Meditation is Not One Size Fits All

Contrary to what pop icons would have you believe, there’s no single right way to meditate. As long as you end up calm, restored, able to focus and at ease in your mind at the end of a session, you’ve successfully meditated. While mindfulness meditation – the act of training your mind to be present in the moment – is the current darling of supplemental health circles, it’s not the end-all, be-all of meditation practices that those battling social anxiety can benefit from.

The Problem with Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness meditation has a host of benefits. Those who practice it and find it beneficial find themselves better able to focus on the present and able to lessen or silence the doubts and worry that come with anxiety. By being aware of your body and mind in relation to the current moment, you might find yourself calmer and able to focus and implement other coping mechanisms to deal with social anxiety flareup.

Unfortunately, not everyone sees a benefit from mindfulness. Its use can be problematic if your social anxiety brings a friend to the party like Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD). Comorbid conditions that cause you to panic at being present in the moment because of hypervigilance – or even clinical paranoia – can make mindfulness meditation more harmful than helpful.

Visualization Is the Opposite of Mindfulness

Where mindfulness is the art of focusing your mind on your present circumstances, visualization – including guided meditation – is allowing your mind to wander elsewhere to instill a sense of calm. Mind-wandering, while the exact polar opposite of mindfulness, can be used to create a similar effect as mindfulness through different methods. By focusing on your wants, goals, dreams, desires or even creating a pleasant scenario – as is done in guided meditation – you’re dissociating from whatever circumstances are causing anxiety and refocusing on something that allows you to maintain your cool.

While some people are able to visualize without the aid of a guided session, those unable to do so can tune into any number of free or paid videos, audio recordings and podcasts aimed at helping create a guided meditation for calm.

Other Methods of Meditation for Social Anxiety

Meditation doesn’t always look like sitting in one spot. Those coping with anxiety may find they function best when there’s something to focus their physical attention on – be it a fidget toy, a set of beads or even walking or performing another simple, repetitive task while meditating. By occupying the energy created by anxiety with a physical task, it can be easier for some to quiet their minds and find calm. Walking meditation, meditation beads or even everyday tasks that fit the bill can aid in meditation.

Still other forms of meditation – including but not limited to religious practices from around the world, self-inquiry meditations, self-affirmation meditations and the practice of observing your thoughts without judging them – can benefit social anxiety warriors who are seeking to use this complementary therapy to calm themselves in addition to other coping mechanisms.

Moving Beyond Mindfulness Meditation

If mindfulness meditation works for you, it can still be helpful to explore other types of meditation to add to your toolbox of social anxiety skills. It’s not always practical or possible to practice one type of meditation – and finding other methods that work for you can aid when you least expect it. If mindfulness meditation doesn’t work for you at all – or makes things worse, as can be the case with certain comorbid psychological conditions – then exploring the offerings of meditation styles from around the world can help you learn new skills.

What type of meditation do you find works best for you? What resources would you recommend others explore when learning about your favorite type of meditation?

Ways to Ward Off Seasonal Mood Changes

Ways to Ward Off Seasonal Mood Changes

While you might believe that you suffer alone when in the midst of a bout of seasonal blues, know this: Over 15 million people have Social Anxiety Disorder and over 25 million more have other anxiety problems on top of that. In total, anxiety affects over 40 million people in the United States. Therefore, it shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that depression and anxiety could affect anybody’s enjoyment of the holiday season.

Preventing holiday mood swings keeps them from wrecking your halls and plowing through each holiday celebrant’s dream of dashing through the snow to a picture-perfect, Norman Rockwell Christmas with friends and family.

That cliché of the entire extended family gathered around the table, smiling in comfort and joy plays a major role in your feelings. The pressure you feel to smile and pretend to be elated while socializing with your overly-political uncle or that gossipy second cousin may be exactly what triggered your Grinchy mood in the first place. As a result, the pressure to appear joyous brings us to our first tip for keeping your moods singing instead of swinging:

1. Give Your Time to Positive People Only

No one owes toxic people a single millisecond of time. No matter what anyone says, you have no obligation to spend a minute longer than it takes to greet the other guests at the event. No explanation needed: simply hand over any gifts you brought with you and excuse yourself to attend another event. Toxic people delight themselves when they have succeeded in robbing your already overtaxed energy and they rarely change their behavior from one gathering to the next. Almost as if they have cemented their worst self to their forehead, toxic people live to witness that moment when other people blow a gasket, sully their respected status and flush their self-confidence down the commode.

Feel no guilt about walking away from them as soon it becomes necessary. If that freedom to depart in peace does not ease your anxiety and lighten your mood, feel no shame in following our next tip.

2. Cultivate Healthy Outcomes

Cultivate healthy outcomes for yourself. Get some rest and relaxation. Sleep if and when able to find a quiet, comfortable, private space. Eat appropriate amounts of food at each meal. Avoid overeating all the delightful holiday fare… but refrain from berating yourself about your intake.

