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13 Things to Remember if You Love A Person With Social Anxiety

13 Things to Remember if You Love A Person With Social Anxiety

Social anxiety is the 3rd most common mental health issue in the U.S. In fact, over 19 million people suffer from mild to severe social anxiety today, and “normal” individuals tend to see the symptoms without understanding the nature of the illness and thus do not respond with empathy to sufferers. Common reactions are lazy, aloof, unfriendly, malingerers, hypochondriacs, and misfits.

If someone you care about or work with has social anxiety, you need to recognize the symptoms, understand their illness, and find ways to support that individual, rather than criticize and/or condemn. Here you will find 13 common behaviors of people who have social anxiety and how you need to respond in order to support them.

1. They want to be recognized for something other than just their social maladaptation.

A mental health issue does not define a person – it is simply one trait possessed right now. People with this affliction can be intelligent, can be productive, and can have a number of personalities and professional traits that are quite positive. Recognizing and praising these positive traits will show that you see beyond this single “negative” and can see their value as a whole person.

2. They get tired easily.

And they may sleep more or may be too exhausted to engage in normal activites. Think about it. They spend all of their waking hours that are outside of their “safe” places (usually their homes) worrying about what situations they may find themselves in, what they will say if addressed in any manner, how they will cope with a meeting at work or a class discussion in school. Their brains are relentlessly churning, and that can be exhausting. Rather than criticizing them for their tiredness, how about putting yourself in that mental situation? Would you be exhausted? Of course you will be! Rather than criticizing them, suggest a short time out or nap.

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3. They can “shut down” or “zone out.”

This is a defense mechanism, and we all have them, even though they may not present themselves in this manner. Some of us may become angry or irritable; some of us may be subject to “rants” of sorts. So why do we criticize socially anxious people for their defense mechanisms simply because they are different from us? Part of developing empathy for socially anxious people is to recognize that they have their own responses to stress, just as we do.

4. They are horribly self-conscious.

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    While most people will accept a “bad hair day” or clothing that may not be wonderfully flattering, those with social anxiety put huge emphasis on physical appearance, convinced that they are being regularly judged by how they look. The best response? Give compliments on their physical appearance; tell them that their outfit looks good on them; tell them that the color they are wearing is great; praise any physical feature that you can. This bolsters self-confidence and creates a feeling of acceptance.

    5. They will have more health issues, as their immune systems are continually compromised.

    UCLA study showed that social anxiety increases inflammatory activity of those parts of the brain that trigger immune system functions. Continued activation of this system wears it down and makes the body more subject to illness and disease. Rather than criticize or accuse someone of hypochondria, understand and accept the fact that there is a real physical cause of more frequent illness.

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    6. They respond differently to stimuli that you consider normal and even pleasant.

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      Remember, research shows that people with social anxiety are on “high alert” all of the time. This means that noise, lots of conversation, and large groups of people can overload their sensory intake. They will retreat, shut down, or flee. A study conducted by Gottschalk, M.D. and Haer, Ph.D., published in General Psychiatry, demonstrates that sensory overload and social impairment are directly related, particularly in individuals who have generalized social anxiety issues. Thus, if you are “forcing” a socially anxious person to participate in such activities, you are presenting him/her with an almost “impossible” situation. Tone down the activities in which you are asking your loved one to participate, at least for now.

      7. They have a great deal of difficulty dealing with change of any kind.

      You may be excited about a career change or a transfer that will move you to a new city and new experiences. Your partner or spouse will not share that excitement if they suffer from social anxiety. Any changes can be a horrible threat to “safety,” and you must recognize it. In your excitement, you cannot dismiss the anxiety of your loved one. Find ways to acclimate your partner to the change gradually or share some information on how to organize your move to another place without any extra mess, to give small incremental experiences in the new environment, so that they are not overwhelmed.

      8. They want positive responses to their anxiety attacks, not just nebulous comments, such as, “Are you going to be okay?”

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        They don’t feel “okay,” and they do not want someone continually asking them that question. Instead, you need to recognize the immediate condition and provide reassuring and positive comments, such as, “You’ve had these attacks before, and you have gotten through them. You will get through this one too. I am here to give you whatever help you need or to just leave you alone if that is what you want.”

