Many of us Anxiety Sisters struggle with what is commonly known as Social Anxiety. But that name doesn’t accurately capture the true nature of this particular anxiety disorder. Actually, the irrational fear of being judged and scrutinized in social situations is a phobia; we believe this distinction is important, especially when it comes to treatment plans and explaining the disorder to those who don’t understand it—almost everyone can grasp the idea of an irrational, uncontrollable fear.
Those of us with phobias know that the only way out is through—we have to start doing the things that cause the anxiety (yes, it is as horrible as it sounds) in order to manage the anxiety and eventually eliminate the fear. Abs and I both have participated in Exposure Therapy to manage our fear of flying. I did it again with my fear of elevators and public transportation. The process completely sucked! But the alternative was staying in my apartment day and night (we were on the 16th floor—stairs were not an option); since I had to work outside my home, I really had no choice.
For Abs, too, there seemed like no other way. Her children lived in New York, and she lived in Florida—the only way to spend time with them was to get on a plane (which utterly terrified her). Again, the alternative eventually became unbearable, so she started exposure therapy—in other words, getting on planes. Often. In the beginning, she could only board and sit on the plane for a few minutes, but, after several months, she was flying across the country. Now, she flies twice a month and without medication!
As phobia survivors, we thought that we would give you a few tips and ideas to deal with social phobia:
1) If social phobia impairs your functioning and ability to enjoy life, please think about seeking therapy. While different people find various types of therapy helpful, many people with social phobias respond well to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). (Note that there are also different types of CBT; if possible, find someone with experience in treating social phobias.)
2) Medication is often very helpful for social phobias (particularly SSRIs/SNRIs such as Prozac, Zoloft, Effexor, etc). Some folks also use beta blockers for the physical effects of social phobia (e.g., excessive sweating or shaking during public speaking). Medication is sometimes necessary in order to do the CBT work to help deal with phobia. Both Abs and I used meds to get us through Exposure Therapy.
3) If you feel able, write down a few situations which triggers your social phobia. Pick one small thing that you would like to work on (not the hardest thing on your list). For example, one anxiety sister told me that her first step in dealing with her intense social phobia was to make connections with people at work. In order to do this, she prepared questions to ask while waiting for meetings to start (for example, what they did over the weekend, recent vacations, etc.). Her eventual goal was to find someone she could invite to lunch. But that took time. Baby steps is the key with this one.
4) Make a Spin Kit. As is true with any irrational fear, dealing with social phobia is very anxiety-provoking. This is why it is important to prepare for the anxiety by carrying a bag of soothers with you, especially when you are working on breaking through a fear. The anxiety sister I mentioned above found that keeping mantras written out on index cards, a list of conversation starters, mints, lavender wipes, Tums, and teabags in her purse really helped. Another anxiety sister explained that she takes a spin kit to parties (another major source of social phobia) and takes bathroom breaks where she can use the tools, including a cooling cloth, in her kit to regroup.
Do you suffer from social phobia? If you are comfortable doing so, please share with the community what helps you…