Social Anxiety Poems: A Poetry Contest

writing photoAttention all poets! Do you write poetry as a way to deal with your feelings? Or maybe you never have, but think you’d like to try?

About Social Anxiety is hosting a social anxiety poetry contest.

  • Poems should be no longer than 12 lines.
  • The deadline for submissions is December 31st, 2017.
  • The guidelines are simple: write about your social anxiety or social anxiety in general. Keep it to a PG-13 audience.
  • The top five poems will be posted on this website, where About Social Anxiety readers will vote for a favorite.
  • Submissions should be sent to submissions@aboutsocialanxiety.com.
  • Prizes to be announced!

The Fear of Winning

business photo

Most of us fear failure. If you live with social anxiety, you probably fear it even more so. It might be surprising then, to realize that in addition to your fear of failure there is another fear lurking. One that you might not have thought about much or even believed could be a fear.

That fear is the fear of success.

The fear of winning.

The fear of doing well.

The fear of being recognized for your accomplishments.

Does this sound like you?

There are many reasons why people with social anxiety might fear success. At it’s core, what you are really afraid of is shaking up the status quo. As much as you might hate your life, hate yourself, hate your job, hate that you have no friends, hate your anxiety…. it’s what you know. Success… well that’s a bit scary, whether it’s social success, work success, financial success. It feels like that would come with responsibilities that you don’t know whether you can handle.

Why We Fear Winning

In the case of social anxiety in particular, you might literally be afraid of being thrust into the limelight because of your success.

Imagine winning the lottery. Writing a bestseller. There’s a reason why some authors/musicians/actors become private people—they were not prepared for what success would bring.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing either, because we all need our privacy.

How do you know if your fear of success or fear of winning is holding you back?

Ask yourself this:

Have you ever….

  • Done destructive things to handicap yourself such as drinking too much alcohol?
  • Refused to set goals so that you had no chance of success?
  • Been on the brink of success or nearly reached a goal and then suddenly changed paths to avoid going all the way? For example, not taking that last course toward getting your degree or closed down a business just when you started to attract more customers?

Another reason you might fear success is that you are worried others will be mad, envious, jealous, or hurt. If you are moving up, you might feel like you are leaving others behind. People with social anxiety are highly attuned to what other people are thinking/feeling, and you may worry that your success will come at the cost of other people’s happiness.

In fact, in Asian countries, it is actually expected that you downplay your success so as not to make other people feel bad.

Research on the Fear of Winning and Social Anxiety

Fear of success or fear of winning may be closely related to a fear of positive evaluation, which has been studied extensively by researchers in terms of how it relates to social anxiety, perfectionism, depression, etc. What we know is that fear of positive evaluation is a real problem for people with social anxiety.

People who have a fear of positive evaluation also tend to have maladaptive perfectionism, meaning that their perfectionism interferes with living life.

In fact, people who are perfectionists may actually develop social anxiety if they have a tendency to fear positive evaluation.

As a whole, the research shows that social anxiety and the fear of positive evaluation are related.

It’s quite the pickle! You are both afraid of people thinking badly of you and also of them thinking good things about you. What is a person to do?

Overcome Your Fear of Success

Beyond simply working on your social anxiety/perfectionism, there are specific things you can do to stop handicapping yourself from achieving success.

No, we’re not talking about “The Secret” here—although the message is similar. It’s not so much that what you seek you attract, but that when you are open to success, you allow it to happen. It was there all along. You were on the brink of it many times. You may have even felt it, achieved it, gotten there.. but couldn’t hold on.

I’m telling you now to let it happen.

If that feels too hard, then write down what you are feeling.

Ask yourself what you are afraid of.

Then accept your reasons for being afraid of success.

Realize that failure will always be part of success. You can’t get to to the top without falling once in a while.

But your abilities are not limited. Your skills are not limited. Those limits are ones you’ve created in your mind to protect yourself from what you fear the most.

Once you’ve decided to move past that fear, there’s nothing left to do.

Except..

Set those goals… and

Stick with that plan that is becoming successful.

And if you feel like being self-destructive, write about that too, until the feeling passes.

