Tips for Suicide Prevention in People with Social Anxiety
Sometimes, the hardest part of life is just living it. When you’re living with social anxiety, however, it can seem like it’s too much to bear.
Dark moments can appear when you least expect them and you never know how long they’re going to last. During the darkest, you may even consider trying to take an easier way out just to get the pain to stop.
Thoughts about suicide can be terrifying, especially when they seem so overwhelming … it may seem like you simply have no other choice. There are ways to find help. Whatever you’re facing you can dealt with.
Treating Your Anxiety
A study reviewing data from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions found that 70 percent of respondents who reported a suicide attempt at some point in their life also suffered from an anxiety disorder. Treating your social anxiety can be a major step in preventing suicide.
There are several treatments available for social anxiety. Deciding which one is right for you is up to you and your doctor or mental health professional. The important thing is that you take that first step and seek treatment, then stick with the treatment you choose. Be honest with your doctor, since it can take some time to find the best treatment for your specific case; if something doesn’t seem to be working, let him or her know so that the two of you can make adjustments to your treatment regimen.
Someone to Confide In
When having suicidal thoughts, many believe it’s best not to talk about them because it will make others worry. You may think it’s a problem you can overcome on your own or that no one would understand the thoughts you’re having. You might be surprised at how understanding others can be, however. Talking about your feelings with someone else may reduce the likelihood of suicide.
Finding a friend to confide in can be difficult, especially if you have social anxiety; it’s hard enough to open up under normal circumstances. Make a list of people you trust and narrow that list down until you find the perfect candidate. If you have trouble discussing it in person, write it down in a letter, text or email.
Let the person know how important it is to you that you can trust them and tell them exactly what’s happening. If you’ve planned to kill yourself or have the means to do so, tell them this as well. It’s hard, but doing so might just save your life.
Call for Help
If you have no one to reach out to, there are suicide prevention hotlines that you can call 24 hours a day, including the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and several state, federal and organizational hotlines.
It can be very difficult to call and talk to a stranger, but if everything else has failed, it’s a very important call to make. Nobody on any of the hotlines is going to judge you – they’ll be glad you called and will offer you all the help possible. Allow them to talk you through it and don’t be afraid to mention your social anxiety if you feel overwhelmed by the conversation.
Take it one breath at a time and trust that someone who may have been in the same position can offer you whatever help you might need. You can do this.
Social anxiety can make a lot of seemingly easy things very difficult. Talking on the phone ranks high on the list of difficult tasks, in part because of the disconnect that exists when you can only hear the other party’s voice and not see their face or read their body language.
Some individuals with social anxiety struggle with using the phone, while others are completely unable to handle it. Fortunately, being able to use the phone isn’t nearly as essential as it used to be thanks to the accessibility of the Internet.
In our connected world, texting and messaging have replaced a lot of phone usage. Social media in general has eclipsed much of our communications and this can be seen as a positive of sorts for those who suffer from social anxiety. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some potential drawbacks to the growing use of social media and messaging apps for communication, though.
A Social Lubricant
Social anxiety makes it difficult to make connections. With social media, though, it’s easy: you click a button and all of a sudden you’re following someone or you’re on your way to being Facebook friends or you’ve made some other connection. It can be a struggle to make yourself click that button if the person you want to connect with isn’t expecting your request, but it’s still usually easier than initiating a conversation or otherwise making a real-world connection.
You don’t even have to start with a friend request or a follow to use social media as a social lubricant. Social media makes it easy to comment in an ongoing conversation without the awkward struggle of physically inserting yourself into the conversation.
Most social networking sites even give you the option of deleting a comment you’ve made if you decide that you want to take it back. Through social networking, it’s possible to become “friends” with people you know and those you don’t, both locally and around the world. Some of these online friendships can even become as real and intense as the real-world relationships those with social anxiety often struggle with.
A Safe Separation
Live communication can even be easier for those with social anxiety if a computer is involved. Streaming video chat by Skype or other media puts you front and center, but there’s still a separation – the person you’re talking to, while real, is still just a moving image on a screen. This creates enough of a disconnect to make communication easier for some, especially given the control they have over it. If things become too intense, it’s usually a simple matter to shut down the conversation or at least switch the conversation from streaming video to text chat.
This separation applies to all forms of social and modern media, not just streaming chat. Facebook, Twitter and similar sites are “safe” because the people you interact with appear as little more than words on a screen. While you may know some of your online friends in real life, the separation provided by digital media can help you avoid awkwardness when voicing your opinion. Even if your opinion is unpopular, you won’t have to discuss it face-to-face with other members of the conversation.
