Joining a Social Anxiety Community Can Help

Joining a Social Anxiety Community Can Help

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.

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Coping When Side Effects Are Worse Than Social Anxiety

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.

Lifestyle Changes

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.

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Owning a Pet Can Help Reduce Social Anxiety

Owning a Pet Can Help Reduce Social Anxiety

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.

Proper Documentation

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.

Your Rights

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.

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5 Ideas for Derailing Social Anxiety in Everyday Situations

5 Ideas for Derailing Social Anxiety in Everyday Situations

Social anxiety affects you in a lot of ways, and sometimes can hit you without warning. You may be aware of all of your common triggers and still find yourself having trouble in situations that don’t contain any of them. These situations are the worst, since they can lead to you heaping on self-doubt that just makes things that much worse.

It’s bad enough dealing with social anxiety brought on by major triggers, but when it blindsides you in everyday situations it can seem that much worse.

That doesn’t mean that your social anxiety has to win, though. While it isn’t always easy to keep your anxiety under control, here are a few things you can try to shut it down before it can shut you down.

Breathe

You’re probably well versed in deep breathing by now, as it’s a pretty common suggestion when trying to get social anxiety under control. There’s a reason for this, though: It works pretty well. Yes, it’s not going to work all of the time, but a lot of the time you’ll be able to center yourself and calm down through deep focused breathing.

Breathe from your abdomen, inhale through your nose, hold the breath and then exhale slowly through your mouth. Focus on the process, and the control that you have over it. If you can, step away from others while you do so… that will keep you from missing out on some bit of conversation or some other awkward social situation that would just make your anxiety worse.

Shift your focus

Social anxiety is great at making you focus on yourself, your flaws and how your anxiety is affecting you and your body. This focus is part of what drives your anxiety, and why it feels like it’s just getting worse and worse. If you can shift your focus to something else, it robs your anxiety of its power and it can’t tear you down. Find one specific thing to focus on, giving it all of your attention for the moment.

Examine its colors, any fine details that you can see, its texture (if you’re able to touch it) and anything else that you are able to notice about it. If your object is set apart from the crowd or is truly unique in its surroundings, all the better.

Listen

This might seem odd at first, since social anxiety can make everything around you so loud… how are you supposed to listen when everything around you is turning into an ocean of noise? That’s actually the trick, though. Find one sound, preferably one that’s pleasant, and focus on it exclusively.

It may be hard at first as you’ll be straining to hear it through the din, but as you keep focusing on that one sound it will become clearer. As it does, you’ll start to phase out all of the other noise. Just like focusing on one object around you, stopping to listen to a single sound will pull you out of your anxiety and shift all of your focus to what you’re hearing. If necessary, you can close your eyes (provided that it’s safe to do so) to block out more input as you listen.

If you have trouble finding something to listen to, don’t be afraid to bring along some earbuds for your smartphone and provide your own sounds to drown out the world.

Change the experience

Social anxiety tells you that you’re responding to stimuli in a negative way, and it all goes downhill from there. It seems obvious, since all of the physical symptoms of social anxiety are pretty negative. Those symptoms aren’t exclusive to your anxiety, however.

Take the time to analyze what you’re feeling, identifying the specific reactions you’re having and telling yourself that they’re part of a more positive experience.

Excitement is a common one, since it can result in most of the same physical symptoms as anxiety. It might seem weird to be telling yourself that you’re excited at work or at the grocery store, but if you can spin it then your body will believe it; you may just be picking up some groceries, but you’re getting really excited about the dessert you’re going to make for after dinner. Change the experience and your anxiety won’t get the better of you.

Feel the call of nature

Sometimes, it seems like nothing you try is helping. Fortunately, in most situations you can still find an escape route. Excuse yourself, saying that you need to visit the bathroom. Sure, it’s not necessarily the cleanest destination, but you’re not likely to find anyone in there who wants to strike up a conversation or confront you in any way.

Find a small bathroom with a locking door, or an empty stall if there are only larger bathrooms available, and separate yourself from the world for a minute. Once you’re alone, retry some of your other techniques to break your anxiety cycle.

Don’t start feeling like you’re running away from your problems, either, since no one’s going to fault you for going to the bathroom.

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Tips for Handling Job Interview Anxiety

Tips for Handling Job Interview Anxiety

Congratulations! You have a job interview for an interesting position! Now … if only you can get through the interview. Many people find the interview phase one of the most challenging parts of looking for a job. If you have social anxiety, the feeling of discomfort is magnified. There are several steps you can take to make this high-stress situation less intimidating, however.

Remind yourself that while you may be more anxious about your job interview than some people, virtually nobody walks into an interview without some level of jitters. Believe it or not, even some human resources professionals and many managers dread interviewing candidates because it makes them nervous!

Get Enough Rest

Being sleep deprived seldom enhances any situation, especially one in which you’re trying to present your best side to a prospective employer. Being well rested will go a long way toward helping you to stay calm.

Think Positive

When you “catch yourself” thinking negative thoughts about the interview, replace them with something positive. Remind yourself that you have been interviewed before, that it has gone well and it will be fine this time. Most people are nervous about being interviewed for jobs and the person you will be meeting knows that. You won’t be expected to do all the talking during the meeting. It’s all right if there are some periods of silence when you need to think about an answer.

Do Some Rehearsing

If the idea of being stuck on an answer is really bothering you, try to think back to previous job interviews or look online for a list of possible questions you may be asked regarding this particular position. Review them carefully and write out your own answers. Go over them until they become natural, not mechanical, responses.

Have a friend or family member role-play a mock job interview with you that includes all possibilities from greeting you at the door to wrapping up the interview. Your friend can ask you random questions from the list or toss in a few unexpected ones.

Afterward, ask your friend to let you how well you did – whether you appeared self-assured and confident or if you need some more practice. Your friend should also rate you on whether you sat up straight in your chair or whether you slumped down to avoid taking up space, if you made eye contact with the interviewer, spoke clearly and if your answers were clearly understandable.

Ease Off on the Caffeine

On the day of the interview, limit those morning coffees or stick to decaf. You may also want to forego chocolate, sugar and energy drinks as well. Being nervous about an interview is normal – attending one with the caffeine jitters will only heighten your anxiety level.

Practice Deep Breathing Techniques

Deep breathing can be done anytime, anywhere, even if you start to feel stressed in the waiting room before your job interview.
Start by sitting in a comfortable position with your back straight and your shoulders relaxed. While learning this technique, place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach (only until you’ve mastered it).

1. Inhale slowly through your nose while silently counting to four; the hand on your stomach should rise and the hand on your chest should not move very much.

2. Hold your breath for a silent count of two.

3. Exhale slowly through your mouth to the count of six, pushing out as much air as you can without blowing it out forcefully. The hand on your stomach should move in as you let your breath go, but the hand on your chest should not move very much.

4. Continue to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, keeping a slow, steady rate of the four-in, hold for two and six-out pattern until you feel calmer.

Plan Some Post-Interview Fun

Don’t make the interview the highlight of the day. While it’s important to your career and you naturally want to present yourself well, it’s likely not your first or last interview. Just about everyone has a story to tell about how they aced or bombed an interview, so put it behind you, hope for the best and plan to treat yourself to something you enjoy afterward.

Whatever you decide to do, you’ll have something to look forward to after you’ve finished with the interview. You may even be celebrating that it went better than you expected!

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