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.

Dogs With Social Anxiety

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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.

Taking the Easy Way Out When You Have Social Anxiety

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As readers of my articles at Verywell will know, I often encourage doing things that push the boundaries of your social anxiety. While this will be uncomfortable in the moment, the long-term effect will help you to feel reduced anxiety in those situations that you confront. What this  means is that I am not a fan of “taking the easy way out.” If I were to meet with you today and give you one piece of advice to overcome your social anxiety, it would be to avoid doing that.

While that might sound harsh—as though somehow having a mental illness is taking the easy out (it’s certainly not)—it’s meant to be a bit compelling in a challenging kind of a way.

If I were to ask you right now what some of your goals are in life, would they include avoiding that which makes you afraid and aligning your aspirations with the path of least resistance? Probably not. Or maybe yes, but deep down you might know that leaves you feeling a bit uneasy.

Take a moment right now, and write down five things you would do if you felt less anxious in social or performance situations.

  1. ___________________
  2. ___________________
  3. ___________________
  4. ___________________
  5. ___________________

That list is obviously going to vary depending on where you are in your life, where you fall on the introversion/extroversion continuum, etc.

But let’s say for argument’s sake that your list looks something like this.

  1. I would apply for a job that pays better/has more responsibilities.
  2. I would have more friends/spend more time with people.
  3. I would speak up more in conversations.
  4. I would go to more events/parties/gatherings.
  5. I would go on dates.

Remember, these don’t necessarily have to match yours either in content or level of difficulty.

While it may feel less scary, anxiety-provoking, and fear-inducing to “take the easy way out” and ignore these goals, doing so keeps you at a certain level.

It keeps you among the people that are not serious about overcoming social anxiety. People who are serious about not letting social anxiety rule their lives can do these things. And then some.

Allow me to explain why I don’t agree with living within self-imposed limits such as staying at a low-paying job because it feels easier or staying silent because then you “know you won’t make a mistake.”

What do you learn, or what are you telling yourself, if you take the easy way out?

1. It teaches you to be afraid. If you set limits on what you can or should do based on your anxiety, you are subconsciously telling yourself that your fear is warranted. What’s the worst that would happen if you spoke up in a meeting at work? Could you approach situations from the perspective of trying to make a fool of yourself? What if you allowed yourself to look anxious, made your hands shake on purpose, or tripped over your words just to see how other people would react? Try it sometime, you might be surprised how little of a reaction you get.

2.  It does not allow you to learn from your mistakes. Mistakes are the great teachers in life. Without mistakes along the way, you won’t learn. Why do we learn best from our mistakes? Once you’ve learned what not to do, the chance of repeating the same mistake twice is lessened. What social mistake have you made lately? Think back on that mistake and what you learned from it. Appreciate it as a teacher rather than a negative aspect of yourself.

3.  You develop a reputation that is hard to shake. You won’t hear this said often about social anxiety, but it does tend to be true. Once you start avoiding people, you will develop a reputation as being standoffish or unapproachable, even though it’s ridiculously untrue. This creates a vicious cycle that you can’t escape. People will stop inviting you to events, stop trying to bring you into the conversation, and even stop thinking of you for promotions at work. It’s movement in a direction that is hard to reverse once it’s started. So start small, and begin to build yourself back into someone you want to be—not someone you’ve become because of who you were afraid to be.

4. You will find your options greatly narrowed. Similar to developing a poor reputation, your options will become narrowed the more you try to take the easy way out. While at first you may not notice what you’ve done, eventually you may wake up one day and wonder who you will talk to that day. Don’t let that happen to you. Don’t bank on friends and family being there when you finally make it out of your shell. While the good ones will stay, your relationship with them will be taxed.

While all of this might sound a little harsh, it’s meant to be that way. I don’t want you to keep going down that path.

Think of it this way—you don’t have to change overnight. You don’t have to change in a day. But you want your trajectory to be “up.” You want the slope of the line to be positive, as Susannah Cahalan writes in her book Brain on Fire.

But, if you are not taking the easy way out, what are you to do?

Learning to break free from social anxiety is a topic for another day. I’ll be writing about ways to break free from the easy path soon.

For now, just make a commitment that you will try.

Tips on Using Self-Help Workbooks (for Social Anxiety)

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If you’ve stepped inside a bookstore lately, you’ve probably noticed a proliferation of self-help titles. The list of things you can improve about yourself is literally endless—and it can be hard to know who to trust or whether any of these books will actually help.

