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Published on June 29, 2018

13 Crippling Social Anxiety Symptoms Explained & How to Deal with Them

13 Crippling Social Anxiety Symptoms Explained & How to Deal with Them

Those who suffer from social anxiety know it’s not a joke. On the surface, everything may seem okay but internally, your body is screaming for you to get away.

There are three main types of social anxiety symptoms: physical, cognitive, and behavioral.[1] Physical symptoms are how your body reacts to a social situation. Cognitive symptoms are how your mind reacts to it. And behavioral symptoms are what you do with those feelings.

This article will discuss 13 of the most crippling social anxiety symptoms and how to deal with each of them. By the time you are finished, you will have some strategies for dealing with your social anxiety.

Physical symptoms

1. Blushing

It’s common for blood to rush to your face when you are feeling anxious. It can, however, be super embarrassing and cause you to pull back even further from social situations.

If you find yourself blushing, try these steps to stop it:[2]

  1. Acknowledge the blushing.
  2. Breathe deeply and slowly.
  3. Make sure you are hydrated.
  4. Close your eyes for a few moments.
  5. Accept the blushing.
  6. Smile and laugh.

The key is to accept that this is normal that nobody is going to criticize you for blushing.

Most of the embarrassment you feel is internal; this is why closing your eyes, breathing deliberately and practicing smiling/self acceptance are so effective. It pulls you back to the present moment and makes you aware that you are in control.

2. Sweating

Sweating is actually a natural stress response related to the fight or flight system. Sweating is the body’s response to an internal trigger of excessive hormones, and increased heart rate and blood flow due to anxiety.

You are sweating because your body is being thrown into fight or flight mode and the internal churning is causing your body to warm up.

If you want to decrease anxious sweating, then follow these tips:[3]

3. Shaking

This is probably the worst physical symptom (and the hardest to control). It can be super embarrassing to have such an easily observable manifestation of your anxiety. This can also lead to some of the other social anxiety symptoms such as blushing and sweating.

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Shaking is another physical reaction created by your body’s fight or flight systems. It’s a byproduct of excess adrenaline in your system and thus, the best solutions are usually physical.

Here are some solutions for dealing with shaking:[4]

  1. Jogging.
  2. Deep breaths.
  3. Yelling (this helps use up some of that excess adrenaline).

4. Muscle tension

A review of the literature surrounding muscle tension and anxiety has actually found that muscle tension is not a direct result of anxiety.[5] Muscle tension, as it relates to anxiety, may be a result of an over-exaggeration of the symptoms of anxiety.

A more likely explanation, however, is that being preoccupied with excessive worry can keep you from being aware of how long your muscles are in tension.

Whatever the reasons for muscle tension, it’s useful to find ways to deal with this symptom before it becomes too bad. Here are some ways to do that:[6]

5. Trembling voice

Stress and anxiety can affect the quality of your voice.

Often the source of this particular symptom is the fear of being judged, self-doubt and overthinking. This causes your body to change as it does with the other symptoms and make your voice tremble, shake or crack.

If you want to address this symptom, here are some things you can try:[7]

It is not your responsibility to keep a conversation going. Each party needs to bring something to the table in order for conversation to flow smoothly.

So, imagine that your conversation is a tennis match:

Each thing you say is sent to the other person and it’s their responsibility to send something back. This will help take some of the pressure off of you and help reduce your anxiety.

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6. Shortness of breath

Shortness of breath is one of the more common social anxiety symptoms. It usually happens when you are asked to speak in front of other people or when the focus of group conversation turns to you. Hyperventilation and shortness of breath can lead to anxiety attacks.

Shortness of breath is caused when you breathe too fast or when you think about your breathing. This causes you to take in more air than you need.

Here are some ways to manage this symptom:[8]

  • Slow breaths starting with and focused on your stomach.
  • Distractions such as TV, games, or books that take your mind away from your breathing.
  • Walking/jogging/exercise to raise your heart rate.

7. Dry mouth

Stress, anxiety, and depression can lead to reduced salivation in a socially anxious person.[9]

In other words, your anxiety can physically affect the amount of saliva you produce. This is, again, caused by the fight or flight response triggered by an event.