Sources:
Yap K, Gibbs AL, Francis AJP, Schuster SE. Testing the Bivalent Fear of Evaluation Model of Social Anxiety: The Relationship between Fear of Positive Evaluation, Social Anxiety, and Perfectionism. Cogn Behav Ther. 2016;45(2):136-149.
Weeks JW, Howell AN. The bivalent fear of evaluation model of social anxiety: further integrating findings on fears of positive and negative evaluation. Cogn Behav Ther. 2012;41(2):83-95.
Weeks JW. Replication and extension of a hierarchical model of social anxiety and depression: fear of positive evaluation as a key unique factor in social anxiety. Cogn Behav Ther. 2015;44(2):103-116.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

relaxation photo

Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is a technique that was first developed by American physician Edmund Jacobsen in the 1920s. You can use this technique on your own at home to reduce tension and anxiety in your body. If you suffer with tension headaches or a feeling of being unable to relax, this may help. Even if you don’t think you hold a lot of tension in your body, you might be surprised at the level of relaxation that PMR can offer.

In my undergraduate years, I took part in both practicing and instructing others to do PMR. I heard stories of how other students would fall asleep in their chairs as they became relaxed. I never became so relaxed that I fell asleep, but I remember an amazing feeling of relaxation after my weekly session. So much so that I looked forward to it with each passing week.

Progressive muscle relaxation is something that you should not rush through. If you find yourself rushing, it might be best to follow an audio or video track that will force you to go at the right pace rather than simply reading instructions and doing it on your own.

Steps to Practice Progressive Muscle Relaxation

First, you will need to find time in your busy schedule for PMR. Once you chosen a time (weekly or daily, depending on your level of busyness), also select a location where you are not likely to be disturbed. If you have a reclining chair that is perfect; if not, perhaps do it while lying on your bed. It’s best to do PMR before a meal rather than after, as digesting food can get in the way of entering a state of deep relaxation.

When you practice PMR, try to wear loose fitting clothing and remove anything restricting such as a watch or jewellery. Take off your shoes.

Now that you are in a relaxed position, it’s time to think in a detached way. Don’t be trying too hard to relax while you do this. That’s not the point. Instead, try to let yourself go with the experience and just let it happen.

The next step is to take three very deep breaths from your abdominals while you slowly exhale and imagine tension is leaving your body.

After you’ve finished with those three deep breaths, you are ready to start tensing and relaxing various muscle groups in your body.

Instructions

Tense each of the following muscle groups for 10 seconds, and then release the tension and allow that part of the body to relax for 15 to 20 seconds. During the alternating relaxation periods, try to notice the difference between how it feels when your muscles are contracted versus limp. Be sure to focus on one part of the body at a time and keep all other parts relaxed while you tense a particular muscle group.

If you feel any pain or strain, stop and move on to another muscle. Try not to let your mind wander as you practice PMR. Focus on each muscle as you tense it.

Below is the list of body parts you will move through:

Upper Body:

  • Hands (tightly clench your fists)
  • Biceps (bring you forearm up toward your shoulder)
  • Triceps (extend your arm and lock it at the elbow)

Head:

  • Forehead (raise your eyebrows as high as you can)
  • Eyes (tightly shut your eyelids)
  • Jaw (open your mouth as wide as you can)
  • Neck (extend your head backward)

Torso:

  • Shoulders (raise your shoulders up toward your ears)
  • Shoulder blades (push your shoulder blades tightly toward each other)
  • Chest (take a deep breath and hold it)
  • Stomach (suck in your stomach tightly)
  • Lower back (arch your lower back)

Lower Body:

  • Buttocks (squeeze your buttocks together tightly)
  • Thighs (contract your thigh muscles)
  • Calves (pull your toes up toward you to squeeze your calves)
  • Feet (curl your toes downward to contract your feet muscles)

Once you’ve finished alternately tensing and relaxing each muscle group, examine your body for any remaining tension. If you find any, then go back and repeat the exercise for that particular muscle group.

At the point that the exercise is complete, visualize relaxation spreading throughout your entire body. Imagine that it starts at your head and gradually makes its way all the way down to the tips of your toes.

Let me know if you try this exercise and if it helps you to relax. While PMR is not directly working on your social anxiety, being more relaxed in daily life is likely to contribute to an improved outlook when it comes to social and performance situations. If you do find yourself in a situation that causes anxiety, try returning to the feeling you had during PMR.

Time to complete: 20 Minutes

Equipment: A comfortable place to lie down

Source:

Jacobson, Edmund. Progressive Relaxation: A Physiological and Clinical Investigation of Muscular States and Their Significance in Psychology and Medical Practice. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1938.

Dogs With Social Anxiety

miniature schnauzer photo

Dogs with social anxiety disorder? While this may sound unusual, dogs can have fear and anxiety just like humans, and this can be expressed in relation to new situations, new people, and being around other dogs.

