Strategies for Dealing with Social Anxiety

Strategies for Dealing with Social Anxiety

social-anxiety-identity-counseling-psychology-ann-arbor-michigan-psychotherapy

Identity Counseling Psychology is a counseling and psychotherapy practice in Ann Arbor, MI that treats a variety of mental health concerns in children, teens and adults. Our team of therapists specializes in counseling for anxiety disorders including social anxiety. To learn more about our services or how therapy can help you or a loved one who’s struggling with social anxiety, contact us today. To find out more about our licensed clinicians and their specialty areas, check out our team page

What Is Social Anxiety?

It’s normal to feel nervous in certain social or performance situations, like how going on a first date or giving a presentation may cause butterflies in your stomach. It’s also normal to at least sometimes worry a bit too much about what others think of you. So what sets Social Anxiety Disorder, also known as Social Phobia, apart from typical nervousness? 

In social anxiety disorder, anxiety is severe and persistent, and everyday interactions cause significant feelings of fear, embarrassment and self-consciousness. Social anxiety disorder is characterized by avoidance of social and performance situations where a person might be judged, criticized or rejected, and it can be so serious that it interferes with daily routines, work, school, and important relationships.

People with social anxiety almost always experience physical symptoms, and worry about appearing visibly anxious when their anxiety is triggered. These physical symptoms might include things like blushing, stumbling over words, sweating, or rapid heart-rate, and can develop into a full-blown panic attack. People dealing with social anxiety usually know that their reactions are unreasonable, and want to control them so that they can be more social, but feel powerless against their anxiety.

Common situations that can trigger social anxiety might include:

  • Going on dates
  • Job interviews
  • Parties
  • Public speaking
  • Business meetings
  • Reading aloud in class
  • Meeting with an authority figure
  • Being the center of attention

What Are the Symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder?

It’s important to note that everybody is different and it’s normal for comfort levels in social situations to vary depending on factors like personality and life experience. Some people are naturally more reserved and shy, especially during childhood, and this isn’t necessarily a sign of social anxiety disorder or that a child will one day develop social anxiety. On the other hand, some people are naturally more outgoing and extroverted, and these people can have social anxiety too.

Behavioral Symptoms

People with social anxiety disorder tend to have lower self-esteem and put a lot of energy into avoiding their triggers. As a result, social anxiety commonly manifests in the following behaviors:

  • Apologizing often
  • Avoiding situations where you  might be the center of attention
  • Avoiding smiling at people or making eye contact 
  • Finding excuses to leave a situation, like going to the bathroom 
  • Keeping conversations focused toward others rather than yourself
  • Leaving social situations abruptly
  • Mentally checking out of situations, or daydreaming
  • Not contributing or saying very little in conversations
  • Seeking frequent reassurance from others
  • Spending excessive amounts of time preparing for social situations
  • Trying to blend in or not draw attention to yourself
  • Using alcohol to cope in social situations 

Physical Symptoms

Physical symptoms can, and often do, accompany social anxiety. These might include:

  • Blushing
  • Dizziness
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Feeling that your mind has gone blank
  • Lightheadedness 
  • Muscle tension
  • Nausea
  • Shaky voice
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Upset stomach

How Does Social Anxiety Affect You? 

Social anxiety disorder, when left untreated, can significantly impact your life. Social anxiety symptoms tend to be very disruptive and can interfere with daily routines, performance at work or school, and interpersonal relationships. Social anxiety also has negative mental health consequences, as people with the disorder are at an increased risk for developing clinical depression and substance use disorders.

Harmful effects of social anxiety can include:


Self-Help Strategies for Dealing with Social Anxiety

Although social anxiety disorder generally requires help from a mental health professional like a therapist or counselor, there are some strategies that you can employ on your own to reduce symptoms, improve coping abilities, and overcome personal hurdles. Treatment isn’t always available or affordable, and if you or someone you love is struggling with social anxiety, we recommend the following self-help strategies to deal with social anxiety disorder in a healthy and effective way. 