In the case of social anxiety, self-help books hold a special significance, as they can be accessed by anyone regardless of your current fears. If you’re too afraid to pick up the phone to call your doctor, ordering a book from Amazon might feel like a smaller first step that you can take.

At the same time, there is a risk with self-help books that you expect too much. A book is never going to replace an interaction with a mental health professional. What it will do is provide knowledge upon which you can act.

A study published in 2008 in the journal Professional Psychology: Research and Practice examined 50 self-help books for anxiety and depression and rated books on four main qualities believed to reflect books that would help:

  • grounded in science, brings the knowledge of experts to you (e.g., cognitive-behavioral therapy)
  • realistic in their expectations (not promising a complete cure)
  • offered specific guidance (step-by-step instructions, user-friendly)
  • did no harm (did not provide false information)

The 10 top-rated books from that study included Dying of Embarrassment by Barbra Markway and The Shyness and Social Anxiety Workbook by Martin M. Antony.

What they found was that the best books (based on their criteria) had the following characteristics in addition to those listed above:

    • focused on a limited type of problem
    • were written by doctoral-level psychologists, often affiliated with academic institutions
    • offered a chance to monitor your progress
    • addressed relapse or setbacks
    • discussed co-existing disorders or problems
    • talked about when to seek professional help

Although that study touched on it briefly, I think one of the more important qualities of a good self-help book is that it is not overwhelming.

We are all busy, and it is often easier to keep doing what we are doing than to try to make a change. While self-help books are more convenient than visiting a therapist or life coach, if they are not put into practice, they are likely to have minimal effect. You need to apply the advice in the book to make progress.

I think there are two types of books that impede translating knowledge into action.

Those that provide too much information (overload) and those that provide no plan (lack direction).

Of course, it’s possible for a book to have both of these qualities—that would be the worst of all worlds.

When choosing a book, after you’ve narrowed it down to those that meet the above criteria (as best you can, based on reviews or referrals from others), try skimming through (in a bookstore if you can, or the library or online) and read a bit. All other things being equal (as described above), I’d choose the one that is easiest to read with the best action plan (often a workbook style). I’d also choose a book that you find inspiring.

Once you’ve chosen a book, how can you get the most out of it?

  • Keep a journal. Add your own thoughts and insights. This will bring the book to life for you.
  • Complete the exercises. This might seem obvious, but don’t jump ahead. Take the time to do any exercises in the book fully. Change involves thoughts, feelings, and actions all interacting. You might learn new things about yourself that you can use as you move forward in the book.
  • Take stock. At the end of each chapter or section, take stock and think about the impact of what you’ve done. Do you need to adjust or make changes?
  • Get an accountability partner. This could be a friend or family member, or even an online group. Meet once a week to discuss what you are reading.

In the Huffington Post article, “Why self-help books rarely work,” life coach and personal growth expert Matthew Jones writes “The book can change your perspective, but you must change your life.”

I’d like to relate an example from my personal life, not about social anxiety, but that shows how books can impart knowledge, but it is up to you to take action.

A couple of weeks ago, I was scrolling through Facebook and came across a video called “The Secret Reason We Eat Meat.” I was interested, so I started watching, but soon realized that the video was over 20 minutes long and I didn’t have time to finish all of it. It started out with Melanie Joy, a social psychologist, explaining the premise of what she terms “carnism,” or the ideology that creates a meat-eating society.

So I set the video aside to return later. Unbeknownst to me, it contained graphic videos of animal slaughterhouses midway through. Somehow, I managed to jump back into the video during one of these videos. It was as though I’d accidentally clicked on a slasher film—it really was that bad. Nervously I jumped ahead a bit and watched to the end. And then I read Dr. Joy’s book, Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows.

The book presented a logical argument regarding veganism and the secret ideology that promotes eating meat. It all made sense to me, from a logic standpoint. But if I had put that book down and went to eat a hamburger, would anything change? If I knew differently, but continued to do what I’ve always done, what was the point?

I hope that if you do pick up a self-help book, you will realize there is little point in just reading. You might gain knowledge, but you won’t change, and what you’ve learned will much more easily slip away.

If you find it hard, be accountable and then reward yourself in some way for taking action.

If you find it really hard, find a therapist to help you work through the book.

As for me, it’s been two weeks and I still haven’t eaten that hamburger.

Sources:

Huffington Post. Why self-help books rarely work.

Psychology Today. What you should look for in a self-help book.

