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Last Updated on October 12, 2018

How to Tell Symptoms of Social Anxiety And What to Do About It

How to Tell Symptoms of Social Anxiety And What to Do About It

Social Anxiety Disorder (formerly known as Social Phobia) can be a significant hurdle to your happiness, health, and ability to achieve your potential in relationships and at work

Here’s a common scenario:

You’re the kind of person that likes others. You want friends, you want to hang out with your co-workers for hors d’oeuvres after work, and you definitely don’t want someone to hang out with on Friday nights. You just can’t make your reality fit with your wishes.

Here’s one scenario that often happens: after wish you could be bold at work, make friends, and ask for that raise, the minute you’re invited to golf with your boss, do a presentation for the team, or come to a friend’s anniversary party…you bail out. You don’t feel smart enough, worthy enough, prepared enough…it is never enough…so you say “no’ to the very thing you wish you could do.

So, on one hand, you’re happy because you got to avoid the anxiety-provoking personal encounter, but you’re simultaneously miserable because – yet one more time – you didn’t go after what you want most. This can hurt your self-esteem even further, which only makes you less apt to try again the next time.

The vicious cycle can go on for years on end. Clearly, this disorder has the potential to rob you of your health or prevent you from meeting your goals at work and having positive, healthy relationships.

But here’s the good news about Social Anxiety Disorder – you don’t have to let it rob your future!

Is It Social Anxiety Disorder?

First, let’s figure out what we’re dealing with.

The Fancy Definition 

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, Social Anxiety Disorder (formerly known as Social Phobia) is an “intense, persistent fear of being noticed and judged by others” to the degree that it can prevent you from reaching your potential at work and other areas of your life.  

It’s not “just” being shy. The anxiety must last over six months and cause “considerable impairment” in your life, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (5th ed.).[1] In addition, the anxiety must be constant, intense, and disabling to qualify. 

You’re not the only one!

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According to Social Phobia org, social anxiety is the third- largest mental health issue in the world, and affects 7% of US citizens.[2] It often (not always) begins around middle school which is inherently a period of intense self-consciousness. 

The Theories

Research is still divided on the cause of Social Anxiety Disorder, but some theories indicate there is a genetic/inheritable component while others argue that it can be a learned behavior.

Others believe the problem is multi-determined and can be a combination of genetics, social learning, and other factors combined. 

10 Scenarios That are Potential Triggers 

The Social Anxiety Association lists several scenarios that can be triggers for your anxiety including these common ones:[3]

  • Being teased or criticized
  • Being the center of attention
  • Being watched or observed
  • Having to say something in a formal, public situation
  • Meeting people in authority (“important people/authority figures”)
  • Feeling insecure and out of place in social situations (“I don’t know what to say.”)
  • Feeling embarrassed (e.g., blushing, shaking)
  • Meeting other peoples’ eyes
  • Swallowing, writing, talking, making phone calls if in public
  • Being introduced to other people

3 Major Symptom Categories

When we encounter our triggers, sufferers tend to become symptomatic. According to Psycom, there are 3 main categories of symptoms for this disorder:

  1. Physical symptoms: racing heart, dizziness, stomach trouble, blushing, sweating, trembling, and dry mouth
  2. Emotional Symptoms: panic attacks, poor body image, nervousness, high levels of anxiety and fears.
  3. Behavioral Symptoms: Avoiding places/situations where you think you will be the center of attention; not pursuing activities for fear of embarrassment; becoming isolated, quitting school or a job, substance abuse.

NIMH adds that poor eye contact, mind going blank, speaking softly, self-consciousness, and feeling awkward are also commonplace. Remember: these symptoms can be “normal” – we are looking only for a situation where it is prolonged and a true hinderance to functioning!

What To Do About It

The important factor is to do something about your Social Phobia as it can become more self-perpetuating over time. Here’s are a few ideas of how to get started.

1. Ask a Doctor

Don’t self diagnose, ask a doctor. Reach out!

If you are concerned that social anxiety is preventing you from reaching your full potential, then seek consultation from a mental health professional or medical provider. Don’t suffer in silence!

Fewer than 5% of people with social anxiety seek treatment after their symptoms begin and, in fact, 1/3 of sufferers report having symptoms for ten years or more before reaching out for help. 

This is a needless impediment to your wellbeing, because studies indicate that this condition is highly treatable. In fact, one study claims an 85% improvement and sometimes full recovery after treatment! [4]

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A family doctor, internal medicine physician, psychologist, or psychiatrist are among the types of providers experienced in diagnosing and treating Social Anxiety Disorder. Be sure to check reviews and recommendations in your community.

Insider Tip!

Experienced mental health providers always ensure that other factors aren’t the cause of your problem before assigning a psychiatric diagnosis. Many medical issues, medications, and even substance abuse can mimic psychiatric issues so it is essential to rule these out first. 