Ask for Help with Getting Help

Sometimes, having social anxiety can make it especially difficult to seek professional help. Reaching out to strangers can be very tough for someone with social anxiety, but there are ways around this. Fear shouldn’t stop you from getting the help that you deserve for your mental health needs. If your social anxiety is keeping you from starting counseling, we recommend:

  • Asking a supportive family member or friend to contact a therapist or psychologist for you first. They can even help you set up your first appointment.
  • Writing an email to the mental health professional that you’d like to meet with instead of making a phone call. This tends to be easier for people with social anxiety. (At IDENTITY, we make it easy to write a quick online message to set up an appointment with any of our therapists through our contact page.)
  • Finding a therapist who practices online therapy. In recent years, more and more counseling practices offer online therapy. There are also apps and platforms to help you find exactly what you’re looking for in your online therapist. 

Self-Care

Self-care is always important when it comes to managing your mental health. There’s so much that you can do to care for your emotional and psychological well-being, but below we’ve narrowed down some of the best self-care strategies for social anxiety disorder in particular.  If you have social anxiety, consider making time for following self-care steps:

  • Join a local or online support group for people with social anxiety 
  • Get regular physical exercise in a way that you enjoy 
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine intake 
  • Create healthy sleeping habits
  • Read a book about social anxiety 
  • Practice mindfulness techniques, such as deep breathing or yoga 
  • Volunteer in your community
  • Perform random acts of kindness for others
  • Make time for hobbies that help you relax

Practice Your Social Skills

Knowing that you’re prepared and have put in the work is always a good way to reduce anxiety. We recommend applying this mindset to your social life. Start by thinking about your recent social encounters. Try to Identify the social skills that could use the most improvement or that you most commonly avoid. Below are some strategies for practicing and developing your social and communication skills:

  • Assertiveness – Many people with social anxiety have low self-confidence and lack assertiveness when communicating with others. Learn to become more assertive by making a point to practice communicating your needs in a calm and relaxed way that respects the needs of others. Usually, this takes the form of “I” statements, like “I feel disrespected when you interrupt me in meetings.” 
  • Nonverbal communication – People with social anxiety often adopt a “closed-off” stance in social situations and are reluctant to make direct eye contact or start conversations with others. They usually do these things without even realizing it, and aren’t aware of how it may be received. Practice relaxed posture, eye contact, and holding your hands at your sides to help you appear more confident and approachable in social situations. 
  • Verbal communication – Learning how to converse well with others can be very beneficial in reducing social anxiety symptoms. Practice joining in group conversations by listening first and then making a comment about what’s already being discussed. For example, “Are you talking about the midterm exam? I couldn’t figure out the extra credit question either.” It’s also important to practice being a good listener, asking open-ended questions, and sharing stories about yourself.

Tell Others About Your Social Anxiety

Your close friends and family may already know or have an idea that you have social anxiety, but it can be therapeutic, cathartic, and helpful in everyday life to share with others about your condition. If someone is important to you, talking with them about your symptoms and experiences can help them gain a better understanding of what you’re going through, and in turn, build a deeper and stronger connection between the two of you. If you’re feeling nervous to tell a friend or loved one that you have social anxiety, try to arrange a time where you can sit down and talk quietly and uninterrupted. You can also make a list of bullet points that you feel are important; this will help you if you tend to freeze up or your mind goes blank when you’re feeling nervous. 

It can also be beneficial to talk to your employer about your social anxiety so that you can receive accommodations or support that you might need in the workplace.


How Can IDENTITY Help?

Social anxiety disorder is a chronic mental health condition, but it does respond well to treatment. Treatment from a mental health professional like a therapist, counselor, or  psychologist has been known to greatly reduce symptoms, improve confidence, and increase the quality of life for those with social anxiety.

Psychological counseling or psychotherapy, has proven to be very beneficial, and many forms of therapy are known to be effective. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the most popular approach for social anxiety, as it works by helping patients identify and combat the incorrect and negative beliefs about themselves that actually worsen their social anxiety. In therapy, the clinician and the patient work together to help the patient improve their coping skills and develop stronger self-confidence, engaging in exercises like social skills training, role-playing, and exposure therapy. 