Redding, R. E., Herbert, J. D., Forman, E. M., & Gaudiano, B. A. (2008). Popular self-help books for anxiety, depression, and trauma: How scientifically grounded and useful are theyProfessional Psychology: Research and Practice, 39(5), 537-545.

Wood, G. 3 top tips: How to get the most from a self-help book.

A Social Anxiety Advent Calendar

helping photo

Advent calendars run the gamut from ornate wooden houses with doors that open to reveal small vignettes to inexpensive mass-produced dollar store chocolate in cardboard boxes. Whatever the package, children tend to enjoy them, but as adults we often lose this tradition.

The “Make Today Happy” blog offered a twist on the advent calendar to encourage children and adults alike to make the 25 days of Christmas more about giving than receiving.

In their “Kindness Advent Calendar,” each day you are instructed to complete a task that spreads a little bit of kindness out into the world.

Imagine if you could take that premise—an advent calendar about kindness—and convert it into something that would help others but at the same time help you to work on overcoming social anxiety?

Below you will find instructions on what to do each day for 25 days both to challenge your social anxiety and to spread some kindness into the world.

Dec 1:

If you are on social media such as Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, share this article with your friends and let them know what you are up to this month. You might be surprised how much support you receive—and it’s an easy way to share a bit about yourself and the fact you may be coping with anxiety.

Dec 2:

Bring a special homemade treat to a friend, neighbor, family member, or colleague. Say something like “I am practicing kindness for 25 days, and I thought you might enjoy this batch of cookies.”

If you struggle in the kitchen, consider picking up something from your local bakery. This gives you two opportunities to practice social interaction, and also supports a local business.

Dec 3:

Help those less privileged than yourself by donating unwanted winter coats, hats, or mitts to a local shelter or the Salvation Army. You might even find a way to turn this into a chance to make new friends.

In my hometown of London, Ontario, Canada the group “Just a Bunch of Friends” travels the streets of the city once a month to hand out food, drinks, clothing, etc. to the homeless. Find a similar group in your area and ask if you can participate—or at least pass on items to be given away. You’ll be practicing many skills such as using the telephone and meeting new people.

Dec 4:

Some days are for reflection and rejuvenation in this advent calendar. Listen to your favorite upbeat song either on a pair of headphones or blasting through your living room and dance.

This is good practice for when people actually are watching, though for now this is just for you. (If you really enjoy dancing and have a game console, you could even consider investing in the Just Dance series to step up your moves)

Dec 5:

Be friendly with people that you meet. While your natural tendency is probably to used closed body language—head down, arms folded in front of you, turned away, standing at a distance—try doing the opposite today.

Stand straight, keep your head level and eyes straight ahead, relax your arms at your sides, turn toward people, stand close, and most importantly, smile.

Dec 6:

Talk to someone about their problems. Do you know someone who has been struggling with something recently? Perhaps you’ve noticed a friend or relative posting about an issue on social media or talking with someone else about a problem they need solved.

Offer a listening ear to that person and expect nothing in return. This will give you a chance to practice your active listening skills, and may even help the other person decide on a course of action.

Dec 7:

Give blood. Donating blood is a simple charitable act that most people can do. In the United States you can do this through the Red Cross Blood Bank.

There are certain eligibility requirements, so it’s probably best to call ahead and ask if you meet the criteria. Or, you can visit the website and read up on the process. Either way you’ll be working on your social anxiety in three ways:

1) Helping others has been shown to be related to lower social anxiety;

2) Using the phone is good practice if you’ve got phone phobia; and

3) Talking to  health personnel is a good chance to expose yourself to a new situation.

Dec 8:

Compliment someone indirectly. An indirect compliment can have just as much of a positive impact as a direct one. Choose between in-person, telephone, or electronic delivery, and then praise someone you know—without contacting them directly.

For example, you might tell a friend about how your sister has great style, email your mother about how your father’s help around the house has been a blessing, or post on Facebook about the delicious desserts a coworker brought in to work.

Word will eventually get around, and an indirect compliment can sometimes carry more weight. In the meantime, you’ve also practiced an important social skill.

Dec 9:

Leave something inspirational in public for others to find. Examples might include an envelope with a $5 bill and the note “Hope this makes your day a little brighter!” or a book (something along the lines of “The Secret”) with a note that whoever finds this book is about to be put on a path to success. Write a positive message on a rock and leave it somewhere to be found.

Here you challenge your social anxiety by getting out in public and risking possible embarrassment if someone wonders what you are doing. It’s okay to feel anxious while you do this—just keep going.

