Social anxiety tells us two lies – The first is that the worst-case scenario is bound to happen: We will be rejected; people will point and laugh; we’ll be humiliated. The second is that we can’t deal with that worst-case scenario. –Ellen Hendriksen
People with Social Anxiety Disorder or SAD experience intense and disproportionate amount of worry, shame, guilt, and panic in everyday situations. Being hyper-aware of everything around, they are perpetually overstimulated and overwhelmed.
Social anxiety is not as simple as the fear of meeting other people nor does it arise only during social situations. It is a constant fear of being judged by people, offending them, saying something stupid, being humiliated – the possibilities are endless and running through the mind all at a time. It is not limited to an in-person situation. If you have social anxiety, you are likely to feel like a train wreck even while on a chat or on a call.
But, even with all these complications, it does not mean that people with SAD cannot live happy and productive lives or even work in public domains. This is something that needs to be understood by people affected, their loved ones, professionals helping them, and society as a whole. Only with this understanding can we build an inclusive and empowering environment that supports people with social anxiety disorders and helps them overcome the limitations imposed by the condition.
Keeping this priority in mind, here are the five FAQs that you must know if you or a loved one is suffering from Social Anxiety Disorder –
- Is Social Anxiety similar to shyness or introversion?
This is a major misconception and an important distinction that we all need to internalise. It is not a passing fear like butterflies in the stomach that we feel while making a presentation or taking someone out on a date.
Social anxiety and in fact any type of anxiety feels like that moment where your chair almost tips or you miss a step going down the stairs but it never stops – it is constant, continuous, and crippling. Unlike shyness or introversion, social anxiety is often accompanied by physical symptoms such as blushing, profuse sweating, trembling, nausea, panic attacks, dizziness, overheating, chills, increased heartbeat, chest pain, rapid breathing, headaches, constant muscle tension etc.
2. What not to say to someone with Social Anxiety Disorder?
When someone you love has social anxiety, the instinctive reaction is to reassure them and to find solutions for them. In spite of all good intentions, such a rushed approach often adds on to the anxiety as the person will feel even more pressured to respond to your ‘positiveness’ and not disappoint you. So, the next time when a friend, colleague, or your partner wants to talk about their anxiety, refrain from saying the following –
- You just need to think positive – They can’t, that is kind of like the whole point. Someone with SAD has problematic thought patterns that they can not control or manage without significant outside intervention.
- You just need to face your fears – They do, every minute, even when they are not in the presence of their stimuli. This constant oppressive exposure to their fears is what makes it so hard.
- I get anxious too – You probably haven’t, at least not at the debilitating intensity. Mild feelings of fear, anxiety, and nervousness are part of most people’s lives. But unless you have had SAD, you are more likely creating a false equivalency.
- It’s all in your head – Technically yes but it is not something that they can control or change through just willpower or by resistance.
Mouthing such platitudes often feels dismissive, hurtful, insensitive to the sufferers. So, it will be a good idea to stick to being a compassionate listener and empathetic presence rather than giving unsolicited advice if you have little understanding of what the struggle is like. Instead, gently recommend them the resources – both online (support communities) and offline(support groups, therapists) that are qualified to help them.
3. How can Online communities help in managing Social Anxiety?
Online support communities like the Stress and anxiety support community on CareSpace provide a much needed Safe space for social interactions for managing SAD. It’s also a powerful tool for seeking and finding help.
Privacy concerns and fear of judgement rank high when it comes to the bottlenecks for seeking help to overcome Social Anxiety Disorder. CareSpace takes a strong step towards overcoming this by enabling anonymous posting/commenting, greater control over information sharing (no need of sharing social media handle, phone number, or photograph), and creation of private communities.
Whatever queries the patient or their family/friends have, they can raise it on discussion boards, share a quick poll, or get it answered by the experts in Q and A sessions. CareSpace also provides deep search tools that help SAD sufferers to find fellow patients from their city or with a similar condition and connect with them personally through private messaging. The members also share coping techniques whether at home, at work, or in social situations that help them create a sense of normalcy.
The expert panel of the community consisting of doctors, psychologists, therapists etc creates a viable option for seeking help both online and offline. Additionally, fellow members can also recommend local support groups and healthcare professionals to each other – so, being part of such a community does have real-life positive outcomes.
CareSpace also provides holistic solutions – it has several communities that address the physical, emotional, and psychological conditions that result from SAD. From depression and addictions to alternative medicine you can find all the solutions in one place.
4. What are the other health issues associated with SAD?
Apart from the physical and psychological symptoms like panic attacks, dizziness etc. social anxiety disorder can result in long term mental health conditions like depression, alcoholism, eating disorders, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, schizophrenia and so on. Anxiety disorder has also been linked to physical illnesses like thyroid disease, respiratory disease, arthritis, heart disease, asthma, and migraine headaches.
Conditions accompanying Social Anxiety Disorder are treated with a combination of medication (anti-anxiety drugs, antidepressants, beta blockers) and Psychotherapy(Cognitive-behavioral therapy, Psychodynamic psychotherapy).
People with SAD who seek help for depression or addictions often fail to seek help for their social anxiety. So the core issue remains untreated and leaves them vulnerable to relapses.
For the professionals treating SAD and allied symptoms, it is important to understand the complex interactions between the symptoms. And then decide on comprehensive medication and therapy that addresses these symptoms effectively. On part of the person with SAD and their caregivers, it is vital that you share complete information regarding the condition so that the best course of treatment can be devised asap.
5. What are the treatment options for Social Anxiety Disorder?
Before moving on to the treatment options, here are a couple of things that you must know –
- Social anxiety cannot be prevented – A single, direct cause of social phobias has not been identified, so as of now, there is no realistic way to prevent these disorders from occurring.
- Social anxiety cannot be cured – Not really, but it can be managed and you can still have a fulfilling life while living with the condition. In fact, Abraham Lincoln, Barbra Streisand, Whoopi Goldberg, and Adele have successfully done it.
The treatment options focus majorly on managing the physical and emotional effects of anxiety. And equally on building up coping mechanisms and routines that ensure that anxiety does not interfere with everyday activity. Here are the four major components of SAD treatment –
- Educational intervention – This involves helping the person with SAD understand the condition, the stimuli, and reaction. This also involves dispelling the myths and helping them break away from negative feelings/thoughts often associated with the condition.
- Cognitive restructuring – This helps the person with SAD develop alternate thought patterns to replace the anxiety-inducing ones and trains them to employ the thoughts in anxiety-inducing situations.
- Practising anxiety management – Here, the professional will identify the situations and safety behaviours relating to SAD. Then they will work on developing a set of healthy coping mechanisms and a hierarchy of situations that the person with SAD can take on gradually.
- Developing skills for social situations – Whether it is a presentation, a date, or a family get together, the person with SAD is taught techniques to accept, rather than fight, anxious feelings along with relaxation strategies.
Knowledge is power – this statement definitely rings true for mental illnesses. Being aware of the condition and it’s treatment options is a crucial first step whether you are trying to overcome a particular condition or want to support a loved one through recovery. Understanding what a Social Anxiety Disorder feels like and how people struggle every day is also the first step to creating greater empathy and societal acceptance.
So, whether you are seeking support to manage your Social anxiety disorder, or want to support a loved one, or just want to become more involved in the cause, check in with the members of Stress and Anxiety support community of CareSpace today.