Tag Archives: social anxiety

Social Anxiety and the Art of Conversation

One of the questions I frequently receive from clients is how to start conversations. This is particularly difficult for people who have social anxiety and have to meet or get to know someone new. Some tips to make conversation more comfortable:

Ask something personal
We need a few minutes of small talk to warm up. But to make sure you don’t get stuck in trivial chitchat, ask something personal related to the topic. A rule of thumb is to ask questions that contain the word “you.”

Be genuinely curious
I work with clients both in the office as well as IRL social situations. I have them come up with three questions to ask people over the course of a conversation. Here are 3 examples of things you can try to learn about someone:

  • What they do for their work or craft
  • Where they live and what it means to them
  • What their future plans are

Share something slightly personal
One of the most popular conversation tips is to let the other person do most of the talking, but it’s not true that people ONLY want to talk about themselves.

Focus your attention on the conversation
It’s easy to become distracted by what you think you should say next, notifications on your phone, or your own discomfort. When you notice yourself getting self-conscious, bring your focus back to the conversation. This makes it easier to be curious. It is easier to make interesting conversation when you focus on what the other person is saying instead of yourself.

Circle back
Good conversation doesn’t have to be linear. It’s completely natural to revisit something you’ve already talked about if you reach a dead-end and there’s a bit of a silence.

Steer the conversation towards passions
It’s more fun to talk about passions instead of swapping facts about work. If it turns out that you have similar passions, delve into those. They can be a strong basis for connection.

Ask open-ended questions
Closed-ended questions can be answered with a “Yes” or “No,” whereas open-ended questions invite longer answers. Use open-ended questions when possible.

Ask for their personal opinion
It’s fun and engaging to get asked about one’s opinion. Getting into a debate if you disagree is not the point; it’s about stimulating genuine conversation.

FOGO and Mental Heath

Patient with Social Anxiety: “ I have been preparing for quarantine my whole life. This is easy for me.”

We have become familiar with FOMO, or fear of missing out. It’s a term that has been coined often with regard to social media, such as feeling pangs of jealousy or loss when we are not included in what looks like a series of wonderful activities, relationships, and vacations enjoyed by friends and family members.  We also know that the apparent fun is often greatly exaggerated.

One thing that has come under a necessary spotlight during this pandemic is the importance of our well-being. Not just physical, but also our mental and emotional well-being. A key component of building healthy relationships with friends, colleagues, and employers is creating psychological safety and trust, whether that be at home, social events, or in the workplace.

FOGO, or fear of going out, has become one of the main concerns that my patients now bring to me.

Like most aspects of anxiety, symptoms can range from milder contextual worries, to a potentially debilitating and disabling disorder. 

Recently, a close friend resigned from an organizational position because of safety concerns regarding corporate upper level management’s insistence on large gatherings, IRL. Similarly, one of my patients had to fight for her need to work (actually very efficiently), from the home, because she did not want to expose elderly parents and vulnerable family members to potential harm. In both of these cases, the goals of the organization could easily have been met by working virtually. At times, family members can also put pressure on individuals to attend weddings or events where they don’t feel comfortable with illness exposure, but don’t feel like they can say no.

So, how do we create organizational and personal cultures that support others, both internally and externally?

Some of the key factors:
-What are the goals, and how can they be met?
In a culture of extroverts, many people assume that face-to-face meetings are the only way to facilitate communication and camaraderie. While I see half my patients virtually and half in the office, all have expressed satisfactory therapeutic experiences.  finding creative ways of getting goals met shows care, facilitates trust, and increases teamwork.

-Reciprocal Communication.
You cannot overcommunicate about health and safety. Being able to express and respond appropriately to fears on personal matters such as health worries and/or immunosuppressed family members makes a huge difference in building trust and teamwork in any organization.

-Perceived Support
Be supportive of fears or concerns in helping individuals transition back into schedules that work with individual needs. For example, I have several clients in the hospitality industry who believe that they have been rushed back to work, and felt that money is more important than people in their particular organizations.

-Reassure
Reassure employees as often as needed, and provide information on all the potential supports and resources they have access to. This should be an ongoing process.

-No ‘one size fits all’
Even though we are ‘all in this together’, we are going through different experiences and concerns. Many frontline staff in the health, service, and hospitality industries have felt tremendous pressure and anxiety. There are few things more scary than feeling that you will be terminated from your job if you don’t show up, thereby potentially jeopardizing your health.

– Destigmatize
One of my work colleagues who tested positive for Covid reported that she felt a tremendous sense of shame, as if she had somehow done ‘something wrong,’ despite her precautions. Patients have also told me that they were “outed” at work, and their health was discussed freely, without their consent.

FOGO is real. We already know that over the past year, there has been one of the most significant spikes in anxiety disorders and clinical depression this country has ever seen. From organizational and collegial support, expectations of productivity, to access to mental health services, these concerns cannot be ignored. Fluid situations require mental flexibility. 

Social Anxiety. It’s More Than Shyness.

16203233 – black woman holding her head in a living room

I have occasional days where it feels overwhelming to leave my house. I just want to have the quiet solitude of no interactions. This is a microcosm of the life of someone with social anxiety disorder. Although I do not suffer from social anxiety, it is the second most commonly diagnosed anxiety disorder. With the average age of onset being the early teenage years, it is a disorder that affects school, work, activities, and social interactions.

Social Anxiety is not shyness. It is an intense fear of being judged, rejected, or embarrassed in a social or performance situation. Symptoms may play havoc with daily routines, work performance, social life, and intimate life.

Social anxiety can be self-perpetuating. For individuals who suffer, avoidance of feared situations is common. The fear then becomes even more entrenched when exposure to anxiety provoking situations is limited. In my work. As part of the therapy process, I frequently meet people in various anxiety provoking settings.

Important facts:

  • A very broad range of interactions can be fear provoking. These might include having to return an item to a store, talk to a server in a restaurant, say hello to a neighbor, or place an order in a fast food drive-through.
  • Signs and symptoms experienced by individuals with social anxiety disorder may include blushing, sweating, racing heartbeat, shaking, avoiding eye contact, or feeling that their mind is going blank.
  • Misreading the behavior of others is a common factor. They might think that another person is frowning at them, angry at them if they don’t return a hello in the hallway, or believe they are being stared at.
  • Emotional distress may be experienced while being introduced to strangers, being teased or criticized, being the center of attention, having to speak in front of others, job interviews, group projects, meeting authority figures, or in classes or conferences that require social participation.
  • “Just face your fears, and they will go away,” does not happen. Therapy includes insight, strategies, practice, exposure, and fine-tuning.
  • Medication has been found to be very helpful, but is not the only solution. These may include antidepressants, beta blockers, and anti-anxiety medications.
Embolden Psychology
Embolden

Embolden offers the ADOS-2, the gold standard assessment for kids on the spectrum.

Combined with psychoeducational testing, it helps provide comprehensive information and recommendations to help children and teens six and up.

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