Social anxiety disorder is more than just shyness…

Social anxiety disorder is more than just shyness or nervousness.  Many people get nervous or self-conscious on occasions, yet Social anxiety disorder involves intense fear of certain social situations—especially situations that are unfamiliar or in which you feel you’ll be judged by others; and where are afraid that you won’t measure up or that you will be exposed as inferior.  The thought of such situations may cause you to get anxious just thinking about them and you may go to great lengths to avoid them, disrupting your life in the process.

Social anxiety is a bigger problem than you might expect.  It is estimated that up to 13% of American adults will have social anxiety that reaches clinical proportions in their lifetime…. In the UK Social Anxiety Disorder is estimated to affect between 10% and 15% of subjects in the community at some time in their lives.  It is more prevalent in women.

Research has shown that social phobias often start in adolescence and are centred around a fear of scrutiny by other people in comparatively small groups, often peer groups, and  leads to the avoidance of social situations. Sometimes, there may be specific problems such as eating in public, public speaking, or encounters with the opposite sex; or, they can involve almost all social situations outside the family circle. A fear of vomiting in public is not uncommon.

Here’s a quick test – the Mini Spin test:    Score yourself: 0 = not at all, 1 = a little bit, 2 = somewhat, 3 = very much, 4 = extremely – a score 6 or more suggests a social anxiety problem:

  1. Fear of embarrassment causes me to avoid doing things or speaking to people.
  2. I avoid activities in which I am the centre of attention.
  3. Being embarrassed or looking stupid are among my worst fears.

In the UK, NICE suggest that social anxiety can be treated by cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or by drugs. Physical symptoms may include: nausea and stomach complaints; sweating ;trembling and muscle tension; difficulty talking to others; immense fear of talking in public; avoiding public spaces and social situations; difficulties making friends and avoiding meeting new people; fear of being judged or watched by strangers; cancelling plans at last minute; and panic attacks

To be clear social anxiety is not the same as being introverted.  While introverts may seek to avoid attracting attention to themselves or may wish to avoid appearing precautious and prefer to have time to consider and reflect on things… this is very different actually fearing some up-and-coming social situation… often weeks in advance.

Now, there may   be some situations which are dominated by people making a show of their intelligence or their experience and this can be intimidating and cause significant anxiety about saying or doing the wrong things… or being exposed as in experienced or stupid.    Indeed the British class system can often intimidate those who feel they don’t fit in to a group… and so may say or doing something that make then look foolish

People with social anxiety are often low on self-esteem – or have a low feeling of self–worth.

So what can be done if you experience social anxiety? Well there are coping strategies – to strike up a conversation, or to find people to talk to; or to ensure you have the option to quit an uncomfortable situation.  You can say to people you meet that you find the gathering daunting (…this is empowering). One drink can make you feel more relaxed – but more can make yopu do things you might regret and just increase your “hangxiety”! Yet these tricks don’t address the core problem.

Better to acknowledge the dynamics that make may you feel uncomfortable.  Imagine being in a situation where everyone else is so eloquent and seems to knowledgeable – almost competing to demonstrate how much they know or how successful they are.  Perhaps you think they may make snide remarks about those who that feel are not “on their level”.  Extroverts may have big egos – or they may be trying hard to project their status or expertise to overcome their own self-doubt or lack of self-confidence – so when someone behaves in this way spend time reflecting on which of these motives might be causing them do so.

Yet there is no shame in not knowing about something.   So, ask how people got started – ask for advice on where you should start; say that things seem so intimidating yet you want to learn.  If someone is rise then simply say – I am trying to find out more… it is not very generous to make fun of others.

Now, there are lots of websites with tips to help you to comp in social situations  – here are some tips listed in the Huffington Post to help you keep calm in a social situation.

Yet rather then just “cope”… it seems to me, that becoming more aware of the issues that may cause you to feel anxious may be a better way to go – there is a very helpful self-help guide here .

