The long-term challenge of Social Phobia
Guest post by Mark Benson, Owner of the www.phobiasupportforum.co.uk
Mark’s phobia issues emerged in his mid-30s, which is probably a little later in life than the average phobia sufferer.
According to him, it is difficult to say how and when his phobias faded, but it was most certainly down to a mixture of breathing techniques, help from the therapist, and above all, the support of his family.
Mark created The Phobia Support Forum to provide phobia and anxiety sufferers with a supportive and education hub.
Unfortunately, many of those who suffer from social phobia are misunderstood. Comments such as shyness, lacking confidence, lazy, and other unhelpful descriptions tend to follow. In reality, these comments tend to come from individuals who do not understand social phobia and the decimation it can have on an individual’s confidence, let alone standard of living. We will now take a look at some of the various issues to consider when looking at social phobia.
Social phobia (also known as social anxiety)
The most basic way to describe social phobia is: –
“A long-term and overwhelming fear of social situations.”
To those who suffer from social phobia, this will bring home the pain of the condition and the real impact it can have on their standard of living.
Signs of social phobia
Firstly, before we look at the individual signs of social phobia, it is worth highlighting the difference between nervousness and a phobia. A phobia relates to a full-on physical and often mental reaction to a perceived but unreal threat. For many sufferers, the problem is exacerbated because they can’t put their finger on what they are concerned about, but they know they are concerned about something (sound familiar?). Some of the more common signs include: –
- Concerns about everyday interactions
Whether this is speaking on the telephone, bumping into friends and family in the supermarket, or perhaps attending group meetings at work, these will all strike fear into the heart of a social phobia sufferer.
- Overtly aware of others around them
While many of us will naturally eat in front of others and have no problem whatsoever, some people suffering from social phobia find this impossible. They will often avoid group conversations, group meetings, and everyday actions such as eating in front of others is a challenge many simply can’t face.
- Fear of making a fool of themselves
We regularly hear about those with social phobias having a constant fear of making a fool of themselves in public. This can lead to blushing, excessive sweating, and an inability to think straight. The impact on a person’s confidence can be extreme!
- Fear of being criticised
Interaction between those in a meeting is normal, where different views should be discussed and, on occasion, the opinions of individuals criticised/challenged. This type of criticism is normal, it is healthy, but for those suffering with a social phobia, it can prove impossible to cope with.
- Fear of speaking
Have you ever been in a group of people discussing a particular subject in which you have a strong interest and expertise? How many times have you walked out of such a meeting kicking yourself for not asking the question which would have shed you in a very positive light? The fear of speaking, making a fool of yourself, or being criticised can be frustrating as well as mentally/physically challenging.
- Panic attacks
Unfortunately, panic attacks are very closely related to social phobias, where anxiety levels rise to uncomfortable levels. This can lead to heart palpitations, excessive sweating, difficulty breathing, headaches, dizziness, and an ultimate feeling of being sick. Many of those suffering panic attacks will leave the area looking for their “safe zone” where they feel comfortable, and they can begin to destress.
These are just a number of common signs regarding social phobia (social anxiety), which may look relatively innocuous to many, but for those suffering, they can be horrendous.
Battling social phobia
If you look at social phobia as one issue, it is huge, and it is unlikely you will be able to solve all of your problems in one go. Indeed, if we use the analogy of a large dinner, you don’t simply shovel all of your dinner down in one go; you eat it bit by bit. So, what may have looked like a huge dinner you could never eat is suddenly broken down into various smaller portions, which you can chew, enjoy, and ultimately digest.
So, we have put together some of these simple but extremely effective tips for those battling against social phobia.
- Understanding your phobia
Many people find it useful to write down a summary of their social phobia challenges, the environment, the location, what happened, and how they managed to cope/escape. Looking back, this can highlight patterns and perhaps individual situations in which you feel more compromised and exposed. Once you understand the minute detail of your problem, you can then begin to dismantle it piece by piece.
