We all know and love that one person who never seems to say “yes” to our invitations. If they do join in, they are usually the quietest and the first to leave. To some, they appear aloof or perhaps anti-social. But we know better. We know that our friend or family member is doing their best to cope with a social anxiety disorder. They deserve our compassion and…they might be in need of our help!
What is Social Anxiety?
Sometimes confused with shyness, social anxiety disorder (or social phobia) is a diagnosable condition that severely impacts one’s ability to interact with others. It limits our comfort level when in the presence of strangers and, as a result, hampers functionality during activities like:
- Meeting new people
- Job interviews
- Going to parties and socializing in general
- Public speaking
- Eating in public
To others, social anxiety isn’t always obvious. In more extreme cases, it becomes apparent when a person cannot make eye contact, struggles to hold a conversation, or chooses social isolation. If you know someone struggling with this condition, you probably wish to help but aren’t sure how.
What NOT to Do
- Suggest that they “be brave” or “relax”
- Put anyone in an uncomfortable position
- Tell them that it’s okay to avoid social interaction if it makes them uncomfortable
- Enable them by speaking for them or acting as their proxy
- Act as if social anxiety is not a “real” condition
How to Help a Loved One Who Has Difficulty Coping with Social Anxiety
Ask Them What They Need
Don’t leave anything to chance. Communicate frankly and request they do the same. Neither of you should assume you can sense what the other is thinking.
Hone Your Listening Skills
If you cannot relate to their anxiety, they will really need you to listen and validate. Practice active listening and staying aware of your body language, vocal inflections, and facial gestures.
Be Consistent and Reliable
Sudden changes and unexpected occurrences can throw off a person with social anxiety. Be the “rock” in their life. From such a foundation, their healing will bloom.
Celebrate the Small Victories
The road to recovery is filled with little steps — each of them significant. Mark each one of these small victories and let your loved one know how proud you are of them.
Don’t Lose Your Patience
Your patience will be tested — especially if you’re the extroverted, social butterfly type. Keep your emotions in check. They do not mean to upset you any more than a loved one with a physical disease.
Develop Distraction Techniques
When your loved one is triggered, their mind can take off with anxious thoughts. Simple distractions like taking a walk, playing a game, or watching a funny YouTube clip can be a game-changer. Develop a repertoire of distractions.
Providing a Gentle Nudge Towards Therapy
Your loved one will deeply appreciate your validation and support. But, truth be told, there is a limit to how much you can do. At some point, they may need to seek professional help.
A therapist can help them examine the impact of negative thoughts on their ability to cope with stress. For example, if they create a frightening scenario in their minds when invited to a social event, they will almost certainly decline the invitation. Their thoughts influenced their behavior.
Working with a counselor will enable them to identify these thoughts and their triggers. From there, they can work as a team to develop coping skills and slowly take back control of their lives. Thanks to therapy, your loved one can reduce their stress and learn to lead a productive life.
If you need support or have additional questions, find more answers regarding anxiety treatment here. Please contact me soon for a consultation.