IDENTITY is a psychotherapy practice located in Ann Arbor, Michigan that specializes in treating social anxiety disorder. Our licensed therapists are experienced in helping patients overcome and cope with social anxiety, and are passionate about seeing clients achieve growth and accomplish their goals. If you’re in the Ann Arbor area and you or someone you love is dealing with social anxiety, contact us today to schedule an intake or learn more about our counseling services. 


Clinician Interview – Meet Danielle Nicholls-Slovinski, LMSW

Clinician Interview – Meet Danielle Nicholls-Slovinski, LMSW

Danielle-Nicholls-Slovinski-LMSW-Identity-Ann-Arbor-Headshot-1
Danielle Nicholls-Slovinski, LMSW

Interview with Danielle Nicholls-Slovinski, LMSW

Check out our interview with Ann Arbor, MI counselor, Danielle Nicholls-Slovinski, LMSW. Danielle is a licensed therapist practicing at Identity Counseling Psychology, a counseling and psychotherapy practice located on Washtenaw Avenue in the heart of Ann Arbor, MI. Danielle is passionate about helping people cope with a variety of mental health concerns and is currently accepting new patients. Danielle offers therapy for children, teens and adults. Contact us to schedule an intake appointment with Danielle.


What is your specialty?

I specialize in working with children and adults who have experienced trauma, or really hard events that made them fear for their safety or the safety of someone else. I particularly specialize in helping families with very young children work through trauma.  Sometimes people feel like they should just “get over” things that have happened to them, but it doesn’t always work like that. Sometimes we all need more support, especially after experiencing something traumatic.

What made you want to become a therapist?

I first realized I wanted to be a therapist when I was in high school and started learning about the different theories behind behavior and emotional well-being.  I recognized then that I was fascinated with how our brains and bodies respond to our experiences in the world, and how therapy can actually change brain chemistry and processing!  Over time, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on my own life experiences, which has shaped the models of therapy with which I resonate most.

What can clients expect when they first come to therapy? What is a typical therapy session like with you?

Therapy can feel intimidating at first, and I want all of my clients to have the experience of therapy moving at his/her own pace. It is important that we have time to develop trust in our relationship, and so most of the early sessions are about my getting to know who the client is, what s/he is hoping for from therapy, and experiences that might make it easier or harder to engage in therapy.  With adults this is often a free-flowing conversation over time, and with kids it often looks like engaging in play and other activities that help the child communicate who s/he is and what s/he needs. The beginning of therapy is also a time when clients get to know my style and can ask questions about the process. Over time, therapy sessions can look different for every client because I tailor each session to the needs of the person in the therapy space.

How have you seen therapy be helpful to your clients?

Therapy is meant to be a space of exploration and growth, and I’ve seen that be the case for many people.  I’ve worked with children and families who have been able to deepen their relationships, use those relationships to resolve behavioral concerns, and learn new ways of interacting with each other and the world. Some clients I’ve worked with have talked about feeling like fuller humans through the process of therapy because they’ve gained greater access to their emotions and are no longer preoccupied with hard experiences.  Others have learned that they are worthy of time and attention, and have grown in their sense of self and purpose. My role as a therapist is to create and hold a space for clients to bring anything they need to in order to work through the barriers impacting their lives.

What do you think are the most important considerations when looking for a therapist?

It’s so important to look for a therapist whose style is a match for the goals you have in treatment. There are lots of different ways of doing therapy and being a therapist, and finding the person you feel you can build a connection with is the most important piece when finding a therapist.

What do you hope your clients walk away with?

My hope is that all of my clients grow in their important relationships with others and in their relationship with themselves.  People need other people, and it’s through relationships that we can continue to grow and thrive. When we can understand ourselves and our relationships, change becomes not only possible, but inevitable!


Visit Danielle’s profile to lean more about her counseling services, or to schedule an appointment.

7 Areas to Practice Self-Care

7 Areas to Practice Self-Care

Self-Care

self-care-identity-counseling-psychology

Self-care is a critical component for living a healthy life full of joy and fulfillment. Unfortunately, we often feel like we are just too busy to be mindful of all parts of ourselves. Practicing self-care is practicing self-love. I’ve found that living intentionally in the following 7 areas will often lead us to living a life that we love and to loving the person that we are.

