“I’m never going to be able to do it!” “I’ll die if I have to do that.” “I feel like I am dying every time I…” Do any of these statements sound familiar? According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 15 million US Americans, or 6.8% of the population, suffers from social anxiety disorder.
Social anxiety disorder, also sometimes referred to as social phobia, is an intense fear of social situations. We believe we could become humiliated and embarrass ourselves somehow in front of other people. We tend to focus on every little mistake (or conceivably make) and assume that everyone else is judging us.
DO I HAVE SOCIAL ANXIETY DISORDER? IS WHAT I HAVE A “REAL THING?”
Yes it is a real thing! Here are some of the symptoms of social anxiety disorder. It is important to recognize however, that just like a medical diagnosis, symptoms themselves do not mean you HAVE this disorder. This is a jumping off point. If you have some of these symptoms, there is a good chance (but not a guarantee) that you have social anxiety disorder.
– Extreme and persistent fear of one or more social performance situations where a person is exposed to scrutiny or unfamiliar people
– Panic attacks at the mere thought of a social situation
– The person recognizes the fear as excessive or irrational but still cannot control their feelings
– The social situation is avoided at all costs
– The irrational fears affect the person’s everyday life and interferes with career and personal relationship growth.
If these symptoms seemed to fit, you are not alone. As mentioned above, 15 million Americans are suffering right along side you and you may not even know it. Just as you are good at hiding the feeling that you are falling apart inside or are going to die, so are they.
The most common social phobia is getting a public presentation. Did you know that the number one fear of people around the world is public speaking and death is the second? That’s right, more people are scared to get up in front of others and speak than they are to kick the bucket!
Maybe you can relate to this. You think about giving a presentation and you immediately go into a panic attack. Or maybe it isn’t quite that bad, but you notice yourself getting flush, overthinking, and feel your heartbeat quicken.
This is no way to live. Not only does it make it harder and harder to do things every year, but your family is suffering too. They are hearing you suffer which is not easy for them. They may even be impacted financially or through your neglect of certain obligations.
It is draining. You go to work every day and “know” that you are going to get fired because of xyz. Or you know you’ll be passed up for that next promotion because you screw up every time you do abc. It’s exhausting to live this way.
And it doesn’t seem to get better. In fact, it seems to be getting worse over the years.
It’s true that you are feeling hopeless and don’t believe things will improve right now. But there is hope. You do not have to live with this forever. Social anxiety is not incurable. In fact, people get passed their social anxiety every single day.
You may not go from being an introvert to an extrovert, but you also don’t have to continue to withdraw into yourself, feeling more and more like a failure. You can get passed the anxiety without ending up having to change your entire personality and be an extrovert.
I’VE TIRED EVERYTHING. I STILL FEEL HELPLESS AND SCARED; LIKE I’M GOING TO DIE; WHEN I HAVE TO DO SOMETHING
I hear you. I hear that you have tried numerous things to try and overcome the anxiety. You pushed through, with gritted teeth day after day. You’ve done the tricks they taught you but they don’t work for you. In fact, it still got worse.
The fact that you’re reading this means you haven’t given up completely. You are still looking for that solution. It is doable and there is a way out. It makes sense that you are feeling helpless and scared. Thus far nothing has worked.
There’s no guarantee of anything in life, and our minds have a way of looking for the worst case scenario in order to protect us. When we find all the “what if’s”, they don’t come as such a surprise when they do happen.
YOU ARE READY TO BE ABLE TO GIVE THAT PRESENTATION AND TALK TO CO-WORKERS WITHOUT THINKING THEY’RE JUDGING YOU
It sucks to always be thinking that others are judging you. It sucks to struggle to come to work every day because you’re concerned about what others may be thinking or whether you will get through the day.
You’ve been struggling for so long and have come to the point where enough is enough. You are ready to make a change. You cannot live this way any longer.
You have the ability to make this change. It isn’t as hard as you think. You have some of the tools already. You are a stubborn person; you push through even when you don’t think you can. That stubbornness can be used for good as well. It can be used to help you use the rest of the skills, making them work for you.
