Do you know that feeling you get when you are about to go for an interview, or to give a big presentation at school or at work? Your hands are shaking, your stomach is nervous, and your heart is beating very fast. It’s uncomfortable and unpleasant, but most people manage to calm down throughout the process.
Now imagine that feeling, but amplify it. Imagine your head spinning, tears come to your eyes; you have trouble breathing and you have this uncontrollable urge to run as far as possible from this situation. All you can think of as you prepare for your presentation is, “What if they don’t like this? What if they thought it was terrible? Is it really enough? What if I embarrass myself? What if they don’t like me?
No one wants to be judged or criticized, but people with social anxiety disorder or social phobia can’t even stand the idea. Simply put, social anxiety disorder is the irrational fear of being judged by others or of being embarrassed in social situations.
But how does something like this start, and what does it mean to someone who has it? Daily weirdness to your answers.
What is anxiety and what are phobias?
A big struggle for people with anxiety is not always just the symptoms they have, no matter how difficult or difficult they may be to manage. Often the hardest part is getting people who don’t have anxiety to understand how they feel.
Anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, usually about an impending event or something the outcome of which is uncertain. This emotion is normal and many people experience it at some point, whether it’s during a job interview, on their first day of school, or just before giving a presentation. The problem arises when it begins to interfere with their daily life. This prevents them from going to class, to work, going out with friends, or even going home to see their family.
The best example is this: imagine a time when you got very, very scared. Now imagine something that you really enjoy doing. Then circle what you said you really like to do in that fear. This is what it is to be anxious and have a phobia. It is knowing what is the right thing to do, but not being able to do it because you are paralyzed with fear.
Phobias are very similar to anxiety, and they usually go 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 presents little or no real danger. Most sufferers realize that their phobia is irrational, but for them it is a life and death situation and flight always triumphs over combat.
What are the symptoms of social anxiety disorder (SAD)?
As we have said before, SAD is the fear of being judged or embarrassed in social situations. Apart from the anxiety that accompanies this fear, what other symptoms should you look for?
- You want to be there and talk to people, but the thought of doing it really freaks you out.
- You are extremely embarrassed in front of groups of people or in public; you also just have that constant, unwavering feeling of embarrassment.
- You constantly feel like 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 who 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 are surrounded by large groups of people.
- Making and keeping friends is very difficult.
- You feel anxious or start to panic when you are in a group.
- You sometimes have gastrointestinal problems (feeling sick or having an upset stomach).
What situations make people with SAD the most anxious?
It really depends on the person. It can range from something as simple as starting a conversation with a stranger to presenting a huge project at work or in the classroom. With SAD, some people may feel anxious only when speaking with strangers, but not elsewhere, while others may feel anxious in all aspects of socialization. Each case is unique to the person dealing with CAS, so there is no concrete answer.
I have SAD and need advice on how to manage my anxiety.
SAD, other anxiety disorders, and phobias are all treatable, which means there’s a good chance you can manage your anxiety. As is the nature of SAD, treatment plans will vary from person to person, but most people with SAD are most successful with professional care. Each plan is tailored to the individual, but your advisor will usually try one of these options:
- Different forms of therapy. There are many types of therapeutic treatments that work with anxiety and phobias, two of the most popular being cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy. CBT focuses on changing how you perceive your anxiety or phobias, and then changing those behaviors. For example, if you get nervous when speaking in front of other people, your therapist will likely 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. It will then help you change your behaviors and may even teach you new behaviors that will help you recover. Exposure therapy is pretty self-explanatory. Using the example of public speaking, someone who uses exposure as a way to overcome their fear and anxiety would intentionally put themselves in the position of speaking in front of large crowds. Being able to do the action that scares you the most is the first step in learning to deal with and overcome your anxieties and fear.
- Prescription of medication. To save you the trouble of trying to describe each of the medications available to people with anxiety, I’ll give you a quick overview instead. There are four main types of medications used for people with anxiety or phobias: SSRIs, SNRIs, benzodiazepines, and tricyclic antidepressants. What you need to know about this is basically that these drugs help block a certain neurotransmitter that causes anxiety. They are also often used for anxious and phobic people who also suffer from depression. The drugs are intended to help those who have tried other forms of therapy and have failed to manage their symptoms.
- Some combination of counseling and medication. Need we say more? Often the symptoms are so extreme that using just one option is not enough. Many people with severe anxiety and phobias regularly see a counselor and take medication for anxiety. It’s just part of the process.
- Self-treatment. The negative stigma of counseling sometimes makes it difficult for people to want to see a counselor. Without seeing a counselor, you probably will not be able to receive medication. So now you have to handle it yourself. Try to exercise when you start to feel anxious, or try a meditative activity like yoga or even meditation. You can even try talking about it with a close friend or family member, which can help calm your nerves. Finally, find out what triggers your anxiety and find what works for you to reduce your anxiety. Listen to music, ride a bike, go for a walk, take a deep breath or play video games; anyway, just use whatever works for you.
A friend or family member has SAD. How can I help?
As someone who suffers from anxiety and overcomes a phobia, I have seen first-hand how friends and family members respond to anxiety. There are many ways to help, but the most important is to recognize that it is difficult for them.
Don’t assume they’re too dramatic to deserve attention, as they likely think the situation they’re in right now is life or death. You don’t need to fully understand it, but being able to realize that this is something that they really struggle with can help empathy.
You should be there to support them, not keep telling them how crazy they are. Often times, people with phobias and anxiety will tell you that they realize their actions are irrational and dramatic, but that doesn’t mean they can control them. The last thing they need to hear from their biggest form of support is that they’re crazy.
Finally, try not to be frustrated with them. Sometimes this will be easier said than done, but it will be especially true for people with SAD. If they are afraid that people will judge them, and you feel frustrated with their actions, it can cause more anxiety. You are human and we understand that things happen, but staying strong for your loved one is the way to go.
You now know what anxiety and phobias are, and you have learned what SAD is and what its symptoms are. We’ve also helped you learn ways to manage your anxiety and help someone you know who has SAD or another anxiety disorder. However, the biggest take home message is: everything takes time.
Anxiety and phobias are not light switches; you can’t just turn them off. It takes time to learn to deal with your anxiety and overcome your fear, so don’t be discouraged. When you find the method that works best for you, use it whenever you can. You will be uncomfortable as you learn how to deal with it, but it will be worth it.
I promise, it’s getting better; you just have to make the effort. Know your normal state and if you have any concerns about the anxiety or fear you have been experiencing, speak to a healthcare professional..
Image courtesy of Jenavieve Marie
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