Dec 10:

Dedicate a half hour out of your day to mindfulness of your surroundings. It’s easy to get caught up in the busyness of the Christmas season. Perhaps you’ve rushed through a shopping mall or kept your head down as you go about your day, not paying attention to those around you. Be on the lookout for those struggling. Perhaps you can do something as simple as hold a door for a new mom. Bonus points for practicing mindfulness (which helps to conquer social anxiety) and helping others.

Dec 11:

Be kind to yourself and take the time to move your body today. Exercise is known to help improve mood and it’s likely to also help your social anxiety. Yoga, running, and a group exercise class are good options to challenge your anxiety while also getting oxygen pumping to your brain.

Dec 12:

Today, practice patience. This could mean patience with yourself, patience with others, patience with the world—all of which are going to help put your problems with social anxiety in perspective. Perhaps you’ve been impatient with finding work, making friends, or waiting on the world to change (as John Mayer says). Change takes time and that’s okay.

Dec 13:

Anonymously send a postcard of positivity. The website “Postcards for Positivity” allows you to register your name to be on a list of people who wish to receive an anonymous postcard with a positive message.

Add your name to the list, and you could soon find an inspirational greeting in your mailbox. Or, ask them to give you the name and address of someone from the list, and you can send your own greeting of positivity.

Dec 14:

Find a long-lost relative. Sign up for a program like Ancestry DNA or 23 and Me and discover your heritage. These programs also allow you to connect with far-flung relatives—people that you would otherwise never have the chance to meet. Challenge your social anxiety by actually reaching out to someone and learning what you share in common.

Dec 15:

Offer an item you no longer need for free on Kijiji or Craigslist. Conquer your social anxiety through challenges like emailing potential recipients, taking phone calls and meeting in person. Just remember to stay safe and meet in a public setting. This can be especially great to do with kids toys right before the holiday season!

Dec 16:

Write a letter of appreciation to groups that are helping the community or the environment, such as the “Just a Bunch of Friends” collective mentioned earlier. Your positive words may inspire them to continue doing good, and the act of reaching out will increase your confidence in giving compliments.

Dec 17:

Ask how a person is doing. This seems quite simple on the surface, but how often have you taken the time to ask this question and actually listen for the answer? Match it with direct eye contact and a genuine smile, and you’ve practiced open body language and active listening all in one shot.

Dec 18:

Buy yourself flowers.

Or chocolate.

Or a new tie.

Or a favorite magazine.

Choose a small indulgence you might not normally allow yourself, and realize that you deserve to feel good and rewarded once in a while. Consider this your reward for all the hard work you have been doing this month.

Dec 19:

Go to a tourist location and offer to take photos with other people’s cameras. What! I can’t do that, you think. That’s exactly the point! You can do it, if it weren’t for your social anxiety holding you back.

Wouldn’t you at least like to try. If you happen to live close to a natural wonder of the world (such as Niagara Falls) go hang out for an hour and see who you can help. Otherwise, keep this one tucked away in your mind for when the opportunity presents itself.

Okay—we are in the home stretch now, so we’re going to keep the last 6 days short and sweet.

Dec 20:

Drop off a toy, game, or magazines to a hospital waiting room.

Dec 21:

Drop off a grocery store gift card to a homeless shelter.

Dec 22:

Take teddy bears to the Children’s Aid Society.

Dec 23:

Tape change to a payphone with a note gifting it to the next person who needs it.

Dec 24:

Give a lottery ticket to a stranger.

Dec 25:

Call a relative who may be alone just to say hi.

 

About Social Anxiety Gets Its Own Website!

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I’m excited to announce that this website, About Social Anxiety, is the new home for my blog! Let me back up a bit, for those who are not familiar with who I am and what I do.

About 10 years ago, I saw an online ad for writers for a site called About.com. At the time I was working for the local school board, it was summer time, and I had some extra time on my hands. I thought, “what the hey,” and sent in my application.

Given my background in mental health, I was interested in writing for one of their health sites. At the time, the two topics that were available were, as I recall, social anxiety disorder (SAD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). I had more knowledge of SAD than ADHD, so I chose to apply to that topic.

I heard back shortly that I was being considered for the position, but that I would need to “audition” for the part. This involved essentially creating a test site, complete with articles and blogs that would cover the basics.

I remember this process being an incredible amount of work. Had I not been on summer vacation, pre-children, and I think even husbandless for a week, chances are I would have quit. In fact, I remember talking to family members about how I felt like quitting. After all, if I wasn’t chosen, all that work was in vain.

