7 Symptoms of Social Anxiety

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Social anxiety can leave a person feeling intensely fearful and awkward in, and around, social situations. Day to day life can be massively impacted and influence our interactions with others to the point where our relationships and even our work lives suffer. The anxiety often doesn’t end when the socialising ends either, we may find that we ruminate over things we’ve said or not said,or things we did or didn’t do. There’s a sensitivity to the thought of being judged, appearing rude or aloof, and of never really fitting in. We might find that we avoid social situations as much as possible which can lead to us feeling lonely and isolated. When we can’t avoid the social situation, we might find that we constantly go over and over what we might do or say in response to certain situations and conversations. Needless to say, it can be extremely exhausting.

1. Self-Consciousness

Excessive self-consciousness can take hold, particularly when we are in social situations. It can feel impossible to keep eye contact with the people we’re speaking to. We might find ourselves hiding behind our hair or behind the bill of a hat. Our speech can become quiet because we don’t want to draw attention to ourselves, or we might talk rapidly because we feel so nervous.

2. Intense Worry

Upcoming social events can cause havoc with the social anxiety we experience, causing us to feel intense worry. This could range from worrying hours before an event to days, weeks, or even months. We could be worrying about what to wear, who might be there, or what they might say and how we should respond, whether we will look or say something inappropriate or if we’ll fit in. Often we will worry about how we can get out of it or how we’ll be able to escape if we need to. It can be a never-ending conveyor belt of thoughts and “what if” questions.

3. Avoidance

Anxiety about social situations can bring about an urge to avoid them, which leads to what is called “experiential narrowing” as we lessen the activities and people in our life to only those that we feel comfortable with. It can mean that we miss out on events that we really want to go to. We might not see our friends or family as often as we’d like to. The thought of social situations can make us feel so unwell that going to them feels impossible.

4. Physical Discomfort

There are loads of physical symptoms that we could experience if we’re living with social anxiety. These could include things like feeling nauseous, sweating, increased heart rate, blushing, shaking, feeling dizzy, feeling faint, and diarrhea. These symptoms can feel embarrassing, and this embarrassment can increase our anxiety and make them even worse. It can be a vicious cycle.

5. Negative Thought Patterns

Social anxiety can cause us to have extremely negative thoughts about ourselves. Even if we receive 10 positive comments, and one mediocre comment, we will take the mediocre comment as a negative and run with it. We often have very low self-confidence and don’t think much of ourselves. We can feel like a burden and think that people don’t really want us around and are just ‘putting up with us’. Conversations we’ve had can play on our mind for weeks on end as we wonder if we got it ‘right’, or if we said/did something ‘stupid.’ These negative thoughts can overwhelm any positives we might feel about ourselves. The more we think them, the lower our confidence sinks, the lower our confidence sinks, the more negative thoughts we have. Another cycle takes place.

6. Safety Behaviors

We will often try to manage the symptoms of social anxiety by modifying our behavior. This could include things like making sure we always have someone with us or knowing how we’ll get home. Choosing to spend less time in larger groups and preferring smaller gatherings. While many of these behaviors can seem harmless and constructive, they still manage to leave us at the mercy of our anxiety. While others, like relying on alcohol to manage symptoms, can lead to (you guessed it) another cycle occurring in which alcohol becomes the predominant mode of relief leading to the need to increase the amount of alcohol over time used.

7. Difficulty Functioning When Others are Watching

Many of us find that we struggle to do things if there is someone watching us. This could include things like making a phone call, eating food, or standing at the copier at work. It could be based on walking into a room full of people on our own, putting our hand up to ask a question at an event, or trying to avoid a sneeze because we don’t want everyone to look our way.

Social anxiety is so much more than ‘shyness’ and it’s typically where fear of social situations is long-lasting and disruptive. It’s a fairly common condition that can start to affect us in our early years and is treatable with the right help and support.

If you, or someone you know, are struggling with social anxiety, consider contacting me at (717) 288-5064 / gregghammond@restoringbalancelancaster.com and schedule an appointment today.

How ‘Why’ You Do Something is More Important Than ‘What’ You Do

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In sessions on a regular basis, clients often are contemplating important decisions in their lives, such as whether to remain in a relationship with a significant other or with a friend, change jobs, continue therapy, or make any change to the routine of life. We sometimes go into problem-solving mode and consider practical factors, like the pros and cons of their different options, but I have found that focusing with clients less on the ‘what’ and more on the ‘why’ is where meaning can be brought to life circumstances and can allow for greater growth in understanding the reasons for hesitating when we have opportunity to move in a value-oriented direction. Often, neither of the options being considered are ‘good,’ ‘bad,’ ‘right,’ or ‘wrong,’ but the motives behind them can be telling of how healthy or value-directed the decisions to be made are for them.

A couple examples may be helpful to show what I mean (one individually and one relationship based)

1. Imagine yourself with a decision to cancel plans to go spend time with friends or cancel and remain home. Like I was saying earlier, there isn’t anything right or wrong about the choices, but the reasons (the ‘why’) is important. Think about it this way:

a. You might be cancelling because you have had a busy week and you find ‘alone-time’ something that restores your energy, especially when you spend it engaging in hobbies or other activities that you enjoy.

b. On the other hand, you might be deciding to cancel because social situations are unpredictable (“who’s going to be there?,”what if there are new people there?”) and make you nervous and you’d rather not put yourself through that experience. Anxiety often triggers the urge to avoid (‘experiential avoidance’). Afterall, we grow to equate discomfort with survival and our aim is to avoid death, right? Unfortunately, avoiding something that makes us nervous can give us short-term relief, but it also reinforces the avoidance. How? Well, we avoid and feel better, so it is more likely that we will do it the next time. Our minds make sense of the pattern as basically, “I had to avoid that, otherwise it would have been a disaster (or awful, unbearable, etc).

In this example, the same behavior can be performed (one for self-care purposes and one in avoidance of an experience)

2. Imagine that you find yourself doing more than what you believe is your fair share in a relationship (inequity often causes instability). Over time, you find yourself feeling hurt or resentful. You may be tempted to withhold the effort you’re putting in for a while. Again, there is no clear ‘good’ or ‘bad’ choice, but I would suggest that you take a moment and ask yourself why; what would be your goal in reducing your effort? In this case the decision is not whether to decrease effort as much as it is about how it is going to be done (assertively or passive aggressively). Let’s take a closer look.:

a. You might be motivated to make things more equitable in order to avoid feeling resentful toward your partner in the future and you want to discuss it with your partner assertively to let them know how their help can be beneficial to you and the relationship. Partners are more satisfied in relationships when they feel they are equitable.

b. On the other hand, you might be doing it as a ‘test’ in hopes that they’ll notice your decision to do less, interpret your annoyance, and adjust their behavior (expressing more appreciation or doing their equal share). This can be risky...your partner may not recognize the message you are trying to send (assumptions are likely to be wrong) and/or they may not appreciate being tested in this way. The passive aggressive approach is done to avoid potential conflict (experiential avoidance).

The same choice of behavior can aim to prevent resentment in one case, or to test the relationship in another case.

The practice of taking a pause and asking ourselves ‘why’ may help you to get in touch with your underlying motivations (value-oriented or avoidance of an uncomfortable experience), so that you can make more informed decisions. This brings you closer to purposeful, intentional, and thoughtful responding (as opposed to reacting).

If you would like assistance in tuning into the underlying motives for your decision-making, I would encourage you to work with a professional to help you navigate this process.

If you are in the Lancaster, PA area, please contact me at (717) 288-5064 / gregghammond@restoringbalancelancaster.com and schedule an appointment today.