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The Reason Why Social Anxiety Is Exhausting

What Is Social Anxiety?

Social anxiety: the fear of interacting with other people in social situations.

If we drill down we can see Social Anxiety as the anxiety and fear of being judged and negatively assessed by other people.

For anyone who suffers from social anxiety, it pervades most areas of a sufferer’s life.

Emma summed up how social anxiety affects her. She is 19 and has just started college. She says,

“Even though I'm meeting and talking to new people at college, I'm not happy because I'm constantly worrying about things like:

Do they like me?

Do they want to meet up?

They didn't they sit next to me. Why?

How do I start a conversation with them?

Will they speak to me first?

If not, how do I connect with them?

Why is it they talk to other people but not me?

What’s wrong with me?

I want friends because I don’t have any but I’ve no idea how to get started. How can I just relax like everyone else seems to? I feel lonely and desperate which make me feel worse. I’m sure other people sometimes can tell and it turns them off. I’ve found trying to act less anxious doesn't work either, because I’m just masking those feelings with an upbeat voice that I don’t really believe in. I rehash things over and over again because I want to feel good enough at the same time I don’t know how. I’m constantly analyzing and worrying – do they like me or is that them trying to escape me? I try to stop my negative train of thoughts spiraling out of control but they seem to be in control of me. It just goes on and on and by the end of each day I’m exhausted.”

When you read Emma’s story you can feel that anxiety living inside her, demonising her, stopping her from embracing her college life with new friends and an exciting future.

I suffered from Social Anxiety for years and it stopped me from living my life in a meaningful way. I was doing well at work and, on the outside, you may have thought I was successful but as soon as I got home I slammed the door shut, relieved to be alone again and not have to deal with the unrelenting fear and shame as well as the tension and anxiety.

I was very, very lonely.

Suffering From Social Anxiety? You’re Not Alone

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Social Anxiety affects 15 million adults, or 6.8% of the U.S. population. It’s equally common among men and women and typically begins around age 13. According to their 2007 survey, 36% of people with Social Anxiety report experiencing symptoms for 10 or more years before seeking help.[i]

What’s The No.1 Reason Why Social Anxiety Is Exhausting?

Social Anxiety is tough because you're trapped in the cycle of overthinking and over analysing and the end result is always negative without a good outcome.

Consequently, your ‘fight or flight’ system is constantly activated.

The ‘fight or flight’ system is the body’s response to a perceived threat. Whilst in this state, stress hormones like adrenalin and cortisol are released, speeding up the heart rate, slowing digestion, forcing blood flow to major muscle groups giving the body a burst of energy.

This natural response works well for emergency situations when we have to deal with imminent danger or fight off a predator - like a bus mounting the sidewalk or someone unlawfully entering our house.

When the perceived threat is gone, our systems return to normal via the relaxation response. However, if we think thoughts that feel threatening, like the ones Emma thinks, our body responds in the same way. It will treat our negative thought as a danger and go into ‘fight or flight’ mode.

The mind can’t differentiate between a real and perceived threat and treats all of them as real. If we think we’re in danger from someone else’s comments, our mind acts as if there’s an imminent physical threat.

Any anxiety is treated by the body as a threat and chronic anxiety can cause us to have our ‘fight or flight button’ to be switched permanently to ‘on’. This will cause damage to our nervous system leaving us feeling chronically on alert.

The continued flow of the stress hormones into the body has a payback. It takes its toll on the adrenal glands, leaving us feeling wired but exhausted. Social Anxiety is the combination of our low self esteem telling ourselves that no one likes us combined with the sustained activation of the ‘flight or fight’ system.

The best way to tackle Social Anxiety is to look at the origin, or roots, of the anxiety.

How Can I Get To The Root Causes Of My Anxiety?

This is the right question.

Social Anxiety starts with what goes on in the mind. The mind is trying to do its best to figure out what we can do to fit into society because we all need other people. The trouble starts when this thinking moves from logic to ‘rumination’.

Wikipedia describes rumination as:

the focused attention on the symptoms of one's distress, and on its possible causes and consequences, as opposed to its solutions.

What this means is we go over and over the problems we are facing and we squeeze out any possibility of finding solutions to the problem.

I like to call it ‘mind racing’ because it’s like the mind uncontrollably racing round and round, bringing up random thoughts and memories and switching between them at eye watering speeds. Sometimes the thoughts are related, as one thought quickly leads to another but often they seem completely random.

It’s like a record stuck in a groove continually repeating the same sequence. It’s replaying an argument or retracing past mistakes in an obsessive way.

Research has found that this habit makes us emphasize the negative things that happened to us in the past and interpret situations in our current lives much more negatively than positively. We become so preoccupied with our problems that we’re unable to push past the negative thoughts.

Once Social Anxiety takes hold, it can feel we have no control over these thoughts and every social situation takes us right back into the ‘fight or flight’ scenario.

But, the truth is, this is not the reality.

What Is The Reality When Social Anxiety Is Exhausting Us?

There has been an initial trigger, which has kicked off the Social Anxiety cycle, and it’s tipped us into a cycle in which we have become stuck.

Sometimes it’s almost impossible to know why this cycle got started and it’s much easier to look at the reality and apply some logic to quieten the mind.

Let’s look at some of Emma’s statements as an example. Emma explained the questions that race around her head are:

Do they like me?

Do they want to meet up?

They didn't they sit next to me. Why?

Will they speak to me first?

Why do they talk to other people but not me?

These questions are based on Emma’s 3 beliefs: people are not attracted to her, people don’t want to talk to her or sit with her and there’s something wrong with her.

But Emma has made assumptions that are not based on reality. She hasn’t asked one question to anyone to receive an accurate response. Emma has anticipated the answers to these questions and her interpreted answers are always negative.

Because Emma has lived with her mind racing for sometime, she believes her own assumptions, is convinced that she’s not likeable and therefore assumes that no one will want to be her friend. But, again, this has all been made up in Emma’s mind.


What Drives Social Anxiety? Shame

Social Anxiety is often driven by shame. Shame is the feeling of being flawed, being a mistake or defective. It’s not guilt because that’s the bad feeling of doing something wrong. Shame is when you feel as if you're a horrible person.

Often we act out in ways that creates shame when what we actually want is to be close to others. We all have a yearning to connect and belong but shame tells us:

‘You don’t deserve closeness with others, there’s something wrong with you, they won’t like you anyway.’

These thoughts make us feel more desperate and lonely which triggers and increases Social Anxiety.

Loneliness combined with the fear of others is where we get stuck.

We yearn for the intimacy of friends but we’re too ashamed to be vulnerable. Intimacy requires us to risk opening up and talking about who we are, what we feel and think at a deep level.

To be intimate is to accept others and ourselves without criticism. However, when we are riddled with shame, and suffer from Social Anxiety, this is impossible because we’re hiding as much from ourselves as others.

There Is Hope

The main reason why Social Anxiety is exhausting is because of the chronic triggering of the ‘fight or flight’ response. This in turn activates the body to release stress hormones.

If we are continually fearful, and can’t allow ourselves to relax, our bodies are running on adrenal energy and this keeps our anxiety high.

Another reason why we perpetuate this way of thinking may be driven by shame.

It could be that getting help for the innate shame may speed up recovery from Social Anxiety. Counseling or counseling groups are appropriate treatment for shame and Social Anxiety.

What’s good to know is there is a real reason for why Social Anxiety is exhausting. As long as the cause is understood then the solution can be found.



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