Special note: Make sure your provider considers all angles without making any assumptions because some people truly do have both genuine psychiatric symptoms and a coincidental medical problems which can mimic it. 

Diagnostics can get complex, so this is why only a credentialed provider should diagnose your concerns! 

What Should You Expect?

Most providers will conduct an intake evaluation where they will take a thorough history, check your symptoms against the DSM-5 criteria, provide you with an anxiety checklist or other type of self-report test instrument, and review your medical records to name a few possibilities.

Be prepared to speak honestly about your history as the more data, the more accurate your diagnosis and recommendations will be. There are also resources, by Mayo Clinic and others, which provide some of the questions you might be asked. Preparation can certainly help with your anxiety about the interview. [5] 

2. Treatment Options

Here are some ways to try to regain your health!

Psychiatric Treatments

The most common types of treatment for social anxiety are psychotherapy, medication, or some combination thereof. 

If you elect to take medication, your doctor can help you decide which one is right for you. Be sure to ask about how long it will take to notice improvement, any potential side effects, and how to weigh the risks versus benefits of the medication.

As for psychotherapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a common option and NIMH found particularly good outcomes using cognitive therapy combined with a behavioral therapy group.[6]

While the prospect of a group treatment might seem terrifying, it is deemed important so you can work on your symptoms in real-life scenarios with other group members.

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What is the goal of psychiatric treatment? 

A good goal to aspire to in the treatment of Social Anxiety Disorder is to decrease symptoms, learn to reframe negative thoughts about yourself, developing confidence in social situations, which in the end should help you develop the type of friendships, relationships, jobs, and other opportunities that you previously could not negotiate on your own.

Alternatives

Some organizations are proponents of alternative medicine as an adjunctive treatment. Treatments such as massage, meditation, mindfulness, hypnotherapy, and acupuncture are common place. 

NAMI also suggests various self-management strategies (identifying one specific time to worry during the day, becoming an expert on your triggers, etc.); stress and relaxation techniques (e.g., breathing exercising, focused attention), and yoga (physical postures, breathing, and meditation). Exercise, like in many other areas, is also recommended but check with your doctor before starting an exercise plan.[7]

3. Community Support

Many churches, clubs, and local organizations provide support and healing opportunities for Social Anxiety Disorder. 

The National Alliance of Mental Health provides educational and support resources to those with mental illness including social anxiety at 1-800-950-NAMI or [email protected]

4. Help Yourself!

NAMI and other organizations provide many ideas for self-help as a first step or as an adjunct to formal treatment. Here are some  ideas for being proactive in your care:

  1. Become educated about medication and treatment options. 
  2. Know your personal triggers and stressors and plan ahead. 
  3. Actively participate in your treatment. 
  4. Don’t QUIT if it isn’t helping. Keep at it until something does.
  5. Live a healthy lifestyle – engage in exercise and de-stressors and watch your diet.
  6. Avoid drugs and alcohol as they affect emotional balance, sleep, and can interactive with medication. *This includes too much caffeine!
  7. Join online discussion groups.

Practice Makes Improvement (If Not Perfect)

Mayo recommends that sufferers participate in social situations by being with those you feel comfortable around.  Then, slowly increase the “risk” by branching out a bit more. Rather than throw yourself into a wild frat party, you might first want to take a small interesting class where the teacher does most of the talking.

You might find that these are “safe” settings to meet people since it is highly structured and there is inherently a reason to speak with your peers. It also levels the playing ground as all of you are “new” in this social setting. [8]

Mayo further suggests that you actually practice socializing, just as you might practice piano. Here are some examples they suggested:

  • Eat with a close relative, friend or acquaintance in a public setting.
  • Purposefully make eye contact and return greetings from others, or be the first to say “hello”.
  • Give someone a compliment.
  • Ask a retail clerk to help you find an item.
  • Get directions from a stranger.
  • Show an interest in others — ask about their homes, children, grandchildren, hobbies or travels, for instance.
  • Call a friend to make plans.

While these might seem like basic tasks to our more extroverted friends, this can be seemingly unsurmountable to our friends with Social Anxiety Disorder!

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Be Kind (To Yourself)

Learning these new social skills is taxing. Remember to be kind to yourself along the way. Mayo suggests that you spend some time with people you already know and feel comfortable with such as long-term friends and family. 

Another idea is to engage in pleasurable activities and hobbies when you’re anxious. 

Remind yourself that anxiety doesn’t last forever and that you have survived it before and will survive it again. 

Never, Ever Give Up

As you begin your treatment strategies, don’t give up. Don’t ever, ever give up. 

Social Anxiety Disorder, as we stated earlier, is a treatable disorder, so every single small step gets you further to your end goal.

Remember: As you practice, you will invariably fail and have set-backs. It is normal so just expect it! Progress isn’t linear– it occurs with step-by-step small gains over time. 

The Future You

Remember that the best time to start is now. Be a strong, stubborn, tenacious self-advocate. Get help if needed to take the step toward wholeness and healing now!