        9. They store previous traumatic events in a different part of their brains than other people.

        We are all subject to traumatic events in our lifetimes – the death of a loved one; being the victim of bullying or abuse; catastrophes in our childhood or adolescence; violence in wartime. People who do not suffer social anxiety from such events store those memories in the left frontal portions of their brains; people who develop social anxiety store those memories in the back regions of their brains – those regions in which sensory perceptions are housed. Thus, the sights, sounds, smells, etc. of those experiences are recalled when similar sensory experiences are encountered (Dr. Ruth Lanius, University of Western Ontario, study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, Jan., 2004). Understanding that the individual with social anxiety may be “re-living” prior traumatic experiences differently can go a long way towards understanding and developing sensitivity to their responses to current situations which stimulate those memories.

        10. They need their “space.”

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          While you are trying to get the anxious person to get motivated to participate in events and social situations, that person just needs to step back and get some perspective, allowing a gradual build-up to the participation that you may want right now. It is far better that you respond with a comment like, “It’s okay, I can go by myself. You stay here, and I’ll see you later,” rather than, “I don’t understand what is wrong with you! All I’m asking is that you go to this event with me!” Try to stop focusing on your needs and focus on theirs.

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          11. They know that their anxieties are irrational.

          You do not have to continually remind them of that fact. Instead of saying, “That’s just crazy!”, think of a response that validates what they are feeling right now. “I know what you are feeling; I know that you do not want to feel this way; how can I help?” This gives the socially anxious person trust in you and will allow them to voice their anxieties rather than keep them suppressed, which only causes additional stress.

          12. They fear a social situation that has not presented itself

          One of the cardinal symptoms of social anxiety is an irrational preoccupation with social situations that have not even occurred but may occur. If, for example, there is an invitation to a wedding and reception that is weeks away, the individual with social anxiety might obsess about the event. An inordinate amount of time may be spent thinking and re-thinking what clothing to wear, what hairstyle will be chosen, who else may be attending, where they might be seated at the reception, etc. You cannot change this thinking, but you can validate it and provide reassurances. Offering to help with selection of clothing and complimenting a particular hairstyle will assist in alleviating fears. Reassuring the individual that you will be “right next to them” throughout the event is important, and you must follow through with that promise.

          13. They will want to retreat to their “safe place” as often as possible.

          One of the things that social media has given to people with social anxiety is a method of communicating that is not face-to-face. Instead of criticizing the amount of time spent on Facebook or watching television, suggest an occasional walk or an evening out with dinner and a movie. These activities can reinforce the thinking that a social situation outside of the home can be “safe” too.

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          Elena Prokopets

          Freelance Writer

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          Last Updated on August 20, 2019

          How to Control Your Thoughts and Be the Master of Your Mind

          How to Control Your Thoughts and Be the Master of Your Mind

          Your mind is the most powerful tool you have for the creation of good in your life, but if not used correctly, can also be the most destructive force in your life.

          Your mind, more specifically, your thoughts, affect your perception and therefore, your interpretation of reality. (And here’s Why Your Perception Is Your Reality.)

          I have heard that the average person thinks around 70,000 thoughts a day. That’s a lot, especially if they are unproductive, self-abusive and just a general waste of energy.

          You can let your thoughts run amok, but why would you? It is your mind, your thoughts; isn’t it time to take your power back? Isn’t it time to take control?

          Choose to be the person who is actively, consciously thinking your thoughts. Become the master of your mind.

          When you change your thoughts, you will change your feelings as well, and you will also eliminate the triggers that set off those feelings. Both of these outcomes provide you with a greater level of peace in your mind.

          I currently have few thoughts that are not of my own choosing or a response from my reprogramming. I am the master of my mind, so now my mind is quite peaceful. Yours can be too!

          Who Is Thinking My Thoughts?

          Before you can become the master of your mind, you must recognize that you are currently at the mercy of several unwanted “squatters” living in your mind, and they are in charge of your thoughts. If you want to be the boss of them, you must know who they are and what their motivation is, and then you can take charge and evict them.

          Here are four of the “squatters” in your head that create the most unhealthy and unproductive thoughts:

          1. The Inner Critic

          This is your constant abuser who is often a conglomeration of:

          • Other people’s words; many times your parents.
          • Thoughts you have created based on your own or other peoples expectations.
          • Comparing yourself to other people, including those in the media.
          • The things you told yourself as a result of painful experiences such as betrayal and rejection. Your interpretation creates your self-doubt and self-blame, which are most likely undeserved in cases of rejection and betrayal.

          The Inner Critic is motivated by pain, low self-esteem, lack of self-acceptance and lack of self-love.

          Why else would this person abuse you? And since this person is actually you– why else would you abuse yourself? Why would you let anyone treat you this badly?

          2. The Worrier

          This person lives in the future; in the world of “what ifs.”

