High anx­i­ety

There are ways for­ward if you shrink from so­cial in­ter­ac­tion

The Gympie Times - - MIND - with Rowena Hardy Rowena Hardy is a fa­cil­i­ta­tor, per­for­mance coach and part­ner of Minds Aligned: www.mind­saligned.com.au

HAVE you ever been in a so­cial set­ting sur­rounded by strangers you are sup­posed to talk to and found that you have bro­ken into a sweat, your heart is pound­ing and you feel like head­ing for the near­est exit? You may have what is de­scribed as so­cial anx­i­ety dis­or­der or so­cial pho­bia.

It is a com­mon prob­lem and is not just about shy­ness or awk­ward­ness, which do not nec­es­sar­ily de­bil­i­tate us.

So­cial pho­bia is when we can­not cope or tol­er­ate work­ing with or so­cial­is­ing with oth­ers.

Like spi­ders, heights, fly­ing and many other things, a pho­bia can be de­fined as “an ex­treme or ir­ra­tional fear of or aver­sion to some­thing”.

Pho­bias are of­ten some­thing that is part of daily life. While it may seem triv­ial to oth­ers, it cer­tainly is not to the per­son with a pho­bia.

But back to so­cial anx­i­ety. So­cial is any con­text where there are peo­ple you do not know or do not know well.

Anx­i­ety is a stress re­sponse but the key dif­fer­ence is that anx­i­ety is de­scribed as “an­tic­i­pa­tory stress”. In other words, the out­come of a given sit­u­a­tion is un­known.

The key fear in so­cial anx­i­ety is of re­ceiv­ing a neg­a­tive eval­u­a­tion or judg­ment from some­one that could lead to hu­mil­i­a­tion and re­jec­tion.

The per­son may be ex­pect­ing to make a fool of them­selves and be open to ridicule, be­ing looked at, draw­ing un­de­sir­able at­ten­tion to them­selves and not cop­ing as a re­sult.

When we pair an al­ready stress­ful fu­ture event with an un­known out­come, we picture the event and fill the gap be­tween now and then with neg­a­tive pos­si­bil­i­ties.

Our fight/flight/freeze re­sponse is ac­ti­vated when we picture the so­cial in­ter­ac­tion as a threat, hence the sweaty palms, heart pal­pi­ta­tions and the de­sire to get away or not turn up at all.

The chal­lenge for peo­ple who ex­pe­ri­ence this re­ac­tion is that it is al­most im­pos­si­ble to avoid be­ing around other peo­ple un­less we lead a her­mit-like ex­is­tence, which is not healthy.

The per­son may want to be so­cia­ble but sees them­self as not con­fi­dent or like­able.

What are some pos­si­ble ways for­ward? Work on be­ing in the mo­ment, or ob­serve the traits of con­fi­dent peo­ple and em­u­late them.

And try not to mis­read am­bigu­ous so­cial cues like yawn­ing. It helps if you re­main ob­jec­tive and go into the sit­u­a­tion with a pos­i­tive ex­pec­ta­tion.

It is al­most im­pos­si­ble to avoid be­ing around other peo­ple un­less we lead a her­mit-like ex­is­tence ...

PHOTO: THINKSTOCK

◗ The key fear in so­cial anx­i­ety is of re­ceiv­ing a neg­a­tive eval­u­a­tion which could lead to pub­lic hu­mil­i­a­tion.

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