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Does Social Anxiety Hold You Back?
Dave Turo-Shields, ACSW, LCSW
In the “Anxiety Disorders” section of the manual entitled “Diagnostic Criteria from DSM IV,” which is used for the diagnosis of mental health conditions, there are 12 anxiety diagnoses covered.
The fifth, and what may appear to be a soft diagnosis, is Social Phobia (Social Anxiety Disorder). In contrast to “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,” “Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder” and “Panic Disorder” this diagnosis may seem to be lighter than the rest.
Please don’t be fooled by names or the sound of names or even the fact that many of the others have achieved more press time. Social phobia is a very real threat to the quality of life for many individuals.
What is Social Anxiety Disorder? Glad you asked. Following is a list of life areas impacted by social anxiety:
- Meeting new people
- Answering the door
- Interacting with merchant clerks at banks, grocery stores etc.
- Setting appointments with doctor’s offices etc.
- Attending church
- Buying or returning items at retail outlets
- Sick days where your anxiety has made you sick
- Driving (fear other drivers looking at or thinking of you)
- Paying at the gas station
- Eating in front of other people
- Signing your name in front of others
- Attending or hosting social events
- Talking in a small or large group
- Expressing your opinion
- Performance situations, such as playing on an athletic team, singing in a choir etc.
- May or may not have panic attacks
- Fear of what others are thinking of you
- Fear of being embarrassed or humiliated
Next is a general physical symptom list of the physical signs of social anxiety:
- Heart palpitations
- Muscle tension
- Dry mouth
These are a few of the symptoms of social anxiety as experienced in life areas and physically. Many folks have social anxiety but do not realize that this is what they struggle with. Oftentimes thinking about or engaging in any of the activities listed above will induce anxiety.
The real danger with this disorder is that it can subtly grow into a monster. Left unattended, social anxiety can reshape the life that you should be living into one that is centered around avoidance of anxiety. Some of you are aware that you have anxiety and fight with it constantly. Many others are not aware of anxiety as the culprit, even though it’s impacting all these life areas. That’s powerful!
Ongoing social anxiety can result in developing a pattern of avoidance, whereby you begin putting off many of life’s activities. Too often, you have only the best of excuses, but if you suffer from social anxiety, it’s really anxiety driving your life’s bus.
There are many keys in the overcoming of anxiety. At the top is bolstering your self-confidence. Ironically enough, the more withdrawn you become while feeling anxious and avoiding activities, the stronger the social anxiety becomes.
A few key areas to target in overcoming social anxiety:
- Participate in activities which increase esteem and a sense of personal safety
- Establish an area of expertise or mastery and allowing those abilities to be present in anxiety situations
- Learn relaxation strategies that become serenity-hygiene habits
- Challenge irrational thought patterns that support the anxiety
- Keep an anxiety scale journal to chart goals and progress
- Seek a caring individual to hold you accountable to your goals
- Know that peace and anxiety cannot exist at the same time. Any ritual which brings peace into your life is a great tool to use to eliminate anxiety.
- Practice knowing that you are loved and have a right to live a joy-filled life!
This is your life! If you find yourself angry over being anxious, that’s good — but only if you direct your anger at anxiety and allow it to become an energizer in your efforts to reclaim your life.
Dave Turo-Shields, ACSW, LCSW is an author, university faculty member, success coach and veteran psychotherapist whose passion is guiding others to their own success in life.