DEALING WITH SOCIAL ANXIETY DISORDER AT WORK
If your social anxiety is interfering with your career goals, here are four ways you can deal with it:
1. Meditate: Meditation has been scientifically proven to calm a person’s nerves. By being still and focusing on your breath for just 10 minutes each day, you can learn to settle yourself in the face of anxiety and stress.
Sitting with your feelings and allowing them to happen instead of pushing them down does a couple of things. First, it allows you to acknowledge what is happening, thus making it not so “scary.” Second, you are often able to recognize and learn more about yourself as you do this. You start to realize where these feelings started and why you’re having them, which is a huge tool for cutting down the anxiety.
2. Focus on performance, not feelings: People suffering from Social Anxiety Disorder tend to focus solely on how they feel during a social setting, not the positive things that may happen. When you focus on how well you’ve done, you start to forget about your nerves
For some people, this can cause a paradoxical effect. Sometimes people actually feel worse before they feel better. This is because the brain is trying to protect you. The brain is trying to keep the worst case front and center and is worried that you are not going to recognize danger if it happens by not paying attention to the potential danger.
When you stop focusing on the emotions, sometimes the emotions will get stronger as the brain is worried about your safety. If you stop worrying that you’re about to go skydiving and just tell yourself that you’ve learned all the tools necessary for safety, the brain worries that you will not think about what to do in the moment, so it tries to keep the anxiety front and center.
We actually do better when we’re not anxious. When we keep our logical minds turned on and not focus on the emotions, we have better memory: better retention and better recall. Thus we are less likely to have the “worst case” happen.
3. Try to be realistic: It’s important to be realistic in the face of your anxiety. For instance, if you’ve given speeches in the past and have done well, then it is unrealistic to tell yourself that you are “going to bomb.” Instead tell yourself “I’ve done well in the past, I am very prepared and will do a good job.”
This is similar to above. The brain is trying to protect you. So as you are trying to be realistic, the brain is trying to keep focused on the emotional aspect in order to keep you alive. It is very important for you to acknowledge, with a calm body, the anxiety. As you’re telling yourself that you’ve done this before, make sure that you are breathing deeply; don’t hold your breath. Make sure that your muscles are relaxed. Take a sip of water. Do some stretching.
The amygdala, which is responsible for all of this intense anxiety, only learns from experience. Telling yourself “I’ll do fine” while anxiously holding your breath will only teach the amygdala that you are not fine. The amygdala does not respond to logic; only experience.
4. Work with a therapist: If social anxiety has stopped you from getting promotions or helping your family financially, then it’s time to get some help from a professional therapist who specializes in anxiety disorders. He or she can give you coping strategies that will help you move forward in life.
There are so many aspects to social anxiety and everybody has different experiences throughout their lives. It is important to do what you can first, then if that isn’t enough, to seek out help. It is like taking the motrin and drinking lots of water when you’re sick, but if it lasts too long, you see your primary doctor.
The journey to come back from social anxiety disorder to a place of feeling confident and calm in your abilities to do your job well is not a quick one. There are no quick fixes. The amygdala has learned that “this” – whatever “this” is, is dangerous and needs to protect you from it. Since the amygdala is set to safety, going against safety seems counterintuitive. It takes time to retrain the brain.
If you or someone you know is suffering with Social Anxiety Disorder and would like to explore treatment options, please get in touch with me. I’d be more than happy to discuss how I may be able to help life feel more comfortable.
There are many tools that a therapist uses that will help you feel better, even though right now you’re feeling pretty hopeless and scared.
All therapists will be able to help you with the social anxiety, but Meg Young, LCSW, is a good fit as I specialize with burnout and secondary trauma; both very common for people who are dealing with social anxiety disorder. I will help you get your life under control and help you feel confident in yourself. If I am not the right therapist for you, I will help you find someone who is.
Call me today to set up an appointment. I can see you in person in Sarasota, FL or via webcam through my HIPAA compliant video platform. 941-462-4807.