- Relaxation techniques
The main problem for many suffering from social phobias is that once they feel that their social phobia has got control, it is very difficult to reverse. When you are conscious, your phobia is kicking in; this can lead to excessive sweating, thereby increasing your anxiety, headaches, increasing your concern, and ultimately creating a more anxious environment – a vicious circle. In these scenarios, once you feel your phobia coming-on, why not take five minutes out? If possible, just make your excuses and leave the room for a few moments while you compose yourself. Alternatively, move to a more airy cooler part of the room (maybe next to the window), which is perhaps not as busy and take some deep breaths.
Once you begin to control your breathing, you begin to take more control of the situation, which can empower you to take over your phobia. It may take time, some techniques work for some and not for others; but there are many different relaxation techniques you should look into.
- Challenging elements of your phobia
Let’s say your social phobia brings on headaches, stuttering, sweating, and perhaps you struggle to get your words out. Now, if you are fully aware of these different elements, it is worth focusing on one at a time. Slow your breathing, feel yourself relaxing, and your anxiety levels will come down. Speak more slowly, avoiding stuttering, focus on one person in the room as opposed to everybody, and “talk to them.” Slowly facing each individual element of your phobia head-on, you will break down the wall brick by brick, and then suddenly, the wall will collapse. You have regained control!
- Encourage rational thought
While there are many elements of a social phobia, one that seems to be mentioned on numerous occasions is the concern that people are talking about you. However, take a rational look at this thought and think it through. Why would people be talking about you? Why would they be interested in you? If you can’t hear them talking about you, then why assume it?
This type of rational thought allows you to regain control of your mental response to social phobia and put things in perspective. In effect, you are “rewiring your brain” to be more rational, more realistic, and not to assume the worst.
Taking physical and mental control
Those who suffer from social phobia often feel they have lost physical and mental control of their body, a feeling which is often brought on by heightened anxiety. One of the main problems can be the stress concerned with worry in the days before a meeting at work or some other occasion which has pricked your social phobia issues. Normally, if your anxiety levels were to start at “normal” on the morning of the event, then you would have a huge gap from this relatively low level to where your anxiety takes over, and you lose control. However, let’s say you had a sleepless night for the event, and you wake up with anxiety levels much more elevated than normal.
As a consequence, it would not take a lot of additional anxiety to push your levels to the danger point and thereby experience a full-blown social phobia attack. So sleep, relaxation, positive thinking, and quite literally doing something else WILL make a huge difference prior to an event. Many people believe that sleep is the root of many different phobias because without it, our naturally low anxiety levels are heightened, thereby reducing your safety buffer to the “dangerous levels.”
The majority of people will have experienced at least one of the above signs of social phobia, but those who have experienced numerous signs are probably suffering from some kind of social phobia. Relaxation is the key, regaining control is important; just taking the edge off the anxiety will have a huge impact on the symptoms/signs. If you are able to push yourself to partake in social events which you would normally have ignored, your mind and body will soon become more accustomed. Eventually, you will instil a natural reaction in your body which can, on occasion, overcome the impact of your social phobia.
It will take time, a lot of work and there will be ups and downs, of that there is no doubt, but you can learn to live with a social phobia and still enjoy a social life.
Bonus content by Alex Perez: Social Skills Worksheet
In our modern-day of technology, we can always check back in and improve our social skills. Working on our social skills can improve our ability to relate to others, decreasing our social anxieties, and spending less time in isolation. This can improve our mental health and overall well-being. The first step to work on our social skills is to reflect on our strengths and weaknesses. Use the worksheet below to consciously reflect, recognize, and improve positive social skills.
The Social Confidence System has become one of the fastest, easiest, and most effective ways to overcome social anxiety. It consists of 12 easy to follow, step-by-step modules that use scientifically proven tapping techniques to drastically decrease social anxiety.