While it can be irritating and unexpected at times, it doesn’t have to be debilitating. You can reduce the occurrence of dry mouth and deal with it as it arises by doing these:[10]

  • Identify and acknowledge your triggers.
  • Increase your intake of water.
  • Practice breathing through your nose, not your mouth.
  • Use a humidifier where you can to keep the air you breathe moist.

8. Heart racing

Heart racing or heart palpitations, are both a symptom and a cause. In other words, you can have heart palpitations before you have anxiety. The anxiety, then, can be caused by a racing heart. This is usually how a panic attack begins.

Heart palpitations can be caused by something or they can be caused by nothing at all. This makes it one of the more frustrating social anxiety symptoms.

If you want to manage heart palpitations, then here are some tips for you to follow:[11]

  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine.
  • Take long walks and exercise.
  • Distract your mind via games, TV, or any activity that engages you.
  • Control your breathing.
  • Drink lots of water.

The physical symptoms of anxiety can be frustrating, but if you are proactive, you don’t have to be debilitated by them.

Most of the solutions involve avoiding things that trigger your anxiety (i.e. caffeine, nicotine, etc.), practicing mindfulness (i.e. controlled breathing), and keeping your mind and body engaged and active (i.e. exercise and stretching).

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The cognitive symptoms are a little trickier. Let’s look at the three main culprits of social anxiety.

Cognitive symptoms

9. Negativity bias

Negative bias is the tendency for someone to discount positive experiences and social encounters and magnify the social abilities of others. The scientific reason for this is that people who suffer from anxiety tend to have a relatively small frontal cortex — a brain region under the temples that helps regulate thoughts and emotions.[12]

Those with a negativity bias tend to overthink things. They tend to label things as either “good” or “bad,” and tend to label more things as bad.

A person with negativity bias will also have heightened worries and fears and prolonged physical symptoms such as digestive issues or headaches.

To change your negativity bias and lower your potential anxiety, try these:[13]

  • Listen to your thoughts and pay attention to how often you assign a situation with a negative blanket statement.
  • Intentionally take note of what you feel is right so that you can have something to balance the negativity with.
  • Practice gratitude and keep a journal of all the things that you are thankful for in your life.

In short, negativity bias is dealt with through balance. Train yourself to see the good along with the bad, and this source of anxiety will dissipate.

10. Negative thoughts

Negative thoughts are automatic self-evaluations in a social or performance situation. Those with social anxiety can remember embarrassing moments years after they have been forgotten by everybody else.

Have you ever found yourself recalling a memory that made you embarrassed? Did you feel the anxiety from that moment all over again?

Negative thoughts can lead to negative beliefs, so it’s important that you try to nip this particular symptom in a bud before it gets out of control.

You can try to reduce negative thoughts and their power over you by doing these:[14]

  • Label your thoughts. Instead of saying “I am a loser,” say “I am having the thought that I am a loser.” This helps you disconnect from the source of the thought.
  • Recognize thought distortions. This could be black or white thinking, personalizing or catastrophizing. You think the worst, you think it about yourself, and you believe the worst is going to happen to you as a result.
  • Challenge negative thoughts. Instead of laying down and just accepting the worst about yourself, make yourself prove it. Stop accepting that you a bad person. The more you do this, the more you’ll find that you’ve been distorting things for a long time.
  • Focus on your strengths and release your judgment of others. The same ferocity by which you judge others is how you will judge yourself. In fact, you can often discover how you feel about yourself by the way you label others.

11. Negative beliefs

Negative beliefs are strongly held beliefs that you have about yourself in social situations. The difference between a negative thought and a negative belief is that a negative belief is something you believe on an unconscious level.

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The most ironic thing about these beliefs is that they dominate so much of who we think we are, but we set them when we were too young to accurately do so. These beliefs go way back to childhood or teen years and can be very emotional to face.