The Downside of Modern Media
The separation provided by social media and chat apps can have a profound effect on those with social anxiety, giving them an outlet to communicate freely without worrying about the judgment of their real-world peers. It can be freeing in many cases, allowing an individual to open up and connect with others in ways that never really seemed possible before. This can become isolating, however, especially when maintained as a primary means of communication over a long period of time. As with any isolation, this can have a negative impact on the individual’s mental health.
A study published in January 2016 found a significant association between social media use and increased instances of depression. The mechanism behind this association isn’t known at this time, although further study into the link is planned. It’s entirely possible that the isolation created by social media is a factor, however, as heavy social media use tends to have a dominating effect on the life of the user.
Care must be taken when using social media and other media options to facilitate communication. You certainly don’t want to lose yourself in that online world. Feel free to explore social media and other modern mediums as an alternate means of communication – just make sure you don’t let it take over your life.
The very nature of social anxiety can make it tough to reach out and connect to others even if you desperately want or need to talk. The Internet, in all of its glory, removes some of the pain of socializing, allowing you to interact with others from the comfort and safety of your own home. If you’re eager to connect with others, joining a social anxiety community (like SAS) can help, but even if you’re on the fence about chatting with others, there are some compelling reasons to join a network of people who understand what you’re going through.
You Are Not Alone
Battling social anxiety can feel like a never-ending, solitary battle against yourself. Being part of a community of people who understand what you’re dealing with can lessen feelings of isolation and provide reassurance, which in turn can lessen feelings of depression.
Even if you aren’t depressed, you might have moments where you’re not sure if what you’re feeling is “normal”. Being able to ask a group of people going through similar experiences can provide answers. Even if you don’t actively engage in the community, you can still review what others have typed.
It Gets Better
Connecting with a social anxiety community isn’t just about what you’re actively going through. With social anxiety, it’s easy to get trapped in the mindset of wondering if it ever gets better. Being able to see and hear from others who are at a different point in their life can be inspiring.
You can also offer your insights to those just beginning to battle with their social anxiety and have a chance to be the person YOU needed when you were just starting to come to terms with your emotions. Not only is the nature of having a supportive community beneficial to social anxiety sufferers, but the feeling of knowing you’ve contributed to another person’s life in an overwhelmingly positive manner can’t be beat.
Communities Can Help Navigate the Field
If you need a new doctor, therapist or support group, a social anxiety community is one of the best places to ask for recommendations. Even if you live in a relatively isolated geographic area, large communities like SAS almost always have someone familiar with your specific metropolitan area.
While recommendations like that are golden, social anxiety communities also offer a safe place to share experiences with different medications, types of therapy and other treatment options. You’ll also be able to find near-expert advice in networks on everything from the least crowded times to visit the grocery store to the most anxiety-friendly parks and recreation spots.
Socialize at Your Own Speed
Sometimes living with social anxiety means exposing yourself to activities that cause you dread. If you’re working with your therapist on in vivo exposure or interoceptive exposure, you’ll intentionally delve into situations that bring about your social anxiety. Social anxiety communities can be a safe way to expose yourself to your fears at your own pace. You can always extract yourself by turning off your computer or phone and you can interact with others in an environment that allows you to re-read and edit what you say prior to posting it. Not only that, but it’s there for you to access when and how you want, allowing you to walk away if you need a break.
Social anxiety communities offer a judgment-free environment to work on your socialization while taking it easy. Everybody is different and everyone experiences social anxiety differently, so not everyone benefits from social anxiety communities in the same way.
Learn and Share Your Knowledge
When you’re working through social anxiety, you learn a lot about yourself and become an armchair expert on the psychology of social phobia. While it’s never a good idea to offer medical advice when you’re not accredited, you can gain a lot of insight by reading the things people have learned on their own journey and sharing the things you’ve learned along your own path.
For example, you may not have known the benefits of cognitive behavioral therapy when you started your anxiety journey, but if you’ve gone through it and found it worked for you, you’ll be able to share that with others and explain why you think it worked so well for you.
Vent and Share Your Accomplishments
If you’ve worked on your social anxiety for a while, you’re probably keenly aware that not everyone in your life understands what it’s like. When you join a social anxiety community, you’re able to share the frustrations of living with and working through social anxiety.
You also have a place to celebrate your accomplishments and victories, no matter how seemingly small. For example, your best friend might not be over the moon that you were able to make a phone call without sobbing, but a community like SAS is able to recognize the importance of that victory.
