Anxiety (Image Credit: Jenavieve Marie)

Understanding Social Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety (Image Credit: Jenavieve Marie)

Anxiety (Image Credit: Jenavieve Marie)

You know that feeling you get when you’re about to go into an interview, or give a big presentation at school or work? Your hands shake, your stomach is nervous, and your heart beats really fast. It’s uncomfortable and unpleasant, but most people manage to calm themselves down as they go through the process.

Now imagine that feeling, but amplify it. Imagine your head spinning, tears welling up in your eyes; you have a hard time breathing, and you have this uncontrollable urge to run as far from that situation as possible. All you can think as you prepare for your presentation is, “What if they don’t like it? What if they think it’s terrible? Is this really good enough? What if I embarrass myself? What if they don’t like me?”

Nobody wants to be judged or criticized, but people with Social Anxiety Disorder, or Social Phobia, cannot even stomach the idea. Simply put, Social Anxiety Disorder is the irrational fear of being judged by others or embarrassed in social situations.

But how does something like this start, and what does it mean for someone who has it? The Daily Quirk has your answers.

What is anxiety and what are phobias?

A big struggle for people with anxiety isn’t always just the symptoms they exhibit, no matter how difficult or hard to manage they may be. Many times, the hardest part is getting people who may not suffer from anxiety to understand how it makes the sufferer feel.

Anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. This emotion is normal, and many people experience it at some point, whether it’s over a job interview, their first day of school, or right before they give a presentation. The problem occurs when it begins to interfere with their daily life. It keeps them from going to class, to work, hanging out with friends or even going home to see family.

The best example is this: imagine a time you felt very, very afraid. Now imagine something you really love to do. Then, surround what you said you really love to do in that fear. That’s what it’s like to be anxious and have a phobia. It’s knowing what the right thing to do is, but not being able to do it because you are paralyzed with fear.

Phobias are very similar to anxiety, and they typically fall hand in hand. If you have a phobia, you have anxiety, but what exactly is a phobia? A phobia is a strong, irrational fear of something that poses little or no real danger. Most sufferers realize that their phobia is irrational, but to them it’s a life or death situation and flight always triumphs fight.

What are the symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD)?

As we’ve already stated, SAD is the fear of being judged or embarrassed in social situations. Other than the anxiety that comes along with that fear, what other symptoms should you be looking for?

  • You want to be around and talk to people, but the thought of doing so really freaks you out.
  • You’re extremely self conscious in front of groups of people or while out in public; you also just have this constant, unwavering feeling of embarrassment.
  • You constantly feel as if you are being judged by others around you.
  • You spend days, weeks or even months, leading up to a presentation worrying about the audience of people that will be present, and how they will react to you.
  • You tend to avoid going out in public, or putting yourself in positions where you’ll be around large groups of people.
  • Making friends and keeping them is very difficult.
  • You feel anxious or begin to panic when in groups of people.
  • You sometimes have gastrointestinal problems (feel nauseous or have upset stomach).

What situations make people with SAD feel most anxious?

It truly depends on the person. It can range from something as simple as striking up a conversation with a stranger to presenting a huge project at your job or in class. With SAD, certain people may only feel anxious when talking with strangers, but not anywhere else, while others may feel anxious in every aspect of socializing. Each case is unique to the person who is dealing with SAD, so there isn’t one concrete answer.

I have SAD and need tips on how to manage my anxiety.

SAD, other anxiety disorders and phobias are all treatable, which means there’s a very high chance you will be able to manage your anxiety. As is the nature of SAD, the treatment plans will range and vary from person to person, but most people with SAD see the most success with professional care. Each plan is tailored to the individual, but typically your counselor will try one of these options:

  • Various forms of therapy. There are many types of therapy treatments that work with anxiety and phobias, with two of the most popular being Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Exposure therapy. CBT focuses on changing how you think about your given anxiety or phobias, and then changing those behaviors. For example, if you get nervous when you speak in front of others, your therapist would probably help you identify the trigger, help you understand that trigger and then arm you with a technique that will help you better manage your anxiety. This will then help you change your behaviors and may even teach you new behaviors that are going to aid in your recovery. Exposure Therapy is pretty self-explanatory. Using the public speaking example, someone who is using exposure as their means of conquering their fear and anxiety would intentionally put themselves in a position to speak in front of large crowds. Being able to preform the action that scares you the most is the first step in learning how to manage and conquer your anxieties and fear.
  • Prescribing medications. To save you the trouble of trying to describe each and every medication offered to those with anxiety, I’ll give you a brief overview instead. There are four primary types of drugs that are used for people with anxiety or phobias: SSRIs, SNRIs, Benzodiazepines, and Tricyclic Antidepressants. What you need to know about these are basically that these drugs help block a certain neurotransmitter that causes anxiety. They are also often used for people with anxiety and phobias who are also suffering from depression. The drugs are meant to help those who have tried other forms of therapy and have not been successful in managing their symptoms.
  • Some combination of counseling and medicines. Need we say more? Many times, symptoms are so extreme that using only one option isn’t good enough. Many people with severe anxiety and phobias are often seeing a counselor regularly and taking anti-anxiety medications. Its just part of the process.
  • Self-treatment. The negative stigma to counseling does sometimes make it difficult for people to want to see a counselor. Without seeing a counselor, you more than likely won’t be able to receive medication. So now you need to manage it on your own. Try exercising when you start to feel anxious, or try a meditative activity such as yoga or even meditation. You can even try talking it out with a close friend or family member, which can help calm your nerves. Lastly, learn what triggers your anxiety and find what works for you in decreasing your anxiety. Listen to music, ride a bike, go for a walk, take some deep breaths or play video games; whatever it is, just use what works for you.

A friend or family member has SAD. How can I help?

As someone who suffers from anxiety and is conquering a phobia, I’ve seen first hand exactly how friends and family members react to anxiety. There are plenty of ways you can help, but the biggest one is recognizing that this is difficult for them.

Don’t assume they are being overdramatic to warrant attention, because they probably do feel that the situation they are in currently is life or death. You don’t have to understand it completely, but being able to realize that this is something they are truly struggling with can help with empathy.

You should be there to support them, not continue to tell them how crazy they are acting. Many times, people with phobias and anxiety will tell you they realize their actions are irrational and dramatic, but it doesn’t mean they can control it. The last thing they need to hear from their biggest form of support is that they are crazy.

Lastly, try not to be frustrated with them. At times that is going to be easier said than done, but this will be especially true for SAD sufferers. If they are fearful of people judging them, and then you get frustrated with them over their actions, it may provoke the anxiety more. You’re human, and we understand things happen, but staying strong for your loved one is the way to go.

Now you know what anxiety and phobias are, and you’ve learned what SAD is and what the symptoms are. We’ve also helped you learn ways to deal with you anxiety and how to help someone you know who has SAD or another anxiety disorder. However the biggest take away message is this: everything takes time.

Anxiety and phobias are not light switches; you can’t just turn them off. It takes time to learn to manage your anxiety and conquer your fear, so don’t get discouraged. When you find the method that works best for you, use it whenever you can. You’ll be uncomfortable while you learn to manage it, but it’ll be worth it.

I promise, it does get better; you just have to put in the effort. Know your normal, and if you have concerns about anxiety or a fear you’ve been experiencing, talk to a health care professional..

Image courtesy of Jenavieve Marie
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