Here are some ways to deal with these beliefs:[15]

  • Dig to the root of your emotional issues. Think about the first time you had that thought about yourself. Where were you? Who were you with? Recalling the memory helps you put the belief in perspective and later, decide its validity with your grown up way of thinking.
  • Do the work on your beliefs. Byron Katie has an amazing process for deconstructing negative beliefs.[16] It involves asking four questions: Is it true? Can you absolutely know that it is true? How do you react when you believe that thought? Who would you be without that thought? These questions force you to see your belief for what it really is: a belief, not an unwavering truth.
  • Recognize the choice you have in how you feel about yourself. You have the ability to choose how you perceive your circumstances, what is possible in your life, and what gives you meaning. When you begin to see that it’s possible to be something other than depressed and anxious, you will begin to see that you have control over that perception.

Behavioral symptoms

12. Avoidance/Escape

When you allow your anxiety to control you, you begin to avoid taking risks or putting yourself in situations that trigger your anxiety.

In some ways, this can be a good thing. Avoiding things that trigger your anxiety can be a great way to manage your anxiety. In other cases though, it can be holding you back from living a rich and full life.

How often do you avoid going to a social event just because you know it will make you anxious? Wouldn’t you rather learn how to deal with the anxiety rather than let it define your life like that?

Here are some ways to deal with avoidance coping:[17]

  • Recognize that it doesn’t work. You are avoiding going outside of your house or to that party because you think it will make you anxious. However, you sit at home and are anxious and worry anyway. So, why not at least have some fun?
  • Recognize the costs of avoidance coping. How has your avoidance affected your relationships/friendships? The more you avoid these things, the more unhappy you will become. No person is an island and you can’t hide out and expect your relationships to flourish.
  • Learn to tolerate uncomfortable situations. The more you face your fear, the less your fear controls you. Practice being mindful when you are anxious, and learn to calm yourself using some of the techniques in this article.

13. Limiting/Safety Behaviors

This is avoidance coping’s twin brother. You may not avoid social situations but you tend to retreat into yourself or leave early whenever you can. Or you put up walls between yourself and others to protect yourself.

An example of a safety behavior would be to ask a person a bunch of questions in a conversation to keep the focus on them. Another example would be avoiding eye contact so as to avoid being noticed by others. In any case, these behaviors are not serving you.

Try these ways to deal with this symptom:[18]

  • Do the opposite of what your anxiety is telling you. Wear a brightly colored outfit to draw attention to yourself. Purposely drink a highly caffeinated beverage before a social situation so that you can feel shaky and flush. The difference here is to do it mindfully because the way to conquer your fear is to face your fear.
  • Be mindful of the safety behaviors you have in place and try something different. Often just being aware you are doing it can be enough to trigger a change.

Conclusion

We’ve learned many different types of social anxiety symptoms and how to deal with them. Anxiety can manifest itself differently for different people, so do what works for you.

At the end of the day, anxiety is the thing that is happening inside of you. The real you is the person who deals with anxiety every day and overcomes it. You are doing yourself a disservice by playing it safe. It’s time to set your true self free.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

Reference

More by this author

James Leatherman

The founder of Happymindsets.com and is passionate about personal growth, psychology, philosophy and science

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Last Updated on May 20, 2019

How to Live in the Moment and Stop Worrying About the Past or Future

How to Live in the Moment and Stop Worrying About the Past or Future

We sometimes hear people talk about the importance of living in the moment. We might hear about the different ways it will benefit us. It all sounds wonderful, but how exactly can we live in the moment when our mind is constantly racing?

In this article, we’ll discuss some of the benefits of living in the moment you may not be aware of. Then we’ll look at some of the obstacles, and why we worry. Finally, and most importantly, I’ll show you how to live in the moment and stop worrying using some simple practices that you can easily incorporate into your busy schedule.

The result: a happier and more fulfilling life.

Why Live in the Moment?

“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.” – Buddha

Living in the moment has innumerable benefits. Here are just a few that will enhance your life tremendously:

Better Health

By reducing stress and anxiety, you avoid many of the associated health consequences, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and obesity. Studies have shown that being present can also improve psychological well-being.[1]

Improve Your Relationships

Have you ever been with someone who is physically present, but mentally he’s a million miles away?