Well, guess what? I did get chosen, and the rest is history. I remember the person who was my initial contact at About.com telling me that my blog was my strong point and that my articles needed to sound less like a textbook. Perhaps they should have just told me to write everything in the blog voice? I’m not sure.

Anyway, fast forward 10 years and a few changes of ownership…. actually maybe only one, but feels like more—when I started the company was owned by the New York Times and is now headed by IAC.
An aside—I wish I’d kept one of my cheques with the New York Times logo on it. I guess at the time I didn’t realize how cool that was!

Bottom line, things have changed a lot at the old About.com. We’ve branched out into what they call “vertical” sites, which means that each content area gets its own domain.

The sites are:
Verywell
Lifewire
Tripsavvy
The Spruce
The Balance
Thoughtco

So, I now write for Verywell. Many other things have changed. I used to write a weekly blog post for About.com, but we are no longer required/supposed to do that. That bloggy voice, which I was told was my strength, is not part of Verywell. Instead, on that site you will find informational articles written in the third person with a consistent tone across the vertical.

There’s nothing wrong with that! It’s just that… I liked the blog.

The blog was a chance to be timely, to keep up with current events related to social anxiety, report on new studies that came out, do fun things like have polls, and oh my gosh even comments from readers! Imagine that!

So… I guess what I’m trying to say in a long-winded way is that I missed my old About.com blog about social anxiety disorder.

This is what I am going to try and recreate here at About Social Anxiety.

And if it goes well, I hope this site will serve some other purposes as well.

An added reason for writing this blog is to have a home for my books on Amazon. I’ve written a self-help book “7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety” as well as a short story, “Silent Night” about a socially anxious university student who must work through her anxiety to find her missing sister.

In addition, I’ve written a couple of short books in the vein of “What to Expect” regarding therapy. The one about CBT for social anxiety is complete and can be purchased from Leanpub.
If there’s anything you’d like me to write about or topics you’d like to see covered, just leave a comment below.

Also, I hope you’ll like me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter, and help me understand how to use Instagram and Pinterest! Honestly, I haven’t yet got the hang of those last two. From what I can tell, Instagram is great for artistic types and Pinterest is most useful for graphic-type illustrations. Or maybe I’ve totally misunderstood them!

Till next time!

How to Increase Your Self-Worth

african american photoWhat is self-worth?

According to Merriam-Webster, it is “a feeling that you are a good person who deserves to be treated with respect.”

Let’s break that down for a second.

You might ask yourself, “well who would not think they deserve to be treated with respect?”

And, what does it actually mean to deserve respect?

A lot of people who are socially anxious fail this litmus test.

The story usually goes like this:

You believe that everyone else in the world is more deserving of respect than you.

Say, for example, you accomplish something really great. Maybe you get a good grade in school or are hired for a new job.

At this point, is when you start to downplay anything about yourself that may have contributed to that outcome.

Oh, well it was easy to get good grades. Anyone could have done it.

Or, that job, they just hired me because they needed someone. It’s not that there was anything special about me that got me hired.

The pattern goes..

Achievement – seeing it as not reflective of you in any way – lowered self-worth.

Or..

Anything positive about yourself – seeing it as nothing special – lowered self-worth.

What would you think/say/do if someone else accomplished the same?

Would you attribute that good grade to hard work, determination, goal setting? Or the job offer to a stellar interview, great background, or strong work ethic?

More importantly, what are you getting out of denying your self-worth?

Because, be honest, there’s a reason why you are doing it. What are you afraid of? Are you afraid of people expecting more from you? Afraid that people will discover you are not really that great (like something along the lines of Imposter Syndrome)?

What is holding you back from accepting your own worth?

While it may not seem that relevant to social anxiety, it’s actually a key part of the puzzle. Somewhere along the way you lost the ability to view yourself and others from the same objective lens. Do you know when that point was? Can you pick it out from your past?

Perhaps there was some event where you let yourself down.

That speech in fourth grade where everyone laughed. The time you did not get the job and you did make a fool of yourself in the interview.

But do you have to keep telling yourself you are that person?

I don’t think so.

So that’s the first reason. Reason #1. Fear.

What’s the second reason you might be denying your own self-worth?

Because of a need to be your authentic self.

Reason #2. Needing to be your real self.

Somehow along the way your social anxiety became entwined with your view of yourself. The need to escape the spotlight became part of a whole strategy of down-playing yourself, achievements and all. There goes that respect along with your self-worth.

I’ve talked a lot about assertiveness. But I’ve never talked about its relationship to self-worth.

