Many of us experience social situations that cause us anxiety. For some, meeting new people is a challenge. For others, just walking into a room full of strangers is uncomfortable. Because we like to avoid discomfort, most of us try to develop workarounds that allow us to be out in the world and forming new relationships.
When the anxiety begins to keep us from activities, interfere with work, or prevent us from participating in social gatherings, it may be time to look more closely at our social phobia, understand it and get help.
Social Anxiety Disorder
For the purposes of this discussion, it is good to have a sense for what an actual diagnosis of social anxiety disorder looks like, so we can better assess our own symptoms and determine whether or not we should seek the assistance of a mental health counselor. The DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition), describes Social Anxiety Disorder as follows:
Marked fear or anxiety about one or more social situations in which the individual is exposed to possible scrutiny by others. Examples include social interactions (e.g. – having a conversation, meeting unfamiliar people), being observed (e.g. – eating or drinking), and performing in front of other (e.g. – giving a ...
You may have heard someone at work or a social function say, “I feel like I’m having an anxiety attack.” Usually if you can say that, you aren’t actually having an anxiety attack.
You may be on the verge of an anxiety attack, but an actual anxiety attack is usually quite debilitating. The symptoms may come on suddenly, like a panic attack, or more gradually, but are no less distressing when severe, and may include:
racing or pounding heart
feeling faint, weak, or dizzy
difficulty taking a deep breath, or rapid breathing
feeling sweaty or having chills
a sense of impending doom or terror
Some victims of anxiety attacks say it feels like they are having a heart attack. When experiencing these kinds of symptoms, a trip to the emergency room is a wise precaution, just to make sure something more serious is not happening.
Physical Processes of Anxiety
The human body is equipped with a remarkable defense mechanism—the sympathetic nervous system—that kicks on in moments of crisis. When we are under threat, we may have a split second to decide whether to defend (fight) or flee (flight). At that moment, the entire body prepares to go into action.
Anxiety is an emotion we all experience. We can all point to a time when we got butterflies in our stomach before giving an important presentation or going on a promising first date. We can all remember worrying about bills that are due, getting our Christmas shopping list done, or completing that task list that seems to have gotten a mile long.
In a way, it is good that we have some levels of anxiety – without any anxiety we would feel perfectly content and complacent, never getting anything done! Anxiety is the way we have adapted to take care of sick loved ones or our own well-being.
Did you see the movie Inside Out? In that movie, the mind of a little girl was “controlled” by her emotions: anger, fear, joy, sadness, and disgust. Throughout the course of the movie, we see different emotions taking over her “control panel,” causing her to act out in different ways. Then at the end of the movie, a much more complex control panel is brought in and replaces the old one as she hits puberty.
While a cute demonstration, in some ways this is exactly how our minds work. Our thoughts and actions tend to filter through a sea of emotions, working in balance with each other. However, trouble arises when one emotion tends to override the rest and take complete c...
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. – Matthew 11:28
These words of Christ reach out and beckon our anxious souls toward a mysterious and perfect peace. And yet, for many people suffering from crippling anxiety, the “rest” promised in this passage feels just out of reach.
Anxiety disorders are the most common form of mental illness in America today. Multiple studies have shown that ever since the 1930s (the era known as the Great Depression), people in America have reported feeling increasingly anxious. Levels of anxiety today are higher than they have ever been in our nation. Perhaps you are currently experiencing the devastating effects of anxiety in your own life or in the life of a loved one. If so, read on.
Symptoms of an Anxiety Disorder
Counselors look for several symptoms in order to identify an anxiety disorder.
Ask yourself whether you or someone close to you is experiencing the following:
You may find it strange to hear that anxiety is a surprisingly complex emotion with many possible causes and manifestations. If you’ve lived with anxiety for a long time and never asked yourself about it, it may seem like just the way you are, a simple state of being.
Anxiety is not our normal state, however. It has causes and symptoms that can be addressed, and can be reduced and managed over time. We don’t have to just accept it.
Like pain, anxiety is intended to be a beneficial, healthy part of our normal function. You have probably heard of the "fight or flight" response. This is our sympathetic nervous system telling us what to do in a crisis.
Imagine walking into a dark room in your basement. Out of the corner of your eye you catch a glimpse of an animal shape on a shelf at eye level, the perfect spot from which to pounce on unsuspecting prey. You hastily flip on the light and are greeted by the sight of your beloved stuffed teddy bear.
In that moment between the glimpse and flipping on the light, your body went into high alert, adrenaline and cortisol (stress hormone) pumping, readying your body to either run for it, or grapple with the beast to the death.
When the absence of a threat was revealed, the first thing you did was take a de...
Trying to find the right counselor that fits your needs can feel overwhelming –especially if you’ve never been to counseling before. The following tips are meant to help the process of finding the right counselor for you feel a little bit easier.
First, you’re going to want to identify your goals for counseling. Why are you seeking counseling at this time? How are you hoping to see your life changed through counseling? The answers to these questions will help you to find the right counselor whose specialties or focus areas fit your needs and concerns.
Next, you’ll want to consider your counselor preferences. You are the consumer, so you get to have preferences about the type of counselor you see. You might prefer to see a counselor of a particular gender, ethnicity, race, faith background, etc. Keep in mind that the more comfortable you feel with your counselor, generally the more honest you’re going to be in counseling. Your openness and authenticity is important to the counseling process.
It’s also important to take a look at your budge...
Do you remember what emotions you felt on the first day of middle school? How about something a little more recent, like your first day of work at a new job? Maybe by now the scary thoughts and fear you had then are no longer part of your memory because they were fairly normal responses to what was happening that day, but can you imagine what it would be like if those feelings were a part of you all the time, even when they do not make sense?
What if you were a young child trying to go to school every day or to a friend’s birthday party on the weekend, but fear made it difficult for you go?
Perhaps you are the parent of a child struggling with anxiety and you're wondering exactly what is happening inside of their mind and body when they think about a social setting. It can be hard for everyone when a child in the family is experiencing anxiety symptoms, but even harder when their school teacher or their best friend doesn’t understand what is going on and they are not supportive of their emotional needs.
Teachers often do not know what is happening with the child and they can underestimate the effects of anxiety on the student and their peers. Teachers can mistake anxiety for many other things and sometimes do not have the knowledge yet on how to recognize anxiety in ...