No matter whether your goal is having close friends, being more effective at work, or even finding a new relationship partner, being able to successfully connect with others can indeed transform a lonely, frustrating life into a more fulfilling one.

Take the step.

Featured photo credit: Eric Ward via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Jodie C.

An experienced psychologist who has worked with people of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds.

How to Tell Symptoms of Social Anxiety And What to Do About It

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Last Updated on March 13, 2019

How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

Have you gotten into a rut before? Or are you in a rut right now?

You know you’re in a rut when you run out of ideas and inspiration. I personally see a rut as a productivity vacuum. It might very well be a reason why you aren’t getting results. Even as you spend more time on your work, you can’t seem to get anything constructive done. While I’m normally productive, I get into occasional ruts (especially when I’ve been working back-to-back without rest). During those times, I can spend an entire day in front of the computer and get nothing done. It can be quite frustrating.

Over time, I have tried and found several methods that are helpful to pull me out of a rut. If you experience ruts too, whether as a working professional, a writer, a blogger, a student or other work, you will find these useful. Here are 12 of my personal tips to get out of ruts:

1. Work on the small tasks.

When you are in a rut, tackle it by starting small. Clear away your smaller tasks which have been piling up. Reply to your emails, organize your documents, declutter your work space, and reply to private messages.

Whenever I finish doing that, I generate a positive momentum which I bring forward to my work.

2. Take a break from your work desk.

Get yourself away from your desk and go take a walk. Go to the washroom, walk around the office, go out and get a snack.

Your mind is too bogged down and needs some airing. Sometimes I get new ideas right after I walk away from my computer.

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3. Upgrade yourself

Take the down time to upgrade yourself. Go to a seminar. Read up on new materials (#7). Pick up a new language. Or any of the 42 ways here to improve yourself.

The modern computer uses different typefaces because Steve Jobs dropped in on a calligraphy class back in college. How’s that for inspiration?

4. Talk to a friend.

Talk to someone and get your mind off work for a while.

Talk about anything, from casual chatting to a deep conversation about something you really care about. You will be surprised at how the short encounter can be rejuvenating in its own way.

5. Forget about trying to be perfect.

If you are in a rut, the last thing you want to do is step on your own toes with perfectionist tendencies.

Just start small. Do what you can, at your own pace. Let yourself make mistakes.

Soon, a little trickle of inspiration will come. And then it’ll build up with more trickles. Before you know it, you have a whole stream of ideas.

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6. Paint a vision to work towards.

If you are continuously getting in a rut with your work, maybe there’s no vision inspiring you to move forward.

Think about why you are doing this, and what you are doing it for. What is the end vision in mind?

Make it as vivid as possible. Make sure it’s a vision that inspires you and use that to trigger you to action.

7. Read a book (or blog).

The things we read are like food to our brain. If you are out of ideas, it’s time to feed your brain with great materials.

Here’s a list of 40 books you can start off with. Stock your browser with only the feeds of high quality blogs, such as Lifehack.org, DumbLittleMan, Seth Godin’s Blog, Tim Ferris’ Blog, Zen Habits or The Personal Excellence Blog.

Check out the best selling books; those are generally packed with great wisdom.

8. Have a quick nap.

If you are at home, take a quick nap for about 20-30 minutes. This clears up your mind and gives you a quick boost. Nothing quite like starting off on a fresh start after catching up on sleep.

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9. Remember why you are doing this.

Sometimes we lose sight of why we do what we do, and after a while we become jaded. A quick refresher on why you even started on this project will help.

What were you thinking when you thought of doing this? Retrace your thoughts back to that moment. Recall why you are doing this. Then reconnect with your muse.

10. Find some competition.

Nothing quite like healthy competition to spur us forward. If you are out of ideas, then check up on what people are doing in your space.

Colleagues at work, competitors in the industry, competitors’ products and websites, networking conventions.. you get the drill.

11. Go exercise.

Since you are not making headway at work, might as well spend the time shaping yourself up.

Sometimes we work so much that we neglect our health and fitness. Go jog, swim, cycle, whichever exercise you prefer.

As you improve your physical health, your mental health will improve, too. The different facets of ourselves are all interlinked.

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Here’re 15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It).

12. Take a good break.

Ruts are usually signs that you have been working too long and too hard. It’s time to get a break.

Beyond the quick tips above, arrange for a 1-day or 2-days of break from your work. Don’t check your (work) emails or do anything work-related. Relax and do your favorite activities. You will return to your work recharged and ready to start.

Contrary to popular belief, the world will not end from taking a break from your work. In fact, you will be much more ready to make an impact after proper rest. My best ideas and inspiration always hit me whenever I’m away from my work.

Take a look at this to learn the importance of rest: The Importance of Scheduling Downtime

More Resources About Getting out of a Rut

Featured photo credit: Joshua Earle via unsplash.com

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