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I think I have had social phobia my whole life. When I was a kid though, there was no “Social Anxiety Disorder” or “Social Phobia”. I was just considered shy and my parents hoped I would grow out of it. So what is social phobia? From my point of view it is a bit more than normal shyness – it is a huge fear of people, of being judged, humiliated, embarassed, teased, criticised, or bullied by them. Not just this, but the avoidance of any situations that might bring this on. This is known as ‘generalised’ social phobia. Some people only have a ‘specific’ social phobia, the most common being public speaking, eating in public, and using a public restroom. Mine tends to involve anything having to face people, like using the telephone, working, eating out, shopping, taking classes, doing sports, etc. Click here for a link that describes the diagnosis of social phobia in more detail.

This is how social anxiety seems to work: before an “event” I get anxious – this could be weeks before. At times if it was an ongoing thing like when I was at school, I was always anxious. Mind going over and over what might happen. Trouble sleeping, vomiting in the morning, diarrhoea and nausea, lack of appetite were common. Once facing the feared event, trembling, heart pounding, fast breathing, dizziness, sometimes leading to panic attack or hyperventilation. After the event my mind would go over and over what happened, what was said, what they thought, etc.

It is common to feel depressed and lonely when you have social phobia but there are so many people who suffer the same thing. I learnt this when I finally started looking on the internet at the different social phobia forums. It can be hard to admit you have the problem and to reach out for help, but it is probably the best thing I have ever done! Here are a few sites that helped me.

Informative Sites

Social Phobia/Social Anxiety Association

Social Anxiety Network

Social Anxiety Institute

Social Anxiety UK

Social Anxiety Support

About.com: Social Anxiety Disorder

Forums

Social Phobia World

Social Anxiety UK (SAUK)

Social Anxiety Support

Probably the most important thing to realise about social phobia is that it can be faced. I am still in the process, but I have overcome my fear of buying things at shops, eating out, leaving home and having a relationship. Admitting I wasn’t coping on my own, and getting the help of a psychologist (something I had avoided for years) was the hardest but best thing I have ever done. So if you think you have social phobia, please reach out and get the help you deserve!

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression suffered during winter. As the days become shorter and the nights longer, we are exposed to less sunlight and this can affect our moods. It can lead to a lack of energy to do everyday activities.

SAD may be due to an imbalance of neurotransmitters (the chemicals in the brain that control our moods) – too much melatonin and not enough serotonin. Basically, serotonin is produced during the day and melatonin at night. Melatonin is produced in dim light by the pineal gland, and makes you want to sleep. Sunlight signals the pineal gland through the eyes to stop producing melatonin so we become alert and awake. Serotonin is produced during the day and we need adequate levels to keep us happy.

To help yourself:

  • Get up early, don’t sleep half the day away.
  • Go outside or in a bright room near the window so sunlight can enter your eyes and signal the pineal gland to stop producing melatonin. Preferably do this when you wake up. Light therapy with a full-spectrum light is another option.
  • Do exercise as this stimulates serotonin production.
  • Better still, go for a walk outside so you get the benefits of both exercise and sunshine.
  • Try colour therapy to brighten your life when its all dark and grey outside.
  • If its very bad, go to your doctor.

Here is an in-depth guide with further information and treatments: Understanding seasonal affective disorder

Rational Emotive Therapy

Rational Emotive Therapy (RET) is the original kind of Cognitive Therapy – a therapy dealing with changing your thoughts and beliefs. It was created by Dr Albert Ellis, a clinical psychologist from New York in 1955.

The foundation of this therapy is that psychological problems arise from mistaken thoughts about what happens. As the philosopher Epictetus said “Men are disturbed, not by things, but by the principles and notions which they form concerning things.” Events and things don’t cause your feelings and reactions, the thoughts you think do.

This is shown by the ABC’s of RET: A + B = C where

A is the event, circumstance, experience
B is the thought
C is the resultant feelings and behaviours

A positive rational thought will lead to positive feelings and behaviours, while a negative, irrational thought will lead to negative or self-defeating feelings and behaviours.

The basis of our negative thoughts are often summed up by one of the following twelve irrational rules/beliefs. (Taken from the book Choose to be Happy by Wayne Frogatt).