You see, when you ask for the respect of others, you are actually showing them respect too.

When you say “no” because you don’t have time to do something, you are allowing the other person the chance to find someone else to do the job.

When you tell someone how you are feeling (or how they’ve hurt you), you are giving them a roadmap of how to make you happy in the future.

In essence, the cycle looks something like this:

self-worth = respect for self = respect from others = assertiveness = respect for others.

So, working on your self-worth is a proposition that helps everyone.

Let’s go back to that fear + needing to be your real self.

How can we work past these blocks?

Fear = being afraid of what it means to command respect.

Needing to be your real self = well, it’s the same definition as above.

What we are really talking about here is that you don’t feel like you deserve that respect. That piece of you, the self-worth piece, isn’t there, and it feels weird when you try to insert it. It’s not you. It feels wrong.

So like with anything, we need to take those baby steps.

Step 1. Every morning, write down three good things about yourself. Continue to do this throughout the rest of the steps.

Step 2. Make a list of things that would make you feel better about yourself. This can be anything, from as small as making your bed every morning or buying a new outfit, to as big as getting a new job or buying a house.

Step 3. Order that list from smallest to biggest. Each day, do one little thing that moves you closer to achieving the smallest item on the list. Once you’ve achieved an item, cross it off and move on to the next.

Step 4. Write down three problems in your life. They might be about social anxiety or something more general. Now, pretend you are a good friend offering advice. Tell yourself what you think you should do to solve the problem. Notice how you speak differently to yourself as a friend.

Step 5. Write down every bad thing you say to yourself in your head. Keep it in a password-protected Word doc or a note on your phone. Get tired of making this list. Make it easier on yourself by not saying bad things to yourself so that you have less to write on the list.

Get out there. Your value isn’t determined by anyone else but you.

Do You Believe in Yourself?

positive photo

It’s easy to not believe in yourself when you have mental health struggles. It’s that voice in your head that says you are not good enough, smart enough, pretty enough—whatever enough—to be deserving of the recognition of others.

If you have social anxiety you might believe

… others will never like you

… you will always be a misfit in social situations

… you could never succeed in a job where you have to give talks

… people will never value your opinion

…. you are basically invisible

The common theme here is a lack of belief in yourself.

You might be saying, well heck no I don’t believe in myself. Every time I have a chance to prove myself I screw up! Just other day I was having lunch and I spilled my drink in my lap. I gave a speech and panicked in the middle of it. I run away when the doorbell rings.

How can I believe in myself when I don’t believe anything good about myself?

Well, let’s stop for a second. Sure, a therapist would have you break down those thoughts along the lines of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT):

Is it really true others will never like you?

Are there times you did not feel like a misfit?

Do you have to be perfect when you give a talk?

Do you really think others’ don’t value your opinion?

Sure, you are not invisible?

C’mon now, be more realistic in your thinking. Let’s work through this, get you some more rationale thoughts, and you’ll be on your way to believing in yourself.

(disclaimer: I am not knocking CBT. It’s a scientifically validated treatment for social anxiety disorder that everyone can benefit from. If you haven’t had it, and need it, run… don’t walk… to your doctor, and ask for it. Seriously. What can it hurt? I know, there’s the cost… there’s that. Well, that’s for another post).

Back up a moment.

What if, just imagine if, you are so down on yourself, so low, that you can’t possibly grasp these more “realistic” thoughts. Or, what if gosh darn it they are actually true? What if you truly have stood out as a misfit your whole life and people treated you like you were invisible?

Here is where the mindshift needs to happen. Before you work on changing yourself, maybe think a bit about accepting yourself.

Nobody likes you. So what? Do you like you? Is there anything about yourself that you actually do like? Surely there is something you can grab a hold of as a starting point.

For example,

Maybe you have a skill or ability that makes you unique. Draw on that as your source of strength.

Believe in yourself because of that trait, ability, whatever you want to call it.

The next time you find yourself in a conversation circle being invisible and feeling down on yourself, think about that one thing you are good at. That thing you might even be better at than most people.

You see, that’s your point of strength. If all you ever do is try to fix your weaknesses, you never get to feel good about yourself.

It’s like that old saying about asking a fish to climb a tree.

Of course you are going to feel bad about yourself if your life revolves around how bad you are at everything. Why not get out there and do what you are good at?

Let’s take me for an example.

Once upon a time, I worked as a teaching assistant.

The class was Introductory Statistics.

The students clearly did not want to be there, and I’m not sure I did either.