For example, if you have no desire to indulge in any helpings of Aunt Sarah’s famous double-chocolate, absolution-needed-from-the-first-bite cheesecake slices that she has iced to resemble snow angels, ask her for the recipe instead. While she’s writing it down, exclaim over the intense flavor, rich filling and crunchy base. Claim that you can’t wait to bake a cheesecake or two yourself.

Let her wrap an entire cheesecake in red cellophane with green ribbon curls and swear on the family dog that you’ll eat it the moment you reach home. Aunt Sarah doesn’t ever need to discover that you stopped at the Lyman Home for Seniors on the way home to share the love and give away her culinary largesse.

Finally, if holiday mood swings exhaust you, strangle you in the ribbons of depression or block you from gathering with people whose company you normally enjoy, try these additional recommendations from the Mayo Clinic:

3. Light Therapy

Seasonal mood changes result, in part, from the shorter daylight hours in the fall and winter. Cold weather drives everyone indoors, and even when outside, winter clothing prevents what little sunlight you might encounter from reaching your body. Replace some of that missing sunlight with light therapy. Replace a few bulbs in your home with grow lights and spend at least fifteen minutes at a time basking in their glow.

4. Talk About It, Talk About It, Talk About It

If that advice sounds like the chorus of a disco-era song, you called it correctly. Talk to yourself, trusted friends and your family doctor rather than suffering in silence or blowing up in a family or community event. Identify the source of any negative feelings and heightened self-criticism, along with the belief that others have judged you and found you lacking. Talk through those feelings with a professional to help you create strategies to deflect and disrupt those negative thoughts before they paralyze you.

Last of all, if these tips haven’t helped you reduce your holiday mood swings, consult your family physician. You may need to restore your body’s chemical balance through medication. Your doctor can advise you on available therapies or provide you with a referral to a psychiatrist.

Although many people still try to stigmatize those who use medication, providing yourself with something your body does not produce in correct amounts should be up to you, your doctor and no one else.

What tips have you found helpful in your efforts to remain balanced through the holidays?

Parenting with Social Anxiety

The idea of being in a crowded room with people you don’t particularly know is quite possibly the next closest thing to hell when you’re fighting social anxiety. Unfortunately, that scenario is all too common when you’re a parent.

From pediatricians’ offices to play dates, school functions to concerts and sporting events, being a parent with social anxiety can involve putting yourself through a lot of discomfort. The key to successful parenting while living with social anxiety is to find ways to cope and reframe your symptoms as strengths, rather than weaknesses.

Be Honest with Your Kids

Kids are a lot more perceptive than most adults give them credit for. Chances are your kids already know you have social anxiety, even if they don’t have the label to put to it. By letting your kids know what’s going on when you panic or have to deal with your symptoms – in an age appropriate manner – they’re less likely to worry something is seriously wrong and can develop a strong sense of empathy that others in their peer group may be lacking.

As an example, most children understand the concept of time-outs starting at pre-school age. If you find yourself on the verge of a panic attack with your child in tow, you can explain that you need to put yourself in time-out so that you can calm down. Older children can help you perform breathing exercises – like counting while you take deep breaths – or even help you scope out a quiet spot to relax and regroup.

Not only will being honest with your kids teach them it’s okay to take charge of their own mental health and ask for help when needed, but the coping skills they learn by watching you will serve them well in their own life or in aiding their friends and peers.

Look for Strengths, Not Weaknesses

It’s easy to think of your social anxiety as a weakness rather than an asset, but when it comes to parenting, you need to use those traits as skills to help you as a parent. You’ll be able to provide your child – and others around them that you may be in charge of temporarily – with experiences that are unique and underrated.

Perhaps you’re required to volunteer in your child’s classroom. Rather than mingling with parents and other students, see if your time could be spent organizing the teacher’s supplies or backlog of work — things that need to be done that require little interaction with others and are often neglected.

If you’re in charge of chaperoning a class trip, take your child’s group to the less crowded areas to avoid wait times and let them see things the others will probably miss out on. Don’t feel like supervising your child at a crowded park? Take them on a nature hike instead and get in some quality time with just the two of you.

Don’t Hold Back in Therapy

Parenting with social anxiety presents its own special set of challenges. If you’re working with a therapist or counselor, be brutally honest about your struggles as a parent. They’re there to help you figure out how to cope and work through it.

More than any other time in your life, you cannot be afraid to ask for help if you find yourself struggling – if not for yourself, then for your child. Most parents have problems, but you’ve got a dedicated professional who can help you navigate the normal ins and outs of parenthood, as well as the challenges posed by parenting with SA. Use that resource and any others they may be able to hook you up with.

What’s your best piece of advice for other parents living with social anxiety?

How to Sever Ties with Your Care Provider

Try as you might, sometimes it just doesn’t work out with your care providers. Working with a professional to help manage social anxiety – or a team of professionals, including but not limited to a therapist, psychologist, case manager, and pharmacist – should be an empowering, pleasant experience.

