What you Didn't Know About Social Anxiety

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What you Didn’t Know About Social Anxiety

Art by: Sara Shakeel

Picture this: you have to call your doctor’s office but before you do your heart starts pounding. You dial and delete the number a good 10 times before you end up actually calling. You know there’s nothing to be afraid of but then again there’s nothing rational about anxiety. Now imagine this: you’re at a party with your best friend and all of sudden they leave you by yourself to go dance. Your best friend is the only person you know at the party and when they leave your side your heart starts beating fast. You hope no one sees you there alone and comes over to talk and ask questions, the thought of a stranger coming to make conversation makes you sweat. You avoid eye contact and start looking at your phone. You desperately wish your best friend would come back and you hope to go home, you know nothing bad is going to happen but you still feel fearful. This is what social anxiety feels like and it is much more common than we think. According to epidemiological studies, social anxiety is the third largest psychological disorder in the United States, after depression and alcoholism.  It is estimated that about 7% of the population suffers from some form of social anxiety at the present time.

Ironic right? It is very common but you barely hear about it. Most people don’t even understand it. To help clarify all the questions we have on the subject we contacted social anxiety coach Leigha. She’s an expert on the topic and has helped many women overcome social anxiety with her program.

1. Tell us about yourself, what you do and why did you choose to be an anxiety coach?

Social Anxiety had been a block in my life since a very young age. My very first memories consisted of feeling overwhelming dread knowing I had to go to birthday parties, school, after school activities and so much more. This overwhelm, feelings of inadequacy and anxiety just at the thought of socializing, carried all throughout my childhood and in to my adult life. I wanted desperately to WANT to be social, to WANT to meet NEW people and feel EXCITED about life but my fears left me thinking I will never be able to escape my challenges with anxiety. Life felt impossible every single day.  

My life consisted of waking up and instantly feeling defeated. My thoughts flooded my mind about the possible scenarios that could play out. This fear debilitated me from taking leaps of faith, making progressive decisions, career advancements and allowing people in to my life and in to my heart. I was so sick of feeling stuck while I watched the world pass me by. My social anxiety led to isolation and then to a deep sadness. Rock bottom came and absolutely devastated my life. It was the wake-up call and blessing in disguise that I needed desperately.

My way of avoiding and resisting life had not been working for decades, I needed to find a new way! I knew knowledge was power and I needed desperately to take my power back, feel in control and live again! I went to work with intensive research in hopes to deeply understand what Social Anxiety is, why I have it and how to overcome this for good. I made it my mission to figure this out. I had kept my struggles a secret and exhausted myself trying to hide all of my anxiety and pain my whole life. I decided NO MORE excuses and HIDING THE TRUTH about my struggles.

I started blogging about my fears, my insecurities and how anxiety had secretly been holding me hostage for so much of my life. I held nothing back. I thought I would be met with criticism, judgement and even more pain but instead there was an outpour of love, support and compassion. This made me fearlessly pursue my freedom from anxiety and document all of my steps forward and back. I started to grasp a deep understanding of Social Anxiety, I started to dive deeper in to the root of why I struggled and I had discovered the steps necessary to finally set myself free and HEAL...NOT JUST COPE!  

The changes I made in my own life had inspired others to do the same in theirs. I was soon finding myself being lovingly requested to personally coach others on how to do what I did! I went ALL in and graduated with high honors from the International Association of Wellness Professionals and received my Wellness Coaching certification. I decided I would coach women for 6 months for free before taking the plunge and quitting my corporate job. I needed to know that I truly could help others in the same way that I helped myself. The changes I was seeing these women make brought me to tears daily. The progress was undeniable. I quit my job and not only started my Anxiety Coaching business but created an empire of amazing individuals who are devoted to improving their life every single day. I am most proud of my Social Anxiety Success Program and I am thrilled to go on to my third launch.

2. What is social anxiety? What are some signs of social anxiety?

“Social anxiety is the fear of being judged and evaluated negatively by other people, leading to feelings of inadequacy, inferiority, self-consciousness, embarrassment, humiliation, and depression. If a person usually becomes (irrationally) anxious in social situations, but seems better when they are alone, then "social anxiety" may be the problem”. - Thomas A. Richards, Ph.D

Here are most of the struggles I personally had when deeply suffering with social anxiety, perhaps you can relate:

-Be horrified to answer the phone

-Feel like the odd one out in groups of 3 or more

-Stay in dead end jobs because I feared change, new environments and people

-Stay in toxic relationships because I was desperate for any source of apparent love

-Feel inferior to everyone and view myself as weak

-Never try to achieve goals because I expected to fail

-Panic when invited to any event

-Worry excessively about things I said or did and if I hurt anyone or embarrassed myself

-Fear physical anxiety symptoms to the point of bringing on the anxiety symptoms I feared

-Have an extreme fear of abandonment so I wouldn’t let myself get close to people

-Afraid of new people and places

-Avoid change even if my life was clearly not working out

-Worry about going to necessary social events every single day until the even to the point of giving myself tension headaches, heart racing constantly, extreme fatigue, nausea and a deep sense of sadness

3. Is there a difference between having social anxiety and simply being an introvert?

Yes absolutely! Being an introvert is quite different from social anxiety. Some people prefer to be alone and enjoy their own company over being in the company of others. It is more of a preference when you are an introvert, where social anxiety is more of a deep rooted fear of social situations and deep discomfort at the thought of potential future social interactions.

