es, I will be there. I know it’s almost Christmas, and we have to come together for a reunion. True, I’ve missed the reunion for 2 years now. Don’t worry, I’ll show up…” Anita explains to her childhood friend, trying to be enthusiastic, but deep down she can feel her pounding heart about to explode out of her chest.
This scenario paints a perfect picture of a person with social anxiety disorder, or perhaps, an individual going through a phase in life because, for whatever reason, we’ve all found ourselves nervous in social gatherings at some point in life.
What is social anxiety disorder?
According to Healthline, “Social anxiety disorder, sometimes referred to as social phobia, is a type of anxiety disorder that causes extreme fear in social settings. People with this disorder have trouble talking to people, meeting new people, and attending social gatherings. They fear being judged or scrutinized by others. They may understand their fears are irrational or unreasonable but feel powerless to overcome them.”
When there’s a consistent fear of being judged or ridiculed by others that it cripples a person from interacting with others, then that’s a huge sign that needs to be checked. If you’re constantly avoiding eating in public, so people don’t judge how you chew, or would rather not ask questions in class even when it’s expedient that you do so, it’s time to stop writing it off as “it’s one of those things, I’m not a people person”.
Causes of social anxiety disorder
The main cause of this mental disorder isn’t known yet, as experiences, symptoms, and manifestations vary per person. However, there have been strong links between social anxiety and being bullied as a child or teenager. This theory seems agreeable, as many of us can relate to the intense bullying that occurs at that age range.
Studies have also shown that children raised in overprotective homes might end up with social anxiety disorder. While this isn’t always the case, a significant percentage of case studies have been proven to align with this theory.
Other causes of social anxiety disorder might be, but are not limited to;
• Abuse of any form can draw a victim into their shell, thereby avoiding social interactions with people.
• Financial instability: Attending gatherings with family, friends, and acquaintances might get awkward, especially when a person doesn’t feel they have it together. “What happens when they ask about my job? I have no clothes and I don’t want anyone looking at me strangely. Maybe when I get a good job and/or own a car, I’ll stand tall among my peers…”
• Physical disabilities: A person living with disabilities is likely to create a safe haven away from the piercing eyes of the crowd. Honestly, who wants to keep attending events when all people do is stare (not out of admiration) and act funny around them? No one.
How does the holiday season worsen this?
While the holiday season sprinkles the stardust of adventure in the air and rolls out events, there are people who can’t wait for it to be over. Living with social anxiety is hard enough at any time in the year, but in a season where everyone is eager to organize parties, ready to catch up with family and friends—this can be particularly a hard nut to crack.
If Andrew could count how many times he rolled his eyes at his colleagues and their endless party invites, the HR who is stoked about the office’s end of the year party and his family members blowing up his phone and threatening him to come home for Christmas, his eyeballs might sink into its sockets.
These tips might make managing social anxiety disorder better this season…
#1. Avoid certain foods
There’s a saying that goes, “You are what you eat” and there’s truth in it. Certain foods like coffee, energy drinks, soda, chocolate, smoothies with high glycemic indexes, and lots of processed meat are linked to anxiety. Yes, Kathy, that cup of coffee you take every morning might be the reason you get anxious often.
#2. Know thyself
Being aware of the triggers that heighten anxiety in you, and making conscious efforts to either avoid it or take steps towards confronting the root cause (depending on what stage you’re in), can help keep things under control. Also, actively reprogramming your mindset towards social interactions might shine a light on a new and healthier perspective.
#3. Breathe in, breathe out
Indulging in relaxing activities like breathing exercises, meditating, listening to soothing music, etc. before a major social event can go a long way in balancing your inner calm. It’s also a great time to try activities that help boost the mood and relieve stress.
#4. Limit alcohol
When social anxiety disorder goes unattended, it might become more complicated. Depression, alcohol/substance dependence, and suicide are a few mental health conditions that often pair with it, as the disorder can be debilitating. There’s always a tendency to find solace in things, and sometimes alcohol seems to be that “Bestie in a bottle”, but it’s only a matter of time before the alcohol starts beckoning other mental illnesses to join the party.
#5. Therapy and medication
When handling social anxiety disorder, psychologists have different approaches, from exposure therapy (my favorite) to cognitive behavioral therapy, which is oftentimes combined with medication. Consult a professional, and they will work you through the process, find the best methods that resonate with you, and serve as capable guides through your recovery journey.
Featured Image: Dorrell Tibbs | Unsplash
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