Unfortunately, not all care providers are created equally and sometimes you’ll need to sever ties to seek out options that better suit your needs. Instead of panicking over the thought of confrontation, handle your breakup professionally and with grace.

Speak Firmly and Courteously

Even if your care provider is horrendous, speaking calmly, levelly, civilly and professionally to them and their staff can circumvent any issues. By maintaining your calm, you’re likely to get better results and leave things on civil terms should you need to re-contact them for any reason (like obtaining your records). If you don’t feel as though you can do this in person or over the phone, send a letter to the provider’s practice stating your intent to discontinue your professional relationship and a request for records to be sent to you or to your new care provider.

Take it as an Opportunity

Instead of looking at breaking up with your care provider as a negative experience, look at it as a chance to put into practice the coping skills you’ve learned in your social anxiety journey. You’re recognizing that you’re in a disadvantageous relationship, you have a plan to remedy it and you’re advocating for yourself. Be kind to yourself and congratulate yourself — there was probably a point in the near past where you wouldn’t be able to do that. And progress is always a cause for celebration.

Ask Your New Care Provider for Assistance

If you truly cannot stomach the thought of gracefully severing ties with your care provider, ask your new provider for assistance. The staff at your new provider’s office is likely more than happy to help you request your old records, and your new professional can help you think of the words to say to make the transition easier and calmer – and help you explore why you feel so nervous taking on this task and support you as you do so.

Remember your Care Providers Work for You

It can help to remember that your care providers work for you. You’re paying them for their guidance and services and if it isn’t working out, then you have every right to “fire” them from your team. Handling the severing of ties like the end of a business relationship can help you approach the situation with calm and grace – nobody wants to be fired by an upset boss, so give your care providers the same treatment you would wish to receive when leaving a job. By looking at the end of your professional relationships this way, you may feel empowered and better able to handle the situation.

Leaving Your Care Provider Gracefully

Sometimes it just doesn’t work out with a certain care provider — and that’s okay. But it’s better to at least attempt to let them know rather than ghosting from the practice. Calmly and civilly explaining that you’re seeking out other options can help ease the fear of confrontation and empower you by proving you can advocate for yourself – a victory along the road to living with social anxiety disorder.

Have you ever broken up with a care provider? How did you handle it?

Insomnia and You

Social anxiety is difficult in the best of situations. If you’re excessively tired because you have trouble falling asleep at night, this certainly isn’t the best of situations. Recurrent insomnia makes the symptoms of social anxiety worse, making decisions harder and increasing the feeling that others are upset with you because you have trouble keeping up. Unfortunately, insomnia is very common in those with several types of anxiety disorders, including social anxiety.

Getting the Rest You Need Can Make Social Anxiety More Manageable

Fortunately, it’s possible to overcome insomnia even when you have social anxiety. There are pharmaceutical, behavioral and other options available to help you get the sleep you need. They’re fairly effective, too; a 2012 study published in Psychiatric Times found that both pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical treatments for insomnia in those with anxiety disorders were effective in nearly two out of every three cases. Here are a few things that may help you catch some Z’s even when your anxiety is determined to keep you awake.

A Matter of Routine

A bedtime routine makes it easier to fall asleep and may also help with your social anxiety. As much as possible, get into the habit of eating around the same time every night and spend the few hours before bed performing the same general activities. Avoid alcohol and caffeine within a few hours of bedtime, partake in relaxing activities such as reading and avoid the TV and other screens for at least an hour before bed. Go through the same hygiene routine before bed every night and try to hit the pillow around the same time. As your body gets used to the routine, falling asleep quickly becomes much more likely.

Calming Exercises

If your mind doesn’t like to calm down at night, try incorporating calming exercises into your nighttime routine. Guided imagery, meditation and making journal entries can all get things off your mind before you hit the sack. If that doesn’t work, try a few mental exercises such as trying to think of fruits and vegetables that start with specific letters. This can break your previous train of thought, letting relaxation (and sleep) come.

CBT-I Therapy

If insomnia is a major problem, consider getting a referral to a sleep specialist for cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I). CBT-I is generally administered over the course of several weeks for a few hours per session and helps you break current bad habits and train your body and mind to get better sleep. If the thought of therapy worries you, self-help books and online resources teaching CBT-I techniques are available as well.

Over-the-Counter Solutions

Not everyone who has problems with insomnia suffers from it every night. If you only have occasional bouts of sleeplessness, an over-the-counter option such as melatonin supplements or non-prescription sleep aids may help. Just be careful to use the sleep aids as directed and consult your doctor if they don’t help or if you find yourself taking these sleep aids regularly. If you regularly need to rely on supplements or medication to get to sleep, you need to consult your doctor.

Prescription Medications

No one wants to take more pills, but sometimes a prescription medication is necessary to break the cycle of insomnia. There are a number of drug options available and your doctor will likely start with a low dosage to avoid giving you more than you absolutely need. If you’re worried about taking medication, just give it a chance; you might be surprised how much of a difference that little nudge can make when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep.

When was the last time that you had a really good night’s sleep?