According to a 2016 study of 3284 dog owners of 192 different breeds, published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, about 39% of dogs are sensitive to noise, 26% have general fears about unfamiliar people, other dogs, and new situations, and 17% have separation anxiety. These three issues can also be linked to behavioral problems in dogs such as aggressiveness. A dog who is afraid is more likely to become aggressive than a dog who has no fear.

Causes of Social Anxiety in Dogs

Because of the overlap between different kids of anxiety and fear in dogs, it’s likely that some part of your dog’s temperament is determined by genetic factors.

Over my lifetime I’ve had four canine companions—all of them miniature schnauzers. And, while the breed was the same, the dogs were as different as night and day.

The first and third dogs, Mindy and Max, were both fearless. The second and fourth, Mandy and Flash differed greatly from those two. Mandy was cautious in new situations.

Flash, our current dog, is the most anxious of all the dogs I’ve owned. He is afraid of walking on solid surface floors. He is afraid of walking around our house. He sits on his bed and looks out the window. He barks at people who come to the door or that he sees outside. When we have large gatherings, he can’t be here, because I don’t trust him. His fear causes him to be unpredictable.

Just like people can be highly sensitive, so too can dogs. Dogs with social anxiety may be the victims of physiological and behavioral overarousal, meaning that they have deeper processing of sensory information. A 2017 study published in PLoS One developed a 32-item questionnaire to measure this sensitivity in dogs.

What they found was that demographic characteristics of the dogs, things like whether the dog was male or female, how old the dog was, age at adoption, and also characteristics of the owners, such as their age, job, communication style, had only a small influence on the sensitivity of the dogs. Similar to humans, it seems that there may be a genetic basis for being highly sensitive.

However, beyond genetics, early experiences in a dog’s life likely influence later behavior.

In a 2015 questionnaire study of 3264 dog owners in Finland, published in PLoS ONE, early life experiences  were found to relate to anxiety.

What they found was that fearful dogs had had less socialization experiences and lower quality of care by their mother as a puppy.

Signs of Dog Anxiety

If you think your dog becomes anxious in new situations with unfamiliar people or other dogs, look for the following signs:

  • barking
  • hiding
  • licking his/her lips
  • oversalivating
  • pacing
  • panting
  • scanning the environment
  • shaking
  • whining

I know in the case of Flash, when I take him in the car and he isn’t sure what is about to happen, he pants, shakes, and whines.

What to Do If Your Dog Has Social Anxiety

  1. First, don’t respond with punishment, either verbal or physical. This is likely to just make the situation worse.
  2. Get your dog out for some daily exercise. In that Finnish study, they found that anxiety in the dogs was also linked to the amount of daily exercise. Dogs getting less exercise were more sensitive to noise and had more separation anxiety.
  3. Avoid anxiety-provoking situations if possible. For example, in the case of Flash, I put him in a kennel for the night when I know we will be having a large number of people to our house, such as at a holiday party. It’s better for Flash, and it’s better for our guests.
  4. Talk to your veterinarian about the possibility of anti-anxiety medication. This can sometimes be prescribed for dogs.
  5. Try to alter the association between the triggering event and the dog’s response. For example, I watched a video of the dog whisperer Cesar Milan helping a dog who was afraid of squeak toys. He gradually helped the dog to calm down by using lavender essential oil and a massage. He then paired the lavender scent with the squeak toy, so that the dog, who had learned to associate the smell with being relaxed, would now react that way to the toy as well. This is a simplified example, but you get the idea. Find a way to break the bad association (e.g., new situation = anxiety) and replacing it with a new better association (i.e., new situation = fun OR treats OR relaxation).

Finally, don’t confine your dog to a crate unless that is something he or she is used to. This can just make the anxiety and panic worse. 

Sources:

Braem M, Asher L, Furrer S, Lechner I, Würbel H, Melotti L. Development of the “Highly Sensitive Dog” questionnaire to evaluate the personality dimension “Sensory Processing Sensitivity” in dogs. PLoS ONE. 2017;12(5):e0177616.

College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. Context is Critical When Treating Anxiety in Dogs.

Tiira K, Lohi H. Early Life Experiences and Exercise Associate with Canine Anxieties. PLoS One. 2015;10(11).

Tiira K, Sulkama S, Lohi H. Prevalence, Comorbidity, and Behavioral Variation in Canine Anxiety. J Vet Beh: Clin App Res. 2016;16:36-44.