Being with unavailable people is a struggle, and makes relationships with them extremely difficult.

How about being with someone who is fully present? We enjoy being with him because we can make a much deeper connection with him.

By living in the moment, you can be that person other people enjoy being with, and you make relationships much easier.

Greater Self-Control

You have greater control over your mind, body, and emotions. Imagine how much better your life would be if it weren’t at the mercy of a racing mind, and unpredictable emotions. You would certainly be more at peace, and much happier.[2]

Why Do We Worry?

Before we answer this question, it’s important to distinguish between worry and concern.

When we are concerned about something, we are more likely dealing with a real problem with realistic solutions. Then once we do whatever we can to address the problem, we’re willing to live with the outcome.

Worrying, on the other hand, involves unrealistic thinking. We may worry about a problem that doesn’t really exist, or dwell on all the bad things that can happen as a result. Then, we feel unable to deal with the outcome. Either way, we have difficulty dealing with uncertainty, which is a normal part of life.

Certainly, some of our problems may not have desirable outcomes, such as a serious health issue. Some problems may be beyond our control, such as civil unrest or economic downturn. In such cases, it can be hard to avoid worrying, but not impossible.

We sometimes worry when we don’t know how to deal with a problem. For example, have you ever received a letter from the IRS telling you that you owe more money than you thought, and don’t have the funds to pay it? This is enough to scare anyone who is not familiar with taxes.

How to Live in the Moment

Step 1: Overcome Worrying

In order to overcome worrying, we need to do two things:

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Learn How to Live in the Moment

By living in the moment, you calm your mind, and are able to see more clearly.

The reason some problems seem so daunting is that our mind is racing so fast that we cannot see things as they truly are. So we make up a bunch of possible scenarios in our mind, most of which are unlikely to come true.

In addition to seeing more clearly, living in the moment will help us think more realistically. Unrealistic thinking is fueled by confusion and uncontrolled emotions. Calming your mind will reduce confusion and calm your emotions.

Learn to Focus on Solutions Instead of Problems

Some people tend to be more solution-oriented, and others more problem-oriented. Some of the factors that may determine this are gender, upbringing, and education.

People with higher educations tend to be problem-solvers. That is what their years of education train them to do. In addition, their jobs probably reinforce this way of thinking.

If you’re not problem-solving oriented, don’t worry. You can train yourself to worry less. We’ll discuss that soon.

Step 2: Identify Obstacles to Living in the Moment

In today’s busy world, it can be a challenge to live in the moment. The reasons revolve around how our mind works, and outside influences.

Racing Mind

Many busy people have a racing mind that never seems to slow down. Their mind gets so agitated from too much sensory stimulation.

You see, anything that stimulates any of our five senses (sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell) will trigger a thought, and that thought leads to another, and then another, and so on.

If you have a busy life, all your activities will overstimulate your mind, and make it seemingly impossible to slow it down. And an agitated mind wants to go to another place and time.

Unpleasant Situations and Troublesome Past

None of us want to be in unpleasant situations, or remember those of the past. They can bring up painful emotions, which we don’t want to feel.

So how do most people cope with painful emotions?

By doing whatever we can to avoid them, and we can avoid them by taking our mind to another place and time where things are more pleasant.

In other words, we avoid living in the present moment.

Some people resort to doing things that stimulate sensory pleasure, such as eating, alcohol or sex. Others will consume substances that dull their mind, and keep them from thinking about unpleasant or stressful situations.

A Wandering Mind

From the moment we are born (likely sooner) until the time we die, our body and mind are active performing some function. So it’s natural for our mind to have some level of activity, whether conscious or unconscious.

Generally, a wandering mind is unproductive. As noted above, one thought starts an endless chain of thoughts. The reason is that one thought reminds us of something else, and this process can go on until we need our mind to perform a specific function, or until we get distracted with something else.