On random occasions (which was quite odd, looking back on it now) I was asked to actually teach the class. Usually, the prof who was supposed to teach would call me at 7:30 am to tell me I had to teach the 9:00 am class, he was not well. Thanks.

You see, I’m not the greatest in front of an audience. (That’s for another post).

But, guess what?

I was actually quite good at statistics. And good at planning classes. Good at helping students after class.

So, I believed in my ability to do the job based on my strengths, despite my silent war with not wanting to be in front of that class of students.

Is there anything about yourself that makes you unique?

What, in a conversation, could you contribute that would be uniquely you?

Or what aspect of your personality is a strength that you could use to your advantage?

Are you…

Smart? Kind? Funny? Detail-oriented?

It can be anything really. Just pick something, and base your belief in yourself on that.

Then build from there.

See, we are not talking about changing your social anxiety here, we’re talking about changing your mindset.

The social anxiety is for another day.

I just want you to believe in yourself.

Help for Mental Health: What We’re Doing Wrong

doctor photo

I was recently reading about an online treatment for depression called “Deprexis” summarized by Dr. John Grohol, over at the Psych Central site. Dr. Grohol discusses the study that was done to investigate the effectiveness of this online treatment program, that doesn’t involve any contact with a therapist.

Results of the study were very promising, suggesting that those who completed the treatment improved in terms of their scores on the Beck Depression Inventory.

Surprisingly, however, even participants who did not complete the entire 10-module program still improved. Those who only completed 4 or fewer of the 10 sessions still received a positive benefit. In addition, there was a very large dropout rate (almost half) in the study, which is consistent with most online interventions.

Dr. Grohol discusses some of the issues surrounding these findings — namely, why do people drop out of online treatment? Is it because they are depressed? Or because they have improved enough in the first half of the program that they don’t need to continue? Or that they just lost motivation, possibly due to the depression itself?

These are all fascinating issues, and relevant to those who wish to create online treatment programs for social anxiety disorder as well. I would like to return to this discussion, but first, I have a little story to tell.

I recently went to see my doctor for a physical issue that had been giving me problems for a couple of months. When I arrived at the office, I was told that there was a medical student who would be sitting in on the appointment, if that was okay with me. I don’t mind that sort of thing, so agreed that it was fine.

Prior to the doctor arriving, the medical student took my history. And by history, I mean an extensive list of questions about my medical background. As I answered the questions, in the back of my mind I was thinking, “When will I be asked about my mental health history?” I kept waiting, and waiting, and waiting. The questions never came.

I left that day bewildered. If our primary physicians are not the entry point into mental health discussions, then who is? Is it up to the person with depression, social anxiety, obsessive-compulsive habits or post-traumatic flashbacks to say, “Hey doc, I’ve been having these mental health issues. Do you think you could help with that?” Perhaps it is, but I don’t think it should have to be that way.

People shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to get mental health diagnoses and treatment. The process needs to be made as easy as possible for those struggling with mental health issues. Asking someone with social anxiety or depression to proactively bring up mental health issues during a routine doctor’s appointment is akin to asking a person who just had a heart attack to drive himself to the hospital. We have procedures like 911 and ambulances because we recognize the handicap that those in physical distress face. Why don’t we recognize the same handicap among those under extreme mental stress?

Bringing the discussion back around full circle — I would like to think that somehow the online treatment revolution might bring some relief. However, if nearly half of those who start an online program end up dropping out, then we still aren’t doing a good enough job.

How can we fix this problem? Here would be a few of my suggestions:

1. Train primary physicians to watch for and ask about mental health symptoms. And to ask about them even when it seems irrelevant.

2. To take the burden off of the patient with mental health issues to push for treatment. Once symptoms have been identified, the burden should be on the attending physician to start a course of action that leads to a resolution — that does not require the patient to be proactive or make follow-up phone calls. The simplest road block could discourage someone with depression or social anxiety from continuing to seek help. All of those road blocks need to be removed.

3. Follow through. In the case of those in the online treatment programs I described, I suspect that some form of accountability might have kept them in the program longer. For those with social anxiety, facing fears can be daunting. Having someone (anyone) to whom they are accountable for completing the program could make a huge difference.

As Dr. Grohol states, however, we still don’t know the reason for those dropout rates — so this is the next avenue that research needs to address.

In the meantime, what can you do?

1. Start an online treatment program for SAD that has been validated with some form of scientific study.

2. Try to complete the whole program, even if you feel like dropping out.

3. If your doctor isn’t good about asking about mental health symptoms, bring a written summary with you. Doctors still need to do a better job with mental health issues, but in the meantime you can help them out.