Fighting social phobia feels like a long, lonely battle. Social anxiety communities like SAS can help you realize you’re not alone and provide you with a safe, caring environment to share your knowledge, learn, rant and rave. Social anxiety communities can offer interaction and socialization at your own speed and pace, allowing you to take breaks as needed. If you’re feeling social despite your social anxiety, joining a community can help.
The symptoms of social anxiety can be severe enough to affect your entire life. The panic, fear and exhaustion are enough to make you look for any answer as long as it promises some kind of relief. When the anxiety is strong enough to prevent you from the simplest of daily tasks, medication can be an effective solution. It’s not meant to be a permanent solution, though, and many of the side effects from medication can be worse that the symptoms of anxiety.
Brain fog is one of the more common side effects, especially when starting a new anti-anxiety drug. This condition has been described as a sudden attack of mental confusion, combined with the inability to concentrate or think clearly. It’s as if there’s a haze or fog dampening your thoughts and making them less effective.
You may be tempted to stop taking the new medication if brain fog appears, but this could do more harm than good. As your doctor has probably told you, stopping medication suddenly can have adverse effects.
Instead, try cutting down on the medication with your doctor’s approval and oversight, organizing your life so you don’t have to make as many small decisions during your day or even taking some time off work until you adjust to the new level of medication.
Coping and Avoiding Side Effects
If your life is at a standstill because of the social anxiety symptoms, medication may be your only option in the short term. For long term relief, though, other options may be more effective in getting you through the anxiety and dealing with the symptoms.
If your anxiety problems are due to excessive shyness, a mounting pile of bills or an inability to stop worrying about what could happen in the future, medication may not be the solution. Your first step should always be to dissect the problem and find out what’s causing the anxiety. Make a solid plan to deal with those bills. Take tiny steps toward becoming less fearful around social situations and when meeting new people.
If your anxiety is due to obsessively thinking about one small problem or potential future problems, therapy will do more good than medication. A good counselor, therapist or psychologist can often get to the bottom of your anxiety and teach you coping and calming mechanisms to use when you start feeling anxious.
When medication makes you feel worse than the social anxiety does, you don’t have to accept the way you feel and suffer through it. There are multiple lifestyle changes and coping mechanisms you can use to help you feel less anxious and have fewer symptoms on a daily basis. The best part is that these changes can often give you better, longer-lasting relief than most medications.
Exercise is one of the most powerful anti-anxiety actions you can take. A report by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America states that taking a brisk walk or doing 10 minutes of any other form of exercise will produce endorphins, those chemicals in the brain that reduce stress and help deal with anxiety. In fact, one study showed that exercise works as well as medication in reducing anxiety for some people. It doesn’t work for everyone, but for some, it can be a great solution to the problem.
Tai chi and yoga have long been shown to calm the mind and relieve anxiety. These ancient practices tie together your emotional, spiritual and psychological aspects by connecting the mind and body in a healthy, beneficial way.
Meditation and mindfulness are time-honored ways to deal with anxiety and obsessive worrying. Mindfulness is a practice wherein you observe your surroundings, actions and feelings without any judgment, allowing you to be compassionate with yourself and discovering harmful behaviors without stressing yourself out about them. Meditation, the practice of calmly looking inward to find peace, has been practiced for thousands of years and is the cornerstone of many anti-anxiety therapies.
Living a healthier lifestyle won’t cure your anxiety on its own, but it will add to the benefits of other methods you use to help yourself feel better.
Take a look at your diet and make changes to get yourself on a healthier track. Ignore fad diets – instead, focus on healthy ingredients, cooking your own food and avoiding added sugars and fats. Don’t stress about making big changes – just create one healthy habit each week until you’re feeling better and eating well becomes natural for you. It can only add to the benefits of every other anti-anxiety technique you use.
There’s no disputing that owning a pet can reduce your anxiety in general, but those working through social anxiety are particularly benefited by having a companion animal. If your life is severely impaired by social anxiety, you might benefit from not just a pet, but from an emotional support animal (ESA). If you’re disabled by anxiety, you may see great improvements by adding a service animal to your emotional toolbox (along with therapy and medication.)
The Health Benefits of Pet Ownership
There are numerous studies surrounding the health benefits of owning and working with animals. According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pets can decrease your cholesterol levels, the level of triglycerides in your blood and lower your blood pressure. Even though these are physical benefits, social anxiety warriors know that improvements in physical health can improve your mental outlook. When you feel bad physically, your anxiety can worsen and your outlook on life can become grim.
Pet ownership has also been shown to decrease feelings of loneliness and isolation. Additionally, the CDC cites pets as providing an increase in opportunities for outdoor activity, physical activity and increased socialization, all of which can be beneficial for those working through social anxiety.