4. How does social anxiety affect the way we interact with others and our relationships?

Social anxiety can cause us to hold ourselves back from speaking up, sharing how we feel and can even hold us back from letting people in to our life. We tend to keep people at a distance. Even in conversations it can be hard for us to express ourselves and feel comfortable opening up. When in a relationship, social anxiety can really become a huge block. The person suffering with social anxiety may find it hard to go out in public with their partner, meet their partner’s friends and family and it can start to cause a rift in the relationship. The partner that does not struggle with social anxiety may not understand it and may not know how to support someone who feels and thinks the way someone with social anxiety does. It can be very hard on both people if they are not able to communicate how they feel and why and find ways to build each other's trust, love and support.

5. What are some ways to deal with social anxiety? Are there any tools or tricks that can be used to help ease the fear?

Yes fortunately there are some really amazing methods that can be used to decrease social anxiety and build social confidence which in turn crushes the fear and turns it into excitement! I actually created a method and teach it in my Social Anxiety Success Program and it is called the S.A.S.S.Y. Method.

When you are triggered the first thing you do is STOP and breathe (in through your mouth for 5 seconds and our through your nose for 7 seconds until you start feeling yourself relaxing).

Next you AFFIRM that you are safe and you are in control. This will pass.  Become aware of your thoughts: are they helpful or are they harmful? Contributing to your fears or challenging them effectively? Next if you are still anxious you then move on to one of the many secret grounding methods I teach in my program. Secret grounding methods are fantastic because these are methods that you can do in front of anyone, anywhere, without anyone even noticing that you are grounding yourself and decreasing your anxiety! Please click the HERE to see one of my favorite techniques to use when sitting!

Next if you are still having a hard time you can move on to the next step which is SUPPORT. You can let someone you are with know that you are feeling anxious or uncomfortable and they can support you and help you get whatever it is you need to decrease your anxiety. You can also call or text a friend and have a quick chat about what you are thinking/ feeling and they can help ground you or give you the calming love and support you need to keep going. The next step is STEP FORWARD. Anxiety can cause us to want to back down and surrender, give up or leave a social event but stepping forward is what will ultimately break the cycle of surrendering and allow you to work through the uncomfortable moments and allow yourself to learn how to handle social situations.  Lastly YOU GOT THIS! Root yourself on, motivate yourself and cheer your way through any self doubt. Know that you are worth being seen and heard. You are where you are because you deserve to be there! So just to re-cap:

S-top and breathe

A-ffirm and aware

S-ecret grounding method

S-tep forward and keep going

Y-ou got this don’t give up

6. How can we build social confidence?

The best way to build social confidence is to set some goals for yourself and go after them. I teach a scientifically proven effective method of planning and reaching your goals in my program which includes worksheets that walk you through, step by step how to create your goals and map them out in a way that feels attainable and easy. When you start putting your goals in action and going after them, you change the way you feel about yourself. Your confidence is boosted, you feel progressive and successful. The best way to smash insecurities and fear is to set goals and make it happen. My motto is baby steps move mountains!

7. It is part of the norm to speak to people via text without having to see them face to face. In fact you can make money, own an online business and not have to go out into the world and be social. Do you believe that phones/social media are affecting our social skills and increasing social anxiety?

I believe that nothing beats having true face to face interaction and connecting with people in person. Yes texting is some people's preference and it can get you by but I think people forget how much deeper you can get with people by speaking in person or over the phone. You can hear their tone, their laugh (not just an lol) and you build a deeper connection based on more accurate information (body language, tone, facial expressions etc) and not just words on a screen. I do believe that because people can get by without having to face people and interact in person, it can really make their social anxiety much worse. What we avoid grows. Exposure to real face to face interaction, even in small amounts is healthy.

8. How can a friend/family member support someone they know with social anxiety?

The best thing someone can do to support someone with social anxiety is to allow them to talk about what they are thinking and feeling and share what they are comfortable with and what their current preferences are. Some people may be working through exposure and may have an “expiry time” while out socializing. What that means is that they can manage to be social for a certain period of time and be okay but they have their time limits where they are done and may need to go home to recharge and relax. Being open and accepting to someone’s “expiry time” really helps take the pressure off of them and allows them to know that if they need to leave, it is okay. It is also important to ask the person what you can do to help them work through their challenges with social anxiety. A lot of people who struggle with social anxiety struggle to communicate what type of support they need out of feeling like they are a burden, fear being judged or just do not want to trouble anyone in any way (even though real friends would jump at the opportunity to help)! Active listening, offering support and compassion, are all amazing ways to help someone who struggles with social anxiety.

9. Tell us more about your program

My program is called Social Anxiety Success and it is a 6 week online live coaching program that specifically teaches you how to SLAY your social anxiety, GROW your confidence and REACH your goals! If this sounds like something you would be interested in click HERE for more info.

You can also book a free online consultation with me if you would like more information on my one on one private coaching packages

Please feel free to follow me on Instagram for Social Anxiety Support along with tips on how to overcome Social Anxiety and take back your power.

If you’ve ever experienced some form of social anxiety we want you to know you’re not alone. We have experienced it and we are constantly working on overcoming the fear ourselves. We want you to know that you’re brave and we admire every tiny step you take into overcoming your fears. You are stronger than they are. Keep challenging yourself, keep seeking the help that you need and keep being brave.

Thank you to Leigha for this helpful interview. If you have any questions or helpful tips on social anxiety drop them down below!