How to Overcome Social Anxiety and Reclaim Your Life

alive photo

Does it ever strike you as odd that social anxiety disorder (or SAD, as I will refer to it sometimes on this blog) is among the top three most common mental health conditions (yes, up there with depression and alcoholism), there are science-backed treatments for it that we know work, and yet around a third of people with social anxiety experience symptoms for 10 years or more before seeking help. Wait, what?

10 or more years? Like, were they locked in their homes or something?

Well, kind of.

Not locked in a house like Paul Sheldon was in Misery.

No, these people with social anxiety are living with some kind of virtual shackle, that stops them from waving at the neighbor, going to work, raising their hand in class, leaving the house, speaking—

You get the picture. And if this is you, that picture confronts you every morning.

So, it’s no wonder that these people don’t, imagine that, pick up the telephone and call their doctor

How would that go anyway?

“Good morning, Dr. X’s office, can you hold for a moment?”

“Uh.” . Click.

You know what? It’s really not their fault. And it’s not your fault. Because, you see, the world is not set up to help people with social anxiety get help. In fact, it’s pretty much stacked against you.

But still, 10 years? Surely you can do better than that. Let’s think about what contributes to that 10 year gap.

#1. You’re not motivated to change.

Okay, okay. Hear me out.

I don’t mean not motivated in the sense that you lay about in your pyjamas all day, eat bon bons, and binge-watch Netflix. Well if you do, kudos. You’ve found a way to earn a living that doesn’t require working, so good on you. Unless, of course, you’re living with people who are supporting you. Not good. Very bad.

No, I mean the type of lack of motivation that stems from fear of making a major life change.

Maybe you’ve settled into your way of life and somehow made it work for you.

Maybe your family doesn’t support you changing.

Maybe you have other mental health issues that make life a struggle in general.

Maybe you think the cost of getting help is out of reach.

Maybe you think there is no help for you, that you were born defective.

Maybe, maybe, maybe.

I don’t know you or what reason you might have for not wanting to change.

I do know that if you ever want to get motivated to change there are 3 things you need to do:

  1. Become aware that you have a problem. Most people with social anxiety realize they have a problem, but they might think it is something they have to live with.
  2. Think about making a change sometime in the future. It doesn’t have to be tomorrow. In fact, it probably shouldn’t be.
  3. Start planning to work on your issue in the near future. Something like within the next month.

But what about the why? Why are you doing this if things are ho-hum now. If your family doesn’t support you. If you can’t afford therapy. If you can’t be helped.

Are you happy?

How could your life be better?

The answers to those two key questions will tell you if you can dig deep to find that motivation. Because it will always feel more comfortable to stay the same. And people will often be unsupportive. And you may run into roadblocks getting help (but there are ways around this—a topic for another post). And YOU CAN BE HELPED.

You all can be helped. Don’t believe otherwise.

#2. You don’t have the information to change.

So, if you’ve got the motivation that’s all you need, right? Yeah right. You need tools and information. You can’t do this alone (well, maybe you can—again, another post). But if you think you know it all already, you’re done before you start.

You need expert help to get through this and live well. Whether that comes in the form of medication, therapy, self-help books, online treatment modules, your cat telling you what to do (not advised, cats don’t know social anxiety)—it doesn’t matter. And you know, combining different methods might actually work the best, kind of like the shotgun approach.

#3. You are not putting what you have learned into practice.

Medication aside, overcoming social anxiety involves a lot of mental work. It’s very easy to slip up and return to old ways of thinking.

Perhaps you got better for a while and then went through a stressful time in your life and regressed. We’ve all been there.

Maybe you’ve read all the self-help books, but that’s all you’ve done is read.

Guess

what?

It’s not going to work if you don’t put in the work. Kind of like you can’t spend 4 months exercising like a madman and expect to then keep six-pack abs for the rest of your life.

Why do people expect that from the brain?

“Well geez, I got treatment shouldn’t I be fine now?”

“Well geez, did you dump your gym membership because you saw you were getting in shape?

What I am getting at here is that medication, therapy, and even self-help approaches are often time-limited.

We treat this as a mental health disorder that needs a short term fix. And I do understand that this is partly because it’s just not feasible to continue in therapy or on medication for an extended period.

But. Still.

We need to start envisioning mental wellness instead of focusing on mental illness. Especially for issues like social anxiety.

And we need to focus on maintenance of mental wellness among the healthy.

You can do this. You’ve got this. I believe in you.