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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 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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