The medical journal “Science” also published a study wherein researchers found that merely staring into the eyes of a dog can boost levels of oxytocin – the body’s natural “feel good” chemical, which reduces anxiety and increases feelings of bonding and affection between humans and animals alike.
The Drawbacks of Animals for Anxiety
Here’s the thing: Animals require care. Different animals require different types of care. If your anxiety is such that you’re unable to leave the house to reach the privacy of your yard, you won’t be able to provide the type of care a dog needs. In this case, a cat or a caged pet might be a better fit for your lifestyle.
If you know you have trouble remembering things, a caged pet or a pet that lives in an aquarium or terrarium might not be a good fit for you, as these animals rely on you to remember to clean their habitat and socialize with them on a regular basis.
If you can’t provide proper and adequate care for your companion animal, you might experience guilt, doubt and a lapse in self-confidence, all of which can worsen social anxiety. Choosing the right pet for your lifestyle from the get-go can circumvent this.
You might also find that pets can have a negative effect on your mental health if you’re prone to depression as well as social anxiety. Cases in point include discovering that your new pet’s personality is incompatible with your own or finding yourself pre-emptively mourning your pet’s passing immediately after adopting it.
Companion Animals, Support Animals and Service Animals
There’s a marked difference between companion animals (pets), emotional support animals and service animals. Pets are what most people have: a dog, cat or another animal that lives with them.
Emotional support animals are like pets, but serve a specific purpose in their owner’s life. If you’re impaired but not disabled by your social anxiety, you can benefit from having an emotional support animal in your life. Emotional support animals aren’t specially trained to minimize or mitigate your social anxiety, so they aren’t afforded the same protections as service animals. However, some jurisdictions do afford emotional support animals more legal protections than pets.
Service animals are specifically trained by a professional to mitigate your social anxiety. A dog trained to alert you to a panic attack and lead you away from overwhelming situations is one example of a service dog for mental illness. Service animals are protected under the law and are allowed anywhere their owner goes – even in places where pets aren’t normally permitted.
If you decide to work with an animal to improve your social anxiety, you may have problems finding adequate housing. Even if your housing is pet-friendly, your neighbors can try to make life difficult if your animal is seen as a nuisance or distraction. Not all people are understanding or ethical in this regard.
Pets are afforded no protections under the law. Only some jurisdictions provide limited protections to emotional support animals and service animals are definitely protected under the law. Having proper documentation for the latter two types of companion animals is crucial.
As far as documentation goes, there is no one type of acceptable documentation. Any organization, service or individual who tells you otherwise is trying to sell you something. There’s no official ID or registry for ESAs or service animals.
A letter from your psychiatric health care professional or other health care professional stating your need is acceptable documentation for ESAs, but it still won’t get you around “no pet” laws – and rightfully so, as ESAs are not service animals.
Legally speaking, you aren’t required to produce documentation for your support dog, even if asked. The only time documentation might come into question is during travel or in a court of law. Any business or entity that demands proof is in direct violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Even so, if you must provide proof that your animal is a service animal, it’s necessary to prove that you’re disabled by social anxiety and your dog is trained (and not just naturally inclined) to mitigate the symptoms of your anxiety. To prove disability, medical records or an SSDI determination letter are acceptable. To prove training of your service animal, you’ll need logs from the trainer or a service dog certification from an accredited program, as well as independent evaluation by a qualified trainer. Even then, you could be required to demonstrate the dog’s training and abilities before a court of law, in the event of any litigation.
When you work with an emotional support animal, you have the same rights as a pet owner. Your emotional support animal is not allowed in shops, businesses or public places unless it’s stated emphatically and publicly that the establishment is pet-friendly.
If you have a service dog, however, you are allowed to have your service dog accompany you everywhere. Under law, a business owner is permitted to ask only two questions of you: Is your dog a service dog and what is he or she trained to do?
While a business owner or manager is not allowed to inquire as to the nature of your disability, some people find the second question invasive. Your service dog’s trainer or medical professional can help you formulate – and practice delivering, if necessary – an answer that does not reveal the nature of your disability but still satisfies the requirement for an answer to the question.
Are Pets Beneficial for Social Anxiety?
Pets, emotional support animals, service animals and companion animals are, beyond a shadow of a doubt, beneficial to those working with social anxiety. The physical and emotional benefits of pet ownership can lead to a healthier, fuller life and can help provide means and motivation to work through social anxiety.
More serious cases of social anxiety may allow you to use a service animal, which is a legitimate aid in treating your anxiety just like therapy or medication, providing you with legal protections for a trained, recognized service dog.