Most of us suffer from some level of social anxiety. Perhaps you are completely comfortable among friends but are wildly anxious when entering a roomful of strangers. This is quite normal. As social creatures, we can find certain interactive situations very anxiety-inducing, and will likely seek to avoid them from time to time.
However, when our anxiety begins to prevent us from engaging in everyday activities, starts interfering with work, or prevents us from participating in social gatherings altogether, it is vital that we take a closer look at the underlying issues.
What is Social Anxiety?
The DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition), describes Social Anxiety Disorder as follows:
- An intense fear or anxiety about one or more social situations in which the individual is exposed to possible scrutiny by others.
- When the individual fears that he or she will exhibit anxiety symptoms that will be humiliating to them.
- Triggering social situations are often avoided or endured with intense fear or anxiety.
- The fear or anxiety is largely blown out of proportion compared to the actual threat posed by the particular social situation.
- The fear, anxiety, or avoidance is ongoing, typically lasting for six months or longer.
- The fear, anxiety, or avoidance causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other crucial areas of daily life.
- The fear, anxiety, or avoidance is not a result of the physiological effects of a substance (e.g., a drug of abuse, a medication) or another medication.
- The fear, anxiety or avoidance is not better explained by the symptoms of another mental disorder.
Coping With Social Anxiety
When our mind and body comes under threat, our adrenal system kicks in. This causes a “fight or flight reaction.” The same goes for when we begin to feel anxious.
As anxiety begins to set in, a common reaction is to try and flee the situation in order to achieve relief from the scary symptoms. But it is much more effective to simply acknowledge how you are feeling at that moment and carefully work through the accompanying feelings.
Through Christian counseling, you can learn how the anxiety is manifesting in your body and seek to deal with it through methods such as deep breathing and self-calming techniques.
It is also good to ask the question “what is triggering this?” as you seek to slow down your bodily reaction and work your way through the feelings. Even if you have no idea why you are feeling this way, the fact that you are comfortable with asking the question indicates that you are on the road to recovery!
Understanding Triggers and Causes
Due to our individuality and complex neurological makeup, it can be difficult to figure out the exact causes and triggers that may set off a period of anxiety. Many of those who suffer from panic attacks have emotional triggers rooted in past traumatic experience.
Working with a good therapist will help you understand and uncover the central triggers for your anxiety. When you see the triggers for what they are, you will be more empowered to develop effective strategies to cope with them when they arise.
Understanding Our Anxiety Levels
It is a good idea to keep track of your anxiety levels at any given time, for example, by using a scale of 1-10. If you feel as if you are between 7 and 10 for a period of two weeks or more, it is important to set up an appointment with your doctor or therapist. There are many techniques that they will encourage you to engage in when anxiety strikes.
You may discover great benefit in particular breathing exercises or may find your anxiety decreases when you focus your mind on a particular activity. It could be a leisure activity that you enjoy or something simple like holding a stress ball at work.
If we can control our focus, the chaos in our minds begins to settle. The questions that are firing around our heads What will they think of me? Will I say something stupid? What if they think I’m a failure and a fraud?) must be recognized for what they are – lies.
Learning How to Manage Social Anxiety
The causes of social anxiety are often multifaceted and highly complex. Therefore, it is important to take a look at a common example to explore the root triggers and to discuss management techniques.
Example: A man in his 20s walks into a restaurant for a meal out with friends. The group orders and the waiter delivers his food. Suddenly, the man feels dizzy, disconnected and nauseous. He begins to sweat, and his heart starts racing. He feels he has to escape the situation immediately to help relieve his symptoms. He makes an excuse and leaves abruptly.
From this point forward, he finds himself unable to eat out with family or friends. He is petrified that the same thing will happen again and he will be publicly humiliated in front of people he knows and loves.
Now, despite common similarities in symptoms, everyone’s anxiety is unique to them. With regards to this particular scenario, one person may have a generic fear of embarrassing themselves in front of friends family, while others may have an innate fear of eating in front of people.
They may have had a bad experience when they were a child – perhaps their parent was adamant that they finish their dinner, even if they were full. The memories of such events may rear their ugly head when the person is in a situation in which it is implicitly expected that they will eat alongside other people; people who the person deems to be watching them very closely.
These sorts of deep-rooted issues must be worked through with a therapist. Indeed, when triggers can be identified and understood, the psychological effects can be treated effectively and true freedom can be found. The many lies that surround the anxious person’s interpretation of the situation must be unearthed and destroyed. Only then will the person be able to journey a path of true recovery and freedom.
At Santa Monica Christian Counseling, that is exactly what we want to do. We want to help you discover freedom from anxiety that will see your life enriched, and are committed to assisting you on your way to realizing the wonderful plan that God has for your life.
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