Enjoying a healthy social life

I have taken this article from “reconnect” magazine issue 48 and thought it was a very insightful read about Social Anxiety Disorder.

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“Welcome back to our exploration into all things emotional. In this edition our Emotional Health columnist LEIGH SMITH explores a socially destructive condition which many of us suffer from in silence, and perhaps don’t know that there is a solution if we can just speak up.

Enjoying a healthy social life

FROM time to time we all feel a little out of our depth, a bit mumbly, bashful, self-conscious or nervous about certain social situations.
Shyness and nervousness are normal personality traits, but for some people these situations can cause great distress, creating intense anxiety and fear in connection with everyday things, like going into work, shopping, answering the phone, catching a bus. This anxiety can be so overwhelming that it becomes really disruptive and can severely affect a person’s ability to deal with quite ordinary situations. Relationships and self-confidence then suffer. Situations where the fear, anxiety, or avoidance is persistent, and typically lasting six months of more, indicate that the person is not just a little bit shy, but may well have a condition known as Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD).
Living with social anxiety can be crushing. Constantly worrying, feeling fear, apprehension, anxiety and pain, and finding ways to avoid agonizing situations by hiding away from possible rejection and disapproval, is miserable to say the least.
High levels of anxiety experienced by someone suffering from SAD doesn’t just effect the person at the time of the incident, but it can also be present before the event as well as afterwards. People with this condition might find themselves preoccupied and worrying excessively about a social situation in the future, obsessing over looking incompetent, blushing or making a fool of themselves. They might worry about: “What will people think of me? What if I embarrass myself?”
During a social event they might feel overwhelming levels of anxiety, sickness, dizziness, not able to swallow or speak, hot flushes and racing heart, sweating and shaking. But it doesn’t end there. After the event there may be a preoccupation with how they were judged by people, how they came across and what people thought of them.
The first signs of SAD can be spotted in children and adolescents. A child who cries more than usual, freezes, has tantrums or becomes afraid of school or social situations may be displaying early indicators. Perhaps you have noticed that your child struggles to eat in company, to speak on the telephone, join in conversations or speak to people they don’t know well. They might start to avoid eye contact, become overly sensitive to criticism and display signs of low self-esteem.
Older children may become reclusive or misuse drugs or alcohol to try to reduce the anxiety.
What makes this disorder difficult to spot is that almost all the symptoms are a part of normal childhood development. Only when these symptoms seriously interfere with the quality of a child’s life and development should we pay more attention to their mental health and wellbeing.
It isn’t just children who suffer from SAD, it can affect any of us, and can come and go in intensity, affecting us more at different stages of our lives. If you think that you or your child might have SAD, then I strongly recommend that you ‘speak up’ and see your GP for help.
It is a good idea to explain that you might find attending an appointment extremely challenging. Your GP may give you a telephone assessment or offer you an appointment when the surgery is not so busy. You will be asked a range of questions designed to assess the level of your anxiety, and also the type of anxiety that you are experiencing, as there are several anxiety disorders which share similar symptoms.
If you or your child are diagnosed with SAD then the good news is that Social Anxiety Disorder is treatable successfully. Social anxiety is no longer a life-long, devastating condition to be suffered in silence.
Since 1980 the condition has been officially recognised and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) has been identified as one of the most effective treatments. Generally, CBT works by helping you identify unhelpful and unrealistic beliefs and behavioural patterns. Your therapist will work with you to change your behaviour and replace unhelpful beliefs with more realistic and balanced ones. The tendency of focusing on ourselves during social situations will be removed. Your therapy sessions may also involve some learning about your condition and how it works, along with learning skills to help you cope and challenge your condition. Don’t let social anxiety spoil the best years of your life. It’s time to take back control, finding strategies that work and not missing the chance to enjoy a healthy and fulfilling social life, however old we are!”

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