every minute.
Concentrate on the way you breathe. Inhale and exhale with your nose. Make your breaths come from the diaphragm instead of your chest.
For three seconds, inhale. Afterwards, for the next three seconds, exhale. Everytime you exhale, think “relax” and release the muscle tensions you have. Repeat this for five minutes.
Once again, count how many breaths you are having and check if they have decreased.
Do this four times each day while you are relaxed.
If you keep doing this regularly, this manner of breathing will be automatic to you.
3. Try to lessen negative thoughts
Verywellmind.com says that the common thought patterns that make a person anxious are Mind-reading and Personalizing.
Mind-reading is having conclusions about what people think of you. For example, “ People see me as a weirdo.”
Personalizing on the other hand is to assume that everyone’s actions have something to do with you. For instance, a person seated next to a laughing group in a restaurant may think “Oh, they must be laughing at me ” when they could be actually laughing at a story one of their friends was telling.
To counter this, here are tips from Verywellmind.com:
Remember the situation that made you anxious. Write down what you were thinking before that happened, when that happened and after.
Then, challenge those negative thoughts by questioning yourself if there could have been a different explanation for what happened. For example, “Could they have been laughing at something else? Maybe they were not really looking at me.”
Keep track of the automatic negative thoughts that you had before, during and after the dreaded situation and challenge them with alternatives.
4. Practice assertiveness
Two ways in which you can practice assertiveness are learning to ask for what you need in a calm and respectful manner and learning to say no. When asking for your needs, use “I” statements. For example, “ I feel sad when you don’t text back.”
5. Learn to improve your nonverbal communication
Being anxious can unconsciously make you have a “closed-off” stance. Work on having a relaxed posture such as standing straight, having good eye-contact and having your hands at the side. This will make you appear more approachable.
6. Learn to improve your verbal communication
It is important that you not only learn to look approachable but that you also gain the necessary conversational skills. Learn how to start conversations, continue them and also how to listen to the other person who is speaking.
7. Tell others about your social anxiety
|A woman with social anxiety being comforted by her friends. / Photo by: Katarzyna Białasiewicz via 123RF|
If you explain to other people what you are going through, they may have a better perspective of what social anxiety is. It is only a specific person whom you would like to reveal your social anxiety to and feel rather uncomfortable revealing it in front of everyone else, ask them to meet you privately in a quiet place where you can tell it to them.
8. Learn to be brave enough to face the things you avoid
There is a term for treating your condition by making you face it. It is called the Exposure therapy. The more you expose yourself to what you are afraid of, the more you will be able to overcome that fear because you have become used to it. Verywellmind.com states that, “Gradual exposure to social situations will help reduce the anxiety and emotional reactions you associate with them.” It is advisable that you face those situations so that you do not limit yourself. You will be able to grow more accustomed to those social situations and eventually, this will either reduce your fear or remove it altogether. A self-help way to do this is to write down the top ten things you avoid and write down the steps you want to take in conquering each of those fears, raising the difficulty level for each of those steps.
Remember, Social Anxiety is a disorder and should not be considered as a personality trait. The more that you confront your fears, challenge your negative thoughts and practice relaxation, you are one step closer to becoming more anxiety-free. If it becomes too severe for you to handle on your own, you can always ask the help of a doctor or a health professional.
Thomas Richards, the President of the Social Anxiety Association once said, “Often we have come to the conclusion that...effective therapy comes from people who have experienced this disorder themselves. Twenty years of experience points to the fact that people who have lived with this disorder and overcome it, make the best group leaders.”