And finally, I come back to the issue of low self–esteem .  It may not be to everyone’s’ taste but I have noted that work of psychologist Marisa Peer seems very relevant here. She suggests that we are often influenced and affected by incidents and actions from the past … yet these are no longer relevant.   Here is an interesting piece from the “livingfaithoverfear” blogg by Kara (“Elementary Teacher, Writer, and Spirit Junkie”).  It is a good introduction to power of the “I am enough” mantra.

40% of young adults exhibit perfectionist tendencies – it’s not good!

I have been thinking about perfectionism.

Some of my friends won’t start a project or a piece of work because they believe it won’t “be perfect” – so they have a kind of “perfection paralysis”.  Yet “perfectionism” runs much deeper than that this – and it can lead to serious problems in the lives of those prone to it. And worryingly, perfectionism is on the rise.  So what is it and why does this rise matter?

Perfectionism is the desire to produce work, or to perform,  to high standards – not necessarily a bad thing – yet, for perfectionists, any failure to meet such expectations can cause them to feel frustrated or angry or even that they can “never be good enough” – often leading them to “quit the field”; and worse, perfectionism is linked to  the development of conditions like depression, anxiety, eating disorders and self-harm…  and it is linked to suicide.

You see perfectionists tend to “beat themselves up” for mistakes or for any failure to reach their high standards.  Yet we know that for those striving to become elite performers in some field – maths, sport, performing arts etc –  then it is important to practice just outside their current level of performance – making failure a part of the learning journey so that they are “stretched to improve”.  I wrote some months ago about Shizuka Arakawa who worked to become an Olympic gold skater;  yet she had, over the years, fallen on her butt some 20,000 times… and got up again. ( )

IMO, it may not be “high standards”… but having “unrealistic short-term expectations” that cause perfectionists to react negatively to “coming up short”.  Rather than see setbacks as an opportunity to learn and to focus on what needs to be righted, a perfectionist, may just see it as evidence that they can “never be good enough”.

So perfectionism is a problem for those who wish to make progress and is also bad for their mental wellbeing… and perfectionism is one the rise.  Research shows around 40% of young adults exhibit perfectionist tendencies – like being concerned over mistakes, feeling like you are never good enough, having critical parents, or simply having high personal standards – and these tendencies can predict issues like depression, anxiety and stress.

Even worse, being self-critical leads to depression which makes self-criticism harsher – i.e. a downward spiral. Further,  perfectionists are more likely to think about suicide; and that that nearly every perfectionistic tendency is correlated with “thinking about suicide more frequently”.

So why is Perfectionism growing?  Well, failure is so severe in today’s society. Competition has been embedded in schools: parents are putting more pressure on themselves and on their children to achieve more and more… so that  kids become averse to mistakes.  Researcher Thomas Curran says “If children come to internalise the idea that we only can define ourselves in strict, narrow terms of achievement – then you see perfectionistic tendencies start to come in.”  If Kids learn that they only get praised when they do something well; or  that they’re only really worth something when they’ve had others’ approval; or if kids feel guilty for making a mistake… then these messages  make children more likely to become  perfectionists – and go on to develop depression.

Plus “Fear of Failure” is getting magnified in other ways… the rise of social media means that any mistake or poor results is so public.

So what can be done to if you are showing perfectionist tendencies?  Well, it seems that the most important thing is to talk with others – to gain some objectivity and to set realistic short-term expectations;  to recognise progress; and to accept that failure is an important part of learning and improvement.  Maybe talk with a teacher, a coach or a friend about where you are; what you have learned from any recent setbacks and the short-term progress you now think it reasonable to make… so that you can reset your short-term expectations.

Secondly, you must show yourself some self-compassion – if a friend was trying to achieve something and failing, you would point out the positives, recognise their effort, suggest that they work on any weaknesses and encourage them by saying that you’re confident that, with effort, they will succeed.  So why not offer this advice to yourself?

And finally, boost your self-esteem.   Focus on the distance you have come – and bear in mind that your progress to date demonstrates how you will always improve will effort.