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!

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.

About Social Anxiety Gets Its Own Website!

beginning photo

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.