          The Worrier is motivated by fear which is often irrational and with no basis for it. Occasionally, this person is motivated by fear that what happened in the past will happen again.

          3. The Reactor or Trouble-Maker

          This is the one that triggers anger, frustration and pain. These triggers stem from unhealed wounds of the past. Any experience that is even closely related to a past wound will set him off.

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          This person can be set off by words or feelings, and can even be set off by sounds and smells.

          The Reactor has no real motivation and has poor impulse control and is run by past programming that no longer serves you, if it ever did.

          4. The Sleep Depriver

          This can be a combination of any number of different squatters including the inner planner, the rehasher, and the ruminator, along with the inner critic and the worrier.

          The Sleep Depriver’s motivation can be:

          • As a reaction to silence, which he fights against
          • Taking care of the business you neglected during the day
          • Self-doubt, low self-esteem, insecurity and generalized anxiety
          • As listed above for the inner critic and worrier

          How can you control these squatters?

          How to Master Your Mind

          You are the thinker and the observer of your thoughts. You must pay attention to your thoughts so you can identify “who” is running the show; this will determine which technique you will want to use.

          Begin each day with the intention of paying attention to your thoughts and catching yourself when you are thinking undesirable thoughts.

          There are two ways to control your thoughts:

          • Technique A – Interrupt and replace them
          • Technique B – Eliminate them altogether

          This second option is what is known as peace of mind!

          The technique of interrupting and replacing is a means of reprogramming your subconscious mind. Eventually, the replacement thoughts will become the “go to” thoughts in the applicable situations.

          Use Technique A with the Inner Critic and Worrier; and Technique B with the Reactor and Sleep Depriver.

          For the Inner Critic

          When you catch yourself thinking something negative about yourself (calling yourself names, disrespecting yourself, or berating yourself), interrupt it.

          You can yell (in your mind), “Stop! No!” or, “Enough! I’m in control now.” Then, whatever your negative thought was about yourself, replace it with an opposite or counter thought or an affirmation that begins with “I am.”

          For example, if your thought is, “I’m such a loser,” you can replace it with, “I am a Divine Creation of the Universal Spirit. I am a perfect spiritual being learning to master the human experience. I am a being of energy, light, and matter. I am magnificent, brilliant, and beautiful. I love and approve of myself just as I am.”

          You can also have a dialogue with yourself with the intention of discrediting the ‘voice’ that created the thought, if you know whose voice it is:

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          “Just because so-and-so said I was a loser doesn’t make it true. It was his or her opinion, not a statement of fact. Or maybe they were joking and I took it seriously because I’m insecure.”

          If you recognize that you have recurring self-critical thoughts, you can write out or pre-plan your counter thoughts or affirmation so you can be ready. This is the first squatter you should evict, forcefully, if necessary:

          • They rile up the Worrier.
          • The names you call yourself become triggers when called those names by others, so he also maintains the presence of the Reactor.
          • They are often present when you try to fall asleep so he perpetuates the Sleep Depriver.
          • They are a bully and is verbally and emotionally abusive.
          • They are the destroyer of self-esteem. They convince you that you’re not worthy. They’re a liar! In the interest of your self-worth, get them out!

          Eliminate your worst critic and you will also diminish the presence of the other three squatters.

          Replace them with your new best friends who support, encourage, and enhance your life. This is a presence you want in your mind.

          For the Worrier

          Prolonged anxiety is mentally, emotionally and physically unhealthy. It can have long-term health implications.

          Fear initiates the fight or flight response, creates worry in the mind and creates anxiety in the body.

          You should be able to recognize a “worry thought” immediately by how you feel. The physiological signs that the fight or flight response of fear has kicked in are:

          • Increased heart rate, blood pressure, or surge of adrenaline
          • Shallow breathing or breathlessness
          • Muscles tense

          Use the above stated method to interrupt any thought of worry and then replace it. But this time you will replace your thoughts of worry with thoughts of gratitude for the outcome you wish for.

          If you believe in a higher power, this is the time to engage with it. Here is an example:

          Instead of worrying about my loved ones traveling in bad weather, I say the following (I call it a prayer):

          “Thank you great spirit for watching over _______. Thank you for watching over his/her car and keeping it safe, road-worthy, and free of maintenance issues without warning. Thank you for surrounding him/her with only safe, conscientious, and alert drivers. And thank you for keeping him/her safe, conscientious, and alert.”

          Smile when you think about it or say it aloud, and phrase it in the present tense; both of these will help you feel it and possibly even start to believe it.