  1. I need love and approval from those significant to me – and I must avoid disapproval at all costs.
  2. To be worthwhile as a person I must achieve, succeed at whatever I do, and make no mistakes.
  3. People should always do the right thing. When they behave obnoxiously, unfairly or selfishly, they must be blamed and punished.
  4. Things must be the way I want them to be – otherwise life will be intolerable.
  5. My unhappiness is caused by things outside of my control – so there is little I can do to feel better.
  6. I must worry about things that could be dangerous, unpleasant or frightening – otherwise they might happen.
  7. I can be happier by avoiding life’s difficulties, unpleasantness and responsibilities.
  8. Everyone needs to depend on someone stronger than themselves.
  9. Events in my past are the cause of my problems – and they continue to influence my feelings and behaviour now.
  10. I should become upset when other people have problems and feel unhappy when they are sad.
  11. I should not have to feel discomfort and pain – I can’t stand them and must avoid them at all costs.
  12. Every problem should have an ideal solution, and it is intolerable when one can’t be found.

To feel better we need to identify the situation and the thoughts surrounding it, and change these thoughts to more positive, helpful beliefs. Here are the more rational beliefs corresponding to the above.

  1. Love and approval are good things to have, and I’ll seek them when I can. But they are not necessities – I can survive (even though uncomfortably) without them.
  2. I’ll always seek to achieve as much as I can – but unfailing success and competence is unrealistic. Better I just accept myself as a person, separate from my performance.
  3. It’s unfortunate that people sometimes do bad things. But humans are not yet perfect – and upsetting myself won’t change that reality.
  4. There is no law which says that things have to be the way I want. It’s disappointing, but I can stand it – especially if I avoid catastrophising.
  5. Many external factors are outside my control. But it is my thoughts (not the externals) which cause my feelings. And I can learn to control my thoughts.
  6. Worrying about things that might go wrong won’t stop them happening. It will, though, ensure I get upset and disturbed right now!
  7. Avoiding problems is only easier in the short term – putting things off can make them worse later on. It also gives me more time to worry about them!
  8. Relying on someone else can lead to dependent behaviour. It is OK to seek help – as long as I learn to trust myself and my own judgement.
  9. The past can’t influence me now. My current beliefs cause my reactions. I may have learned these beliefs in the past, but I can choose to analyse and change them in the present.
  10. I can’t change other people’s problems and bad feelings by getting myself upset.
  11. Why should I in particular not feel discomfort and pain? I don’t like them, but I can stand it. Also, my life would be very restricted if I always avoided discomfort.
  12. Problems usually have many possible solutions. It is better to stop waiting for the perfect one and get on with the best available. I can live with less than the ideal.

Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things pass away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
He who has God
Finds he lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.

-St Theresa of Avila

The use of flowers for healing goes back to ancient times. Flower remedies were originally re-discovered by Dr Edward Bach, a homeopath and bacteriologist in England, in the 1920/30s. He found that the cure to many problems started with the mental and emotional state of the person, and the remedies for this could be found in nature. Flower remedies are a vibrational therapy made by soaking flowers in pure water in the sunlight, which extracts the essence of the flower. This is then preserved in alcohol and taken as drops under the tongue. Bach discovered the emotion that each flower could relieve by testing them on himself.

Flower essences can now be found from countries all over the world. Australian Bush Flower Essences were made by Ian White from native Australian flowers and plants. Here are descriptions of some remedies to help with anxiety from the Bach Flower Essences and The Australian Bush Flower Essences.

Bach Flower Remedies

Descriptions come from the book The Twelve Healers by Edward Bach.

  • Rock Rose – the rescue remedy. The remedy of emergency for cases where there even appears no hope. In accident or sudden illness, or when the patient is very frightened or terrified, or if the condition is serious enough to cause great fear to those around.
  • Mimulus – fear of worldly things, illness, pain, accidents, poverty, the dark, of being alone, of misfortune. The fears of everyday life. These people quietly and secretly bear their dread, they do not speak freely of it to others.
  • Aspen – vague unknown fears, for which there can be given no explanation, no reason. Yet the patient may be terrified of something terrible going to happen, he knows not what. These vague unexplainable fears may haunt by night or day. Sufferers often are afraid to tell their trouble to others.
  • Red Chestnut – For those who find it difficult not to be anxious for other people. Often they have ceased to worry about themselves, but for those of whom they are fond they may suffer much, frequently anticipating that some unfortunate thing may happen to them.
  • Cherry Plum – for fear of them mind being over-strained, of reason giving way, of doing fearful and dreaded things, not wished and known wrong yet there comes the thought and impulse to do them.
  • White Chestnut – for those who cannot prevent thoughts, ideas, arguments which they do not desire from entering their minds. Usually at such times when the interest of the moment is not strong enough to keep the mind full. Thoughts which worry and will remain, or if for a time thrown out, will return. They seem to circle round and round and cause mental torture. The presence of such unpleasant thoughts drives out peace and interferes with being able to think only of the work or pleasure of the day.
  • Star of Bethlehem – for those in great distress under conditions which for a time produce great unhappiness. The shock of serious news, the loss of someone dear, the fright following and accident, and such like. For those who for a time refuse to be consoled this remedy brings comfort.
  • Rescue Remedy – is a mixture that can be taken at any time to relieve anxiety and panic. It contains Rock Rose for terror and panic; Impatiens for irritation and impatience; Clematis for inattentiveness and to counteract faintness; Star of Bethlehem for shock; Cherry Plum for irrational thoughts and lack of self control.

