Social anxiety is a silent force that builds without anyone noticing and many times not recognized by others, because avoidance is a quick fix. This force is pervasive; it replaces our other feelings with fear at the thought of going into social settings and affects an estimated 12% of adolescent. In place of excitement or happiness, people with social anxiety experience:
• Difficulty breathing
• Ruminating on social interactions
These reactions and feelings come from worry about potential embarrassment or judgment in a social setting. There is constant apprehension that someone will feel offended by a comment you said, which can be partly true: overcome with anxiety in the social setting, our words can fail us, and an awkward comment comes out. These emotions are terrifying, and can cause individuals to withdraw, especially in adolescents, progressing into adulthood.
According to a 2012 study, adolescents with anxiety are diagnosed less than 20% of the time and are largely overlooked during development. These adolescents go unnoticed compared to those with ADHD and other disorders because socially anxious students appear quiet in class, not problematic. Most believe that these kids will “grow out” of this. But many of these feelings continue can become stronger with age as pressure builds and can lead to profound impacts in one’s life. (A) There are many different everyday occurrences that can activate social anxiety symptoms in people. Some common ones include:
• Making eye contact
• Going to school or work
• Going to parties
• Talking to strangers
Throughout my childhood and into adulthood, I was branded the “shy kid” in the family. In fact, I believed until my senior year of undergraduate school that I had overcome my “shyness” at the end of middle school. I was developing my own coping mechanisms and more able to be vulnerable with friends during this transition.
Through my training in psychology, I realized I had been living with social anxiety almost my entire life, and still experience it from time to time. I was the tallest person in my elementary school; this is when the feelings of being judged for being different started. This only got better once others started to grow taller and when I slowly started to make friends who didn’t focus on my height.
Presenting and talking in class is still is a challenge for me. I use deep breathing exercises and remind myself that no one cares as much as I do about my presentation, both which help me to lessen the anxiety. These are common mechanisms used in social anxiety treatment, using mindfulness and cognitive reconstructing, which help me to stop anticipating criticism and attempting to guess other’s thoughts to make these situations less frightening. I was then able to hear from people in my life who do matter and focus on my reality.
Social anxiety treatment includes working to counteract the feelings of not being able to do anything good enough, comparing ourselves to others and seeing that we are not adding up to where we believe we should be. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy can be beneficial to help us feel these emotions and then let them go, thereby lessening the impact. This can help one grow a stronger sense of self. Cognitive Reconstructing is process of rebuilding confidence through changing thoughts of oneself.
We are our own biggest critics. Mindfulness and focusing on the here and now can be a great compliment to any treatment for anxiety. Grounding exercises can help you stay present in daily life and not get lost in ruminating thoughts. Making this shift takes time but being consistent and active with this process while around people will give you a chance to really note the changes that you are creating.
Written by Lynsi Klimek.
When it comes to psychotherapy, an early question for anyone might be, “Why therapy?” Psychotherapy itself is relatively new. The very idea of coming into an office to be vulnerable and let out the parts of ourselves that we’d rather hide might have been unknown to our parents and completely foreign to us. It might run against the ways we see ourselves or ways our family tries to be.
But where did the idea of therapy come from that has you in this uncertain place? Was it a suggestion from a friend or family member? Was it genuine or a (not so) veiled attack? Was it your own idea, either based on friends’ own experiences, or something you read about or saw? These questions can give you some early insight into the kind of work therapy might be for you.
Therapy is what you make of it, and the different reasons that might be beneath the “Why Therapy?” question can guide you to the right type of therapist:
• A person to vent to and a space to work through sources of dissatisfaction
• Healing from past and/or ongoing hurt
• Self discovery and exploration
• Reconnecting to yourself and/or other people in your life
Marriage and family therapists - relationship therapists, really - such as myself - work from the idea that we are all connected through relationships, and help us to recognize the effects that relationships have on ourselves and how and why we find ourselves in some of them. But we don’t just see people in romantic relationships. We are always in relation to a parent or sibling, to a job, or our culture or religion. And each of these affects us in different ways - providing tension or fulfillment. Therapy provides an outsider, not to give a different solution, but rather to expand your perspective to find solutions that support your growth and understanding of yourself.
Therapy also provides consistency: regular appointments that allow deeper self work in between the times of crisis, however big those might be. People grow or shrink with the way adversity is handled, and those times after are important for taking in and doing deeper work. It allows the changing story of ourselves to settle in to be more accessible for the next time. Sometimes this means brushing the dust off old tools (ways of coping) that we have, or changing how we use them, before adding new tools going forward.
Many of these old habits served a better function 5, 10, 20 years ago, but we find ourselves with people who are different than with whom we grew up, and yet we rely too much on these old ways of being in new situations. We also grow up and have new experiences that make these old habits less or not at all helpful with the people with whom we developed these early tools.
All therapists spend time developing and building a professional relationship based on trust and competency and supporting vulnerability, because it is here that people confront fear and find avenues and paths through fear to a more expansive way of being. But each person has a comfort level and preference around gender, race, sexuality and ability. The training therapists go through is only part of how to see them.
Therapy is also a place to let difficult feelings and memories arise. By holding it while being in a safe space, we can explore and develop a fuller picture of ourselves. We can change our relationship to ourselves so that the power we feel our past has over us can be changed and diminished, not to get rid of the memory, but to experience ourselves for all that we are, not just one or a few negativities.
A more wholly connected person has more possibilities in how they relate and connect to and resolve whatever life might throw at us.
Why therapy is a broad question with a lot of answers, but as it’s become clearer, it’s about changing ourselves and letting that you be the catalyst for change with the people and situations we encounter every day.
3, 2, 1 ... Launch!
Welcome to the newly formed and soon to be growing Philadelphia Therapy Collective.