          If you can visualize what you are praying for, the visualization will enhance the feeling so you will increase the impact in your vibrational field.

          Now take a calming breath, slowly in through your nose, and slowly out through the mouth. Take as many as you like!

          Replacing fearful thoughts with gratitude will decrease reactionary behavior, taking the steam out of the Reactor.

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          For example:

          If your child gets lost in the mall, the typical parental reaction that follows the fearful thoughts when finding them is to yell at them.

          “I told you never to leave my sight.” This reaction just adds to the child’s fear level from being lost in the first place. Plus, it also teaches them that mom and/or dad will get mad when he or she makes a mistake, which may make them lie to you or not tell you things in the future.

          Change those fearful thoughts when they happen:

          “Thank You (your choice of Higher Power) for watching over my child and keeping him safe. Thank you for helping me find him soon.”

          Then, when you see your child after this thought process, your only reaction will be gratitude, and that seems like a better alternative for all people involved.

          For the Trouble-Maker, Reactor or Over-Reactor

          Permanently eliminating this squatter will take a bit more attention and reflection after the fact to identify and heal the causes of the triggers; but until then, you can prevent the Reactor from getting out of control by initiating conscious breathing as soon as you recognize his presence.

          The Reactor’s thoughts or feelings activate the fight or flight response just like with the Worrier. The physiological signs of his presence will be the same. With a little attention, you should be able to tell the difference between anxiety, anger, frustration, or pain:

          • Increased heart rate and blood pressure; surge of adrenaline
          • Shallow breathing or breathlessness
          • Muscles tension

          I’m sure you’ve heard the suggestion to count to ten when you get angry—well, you can make those ten seconds much more productive if you are breathing consciously during that time.

          Conscious breathing is as simple as it sounds; just be conscious of your breathing. Pay attention to the air going in and coming out.

          Breathe in through your nose:

          • Feel the air entering your nostrils.
          • Feel your lungs filling and expanding.
          • Focus on your belly rising.

          Breathe out through your nose:

          • Feel your lungs emptying.
          • Focus on your belly falling.
          • Feel the air exiting your nostrils.

          Do this for as long as you like. Leave the situation if you want. This gives the adrenaline time to normalize.

          Now you can address the situation with a calmer, more rational perspective and avoid damaging behavior.

          One of the troubles this squatter causes is that it adds to the sleep depriver’s issues. By evicting, or at least controlling the Reactor, you will decrease reactionary behavior, which will decrease the need for the rehashing and ruminating that may keep you from falling asleep.

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          Master your mind and stop the Reactor from bringing stress to you and your relationships!

          For the Sleep Depriver

          (They’re made up of the Inner Planner, the Rehasher and the Ruminator, along with the Inner Critic and the Worrier.)

          I was plagued with a very common problem: not being able to turn off my mind at bedtime. This inability prevented me from falling asleep and thus, getting a restful and restorative night’s sleep.

          Here’s how I mastered my mind and evicted the Sleep Depriver and all his cronies.

          1. I started by focusing on my breathing—paying attention to the rise and fall of my belly—but that didn’t keep the thoughts out for long. (Actually, I now start with checking my at-rest mouth position to keep me from clenching.)
          2. Then I came up with replacement strategy that eliminated uncontrolled thinking—imagining the word in while breathing in and thinking the word out when breathing out. I would (and do) elongate the word to match the length of my breath.

          When I catch myself thinking, I shift back to in, out. With this technique, I am still thinking, sort of, but the wheels are no longer spinning out of control. I am in control of my mind and I choose quiet.

          From the first time I tried this method I started to yawn after only a few cycles and am usually asleep within ten minutes.

          For really difficult nights, I add an increase of attention by holding my eyes in a looking-up position (Closed, of course!). Sometimes I try to look toward my third eye but that really hurts my eyes.

          If you have trouble falling asleep because you can’t shut off your mind, I strongly recommend you try this technique. I still use it every night. You can start sleeping better tonight!

          You can also use this technique any time you want to:

          • Fall back to sleep if you wake up too soon.
          • Shut down your thinking.
          • Calm your feelings.
          • Simply focus on the present moment. 

          The Bottom Line

          Your mind is a tool, and like any other tool, it can be used for constructive purposes or for destructive purposes.

          You can allow your mind to be occupied by unwanted, undesirable and destructive tenants, or you can choose desirable tenants like peace, gratitude, compassion, love, and joy.

          Your mind can become your best friend, your biggest supporter, and someone you can count on to be there and encourage you. The choice is yours!

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          Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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