For more information see the website: Bach Original Flower Remedies

Australian Bush Flower Essences

  • Crowea – continual worrying; a sense of not being right; this essence brings peace and calm, balances and centres the individual and gives clarity of one’s feelings.
  • Dog Rose – fearful, shy, insecure, apprehensive of others, niggling fears; this essence gives confidence, belief in self, courage, and the ability to embrace life more fully.
  • Dog Rose of the Wild Forces – fear of losing control, hysteria; this essence makes you calm and centred in times of inner and outer turmoil, and gives emotional balance.
  • Grey Spider Flower – terror, fear of supernatural and psychic attack; this essence gives faith, calm and courage.
  • Illawarra Flame Tree – fear of responsibility, overwhelming sense of rejection; this essence brings confidence, commitment, self-reliance and self-approval
  • Tall Mulla Mulla – ill at ease, sometimes fearful of circulating and mixing with others, loner, distressed by and avoids confrontation; this essence leads to feeling relaxed and secure with other people, and encourages social interaction.
  • Emergency Essence – a combination essence used for panic, distress and fear, it gives the ability to cope.

For more information go to their website: Australian Bush Flower Essences

Don’t Give Up!

Don’t Quit

When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
When the road you’re trudging seems all up hill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high,
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest if you must, but don’t you quit.

Life is queer with its twists and turns,
As everyone of us sometimes learns,
And many a failure turns about
When he might have won had he stuck it out;
Don’t give up, though the pace seems slow -
You might succeed with another blow.

Often the goal is nearer than
It seems to a faint and faltering man,
Often the struggler has given up
When he might have captured the victor’s cup.
And he learned too late, when the night slipped down,
How close he was to the golden crown.

Success is failure turned inside out -
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt -
And you never can tell how close you are,
It may be near when it seems afar;
So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit -
It’s when things seem worst that you mustn’t quit.

- Unknown -

Having an anxiety disorder for a prolonged time often leads to feeling low and depressed. This can come from thinking thoughts like:

I’ll never get over this.
Nobody would ever want to be with me.
I hate my life.
I hate myself.
I’m not good enough.

When you feel low, its likely that you are focusing on what you can’t do and haven’t done, and comparing yourself with others who seem to be better off than you are. Here are some methods I have used to get myself out of the negative and back into the positive:

  • Focus on what you can do – no matter how small, it counts. Can you eat, sleep, breathe, think, drive, shop? Don’t dismiss it. There was a time when I was so anxious I couldn’t eat, sleep or think properly. I was so grateful when I could finally sleep through a whole night again, eat a whole meal without bringing it up again, and think a clear thought.
  • Think about what you have done – again, don’t dismiss anything no matter how trivial it is. Have you finished school, had a friend, worked, driven, ever in your life? Even one time doing something or even trying something counts. If you’ve done it before, you can do it again.
  • Think about the people who have appreciated you. Your family, any friends, partners, even pets, anyone you can think of. Remember kind words and compliments. Don’t discount anything.
  • Think about the wonder of life, the miracle of the human body, the workings of nature. Really appreciate the world we live in. Get out in nature and feel the sunshine and breathe the air. Be around animals. Be inspired by art and music and writing.
  • Accept that comparing yourself to others is a futile act. Each person is different, with different brain chemistry, family upbringing, beliefs, experiences and more. No two people will act the same in the same experience. It doesn’t matter what Joe Blogs does or how they’d do it. Accept yourself as you are and work on changing the things you can and accepting the things you can’t.
  • Don’t beat yourself up for being anxious. You are not weak or stupid or a loser or a failure. You are simply a person with an anxiety disorder who is doing the best they can at this time.

Perhaps most important of all is to hold on to hope. Don’t give up on yourself or your life. Know that you are worthy and keep on trying.

Never give up, never surrender!!
– Jason in the movie Galaxy Quest

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