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Now, there are times when a wandering mind can be productive, such as when creating works of art, or trying to find creative solutions to problems. In such cases, we need our mind to explore different possibilities.[3]

Outside Influences

Most of us are not fully aware of how our environment and social norms influence our thinking and behavior. People and institutions are constantly competing for our attention. The news media draw our attention to the past, and advertising usually to the future.[4]

Many people around us who dwell on the past or future try to draw us to their way of thinking. Even the whole concept of the American dream is geared toward the future. It tells us that if we acquire things like a good career, family, and house, then we’ll be happy.

Step 3: Practice Mindfulness

So how can we live in the moment in a world that is constantly trying to draw our attention to the past and future?

Before we get into concrete actions you can take, it’s important to understand what mindfulness is. You’ve probably heard the term before, but may not fully understand what it means.

Understand Mindfulness

The concept of mindfulness is actually quite simple. To be mindful IS to live in the moment.

When you are mindful, your attention is focused on what is happening in the present moment. When you are mindful, you are fully in touch with reality because the present moment is where reality is taking place.

You are aware of what is happening in your body, mind, emotions, and the world around you. This is different than thinking about these things. To develop greater understanding, you don’t have to think about them so much, but rather just observe them.

This may be counter-intuitive to many people, especially intellectuals, because they’re so used to using logic to develop greater understanding. With mindfulness, we calm our mind and emotions so we can see clearer. Then much of our understanding will come from simply observation. When we develop mindfulness, we literally expand our awareness.

To develop mindfulness, we need to train ourselves to observe things more objectively, that is, without our emotions or preconceived ideas influencing our views.

You’d be surprised to find out just how much your emotions and past experiences influence your judgments. What many of us do, including intellectuals, is make a quick judgment about a person or situation, then add the reasoning afterwards. That is not logic, but rather rationalization.

When you are mindful, you reserve judgment until you have more information. Notice how I said “more information,” and not “complete information.” It is impossible to have complete information about something because there are infinite numbers of factors affecting it. So the best thing to do is be as objective as possible, and always be open to new information.

Viewing the world in this manner can be a challenge, and takes some practice to overcome years of habitual thinking. But it can make our lives infinitely more fulfilling, as we’ll be able to make much better decisions that will result in real happiness and inner peace.

So if you’re ready to live a better life, read on for some simple mindfulness practices that you can incorporate into your busy life to help you live in the moment, that is, reality.

You don’t have to do all of them, but rather choose the ones that appeal to you, and suit your lifestyle.

Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness meditation is the mainstay of developing mindfulness and living in the moment. To practice mindfulness meditation, all you really have to do is sit quietly and follow your breathing. When your mind wanders off, just bring it back to your breath.

Notice how your lungs expand with each in-breath, and contract with each out-breath. Let your breathing become relaxed and natural.

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You don’t have to do it perfectly. The idea is to give your mind a rest from the constant sensory stimulation of all your activities, and just allow it to settle down naturally. Start with about 5 to 10 minutes per day and work your way up to about 20 minutes or longer.

This practice is highly effective, and can have both short-term and long-term benefits.

If you want to learn more about mindfulness meditation, take a look at this article: How to Practice Mindful Meditation to Calm Your Thoughts

Also, there are many good books on the market that explain the concepts and techniques in greater detail. Some examples are

Mindful Breathing

While this may sound the same as mindfulness meditation, all you’re really doing is taking short breaks occasionally (10 to 15 seconds) to observe your breathing. Stop whatever you’re doing, and take a few mindful breaths, then resume your activity. That’s it.

You can do mindful breathing at any time of the day during your busy schedule. What it does is interrupt the acceleration of your mind. It is like taking your foot off the accelerator while driving. It’s a nice refreshing break you can take without anyone noticing.

Here’re some breathing exercises you can try to learn: 5 Breathing Exercises for Anxiety (Simple and Calm Anxiety Quickly)

Mindful Walking

Walking is an activity that you perform several times throughout the day. We often think we’re being productive by texting, or calling someone while walking. But are we really?

Instead of getting on your cell phone, or letting your mind wander off, why not use your walking for training yourself to live in the moment?

Mindful walking is similar to mindful breathing. But instead of focusing on your breath, focus on your walking. Pay attention to each footstep. Also, notice the different motions of your arms, legs, and torso. When your mind wanders off, just bring your attention back to your walking.