Physical Self-Care

How am I caring for my physical body?

We all know it. Eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly will make us feel better. But for some reason we still don’t do it. It’s as if the intellectual center of our brain (our cerebral cortex, orchestrated by our frontal lobes) is in a dramatic battle with our emotional center (our limbic system). Both of these parts of the brain think that they are helping us, but the tension that they create is often enough to keep us stagnant. Learning to manage this internal tension can help free us from the blocks within our own body.

It’s also important to keep in mind that physical self-care is not just about diet and exercise. It is also about being mindful of anything that interacts with or touches our body. Any toxin, any chemical, any person…

Emotional Self-Care

How am I allowing space to process my feelings?

Sometimes we just try to power through it. Often we think that putting something on a shelf for a while, so that we don’t have to deal with it now, will be helpful.

This is a trick.

Our mind will trick us into believing that it is healthier to avoid harsh realities in life. Interestingly, sometimes it seems to work! We can temporarily free ourselves from dealing with complex feelings by simply distracting ourselves (think Netflix, video games, or whatever we use to “check out”). However, a funny thing starts to happen- the feeling starts to come out in ways that we didn’t expect. Maybe you lash out at your partner, or you get overly angry during a meeting. It will eventually come out, it’s just a matter of how it comes out. Living more intentionally and finding someone like a therapist or counselor to work with regularly can help us to live more intentionally and learn to process our emotions in a healthy way.

Intellectual Self-Care

How am I continuing to challenge my mind intellectually and creatively?

Depending on your day job, many of us can walk through a lot of life mindlessly and uninspired. After doing the same thing for a long time, our tasks move from our conscious (where we have to think about it and process the pros and cons of decisions) to our unconscious (where it becomes a habitual mindless activity). Caring for our intellectual self keeps our mind fresh and our life inspired. What is something creative that you used to love to do but just don’t have time for anymore? Do it today! Process how you feel before and after doing it.

Relational Self-Care

How am I cultivating my closest relationships?

In life, we have 3 sets of friendships: Primary relationships, Secondary relationships, and Tertiary relationships. Primary relationships are those that are closest to us. These are the people who truly know us. If I asked one of these people about you, they would be able to tell me a bit about your insecurities, the things that you care most about, and some of the most impactful things that you have been through. Most of us only have a few primary relationships, and it is important to cultivate them. As we age, it becomes harder and harder to maintain relationships. But these are the people who we know are worth keeping in our lives. Relational self-care is an active process. If we aren’t intentional about cultivating these relationships, they will inevitably fade.

Social Self-Care

How am I spending time with community (outside of my immediate family/circle)?

But what about those Secondary and Tertiary relationships? Secondary relationships are the people in our lives who we spend time with regularly. They’re our friends, we go out on the weekends with them, we enjoy each spending time with them, but maybe they’re not quite as close as our Primary relationships. Tertiary relationships are those on the periphery. These are our Facebook friends that we don’t see often but still enjoy keeping in touch with.

Social self-care is all about the extent to which we feel connected and invested in a community (beyond our closest friends and family). When we feel connected and engaged, we feel like we have more meaning and purpose in life. This brings us to the next area of self-care…

Spiritual Self-Care

How am I managing the ongoing search for purpose and meaning?

I’m not talking about religion. Religion can be part of this, but that’s not my focus here. I’m referring to our internal sense of self and what we bring to the world. Do I feel like I am connected with the deepest parts of myself? Am I aware of how I’m living, feeling, and being in the present moment? What do I want to contribute to the world? Our Spiritual self is the part of ourself that asks the deepest questions. Maybe I’ve been hiding from who I truly am for too long…

Suffering Self-Care

What methods am I using to cope with suffering?

As we journey through life, we all suffer. Suffering is a part of living and an important part of growing. We all may suffer in different ways, and it is important to find healthy mechanisms for coping with suffering. Though suffering is often unavoidable, we can work to employ mindful coping methods that help us emerge from the suffering a more hopeful and aware human. We may walk through life with a limp, but we are still walking and we’re going to carry on.


IdentityAnnArbor.com

Are you interested in beginning therapy? Do you have questions? Contact Tim