You can even make a meditation out of walking. That is, go walking for a few minutes outside. Start by slowing down your pace. If you slow down your body, your mind will follow.

In addition to paying attention to your walking, notice the trees, sunshine, and critters. A mindful walk is enjoyable, and can really help your mind settle down.

Mindful Eating

Eating is an activity that most of us perform mindlessly. The reason is that it doesn’t require your attention to perform. So what many of us do is try to multitask while we eat. We may talk on the phone, text, watch TV, or even hold a meeting.

The problem with not eating mindfully is that we don’t eat what our body and mind need to perform at an optimal level. We may eat unhealthy foods, or too much. This can lead to various health problems, especially as we get older.

Mindful eating has many health benefits, such as reduced food cravings, better digestion, and even weight loss.[5]

So how do you eat mindfully? Start by slowing down, and avoid the temptation to distract yourself with another activity. Here are 3 different aspects of eating where you can practice mindfulness:

  • Eating itself: Focus your attention on choosing a portion of food to insert into your mouth. Notice the smell, flavor, and texture as you chew it; then finally swallow it. As with following your breath during meditation, pay close attention to every aspect of eating.
  • Choice of foods: Although you’ve already chosen your food before you have begun eating, you can still take the opportunity to contemplate your choices. Think about the nutrients your body needs to sustain itself. Ask yourself, “Is this what my body and mind need to be healthy, and perform at an optimal level?” “Is it sufficient, or too much?” By asking yourself these questions, you will be more inclined to make better choices in the future.
  • Contemplating the sources: Most of us don’t think about all the work it takes to provide us with the food we eat. While you’re eating, consider all the work by the farmer, shipping company, and the grocery store. These are real people who worked hard to provide you with the food necessary for your survival.

You can find more tips about mindful eating here: 7 Simple Steps to Mindful Eating

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Mindful Activities

Choose an activity that you perform regularly, such as washing dishes. Focus all your attention on this activity, and resist the temptation to let your mind wander, or get distracted. When it does, then just bring your attention back to washing dishes.

Notice some of the specific movements, or sensations of washing dishes, such as how the soapy water feels on your hands, the circular motion of scrubbing the dish, or the rinsing. You’d be surprised at how such a mundane activity can truly expand your awareness.

You can choose any activity you like, such as ironing, folding clothes, mowing the lawn, or showering. Over time, you will begin doing all these activities with greater mindfulness.

Bonus Suggestion

Here is one activity that is not generally considered a mindful activity. It is physical training. For those of you who already workout, it may be easy to see how physical training requires you to live in the moment.

Here’s how it works:

In order to perform an exercise to get the desired benefit, you need to use a proper technique. In order to use the proper technique, you need to pay close attention to how you are doing the exercise. In other words, you need to be fully present in the moment.

Another aspect of training that helps you live in the moment is tuning into what is happening in your body. First, during exercising, you need to pay close attention to how your body feels. Are you exercising hard enough, or not enough?

There are times to go easy, such as during warm-up exercises; and times to push yourself hard, such as when you’re warmed up and want to stimulate growth.

Second, when you’re not in the gym training, you need to pay close attention to the signals your body is sending you. What nutrients and how much do you need to consume to support your training? How much rest do you need?

By tuning in to your body, you force yourself to be in the moment. So, physical training done properly is just about as effective as meditation, or any mindful activity, for developing mindfulness. It’s also great for your health.

Final Thoughts

Practicing mindfulness is like regularly putting small amounts of change in a jar. They will all add up over time. And this will add up to greater peace and happiness.

Remember, you don’t have to do the mindfulness practices perfectly to get the benefits. All you have to do is keep bringing your mind back to the present moment when it wanders off.

Practicing mindfulness may be a bit challenging in the beginning; but I can assure you, it will get easier fairly quickly.

The benefits of living in the moment are well within your reach, no matter how much your mind is racing. If you stick with these mindfulness practices, you too will learn how to live in the moment and stop worrying; and when you do, a whole new world will open up for you. This is what Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh calls the ultimate reality.

Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

Reference

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