Did you know that even though anxiety affects both genders at all ages, anxiety symptoms in women are different from anxiety symptoms in men?
Anxiety also manifests differently depending on how old the person is. Symptoms of anxiety in children and younger teens are usually some type of phobia or incessant worry. Young adults are most likely to experience PTSD, and older adults are most prone to panic disorders and generalized anxiety.
Yes, men experience anxiety; however, women are twice as likely to suffer anxiety, and anxiety disorders are much more prevalent in women than men. Anxiety in both men and women is often missed by physicians and mental health professionals, as many of the symptoms can be misdiagnosed as other health issues.
Which anxiety disorders most commonly affect women in their 30’s and 40’s?
- Generalized anxiety
- Panic attacks
- PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder)
Why are midlife women more likely to be afflicted by these disorders?
The hormonal fluctuations of childbirth, pre-menopause, and menopause are a plausible factor in anxiety. Midlife is also an especially demanding time for women. At this age, most women have children to care for, and probably aging parents. Many women are climbing the ladder in their career and balancing the stresses of family life and work.
The requirements of raising children can be a daunting task for mothers. Women also feel pressured to maintain immaculate and stylish homes, hair, nails, and clothes, to stay in good physical shape, to advance in their careers, to have an active social life and to engage in church, community, and volunteer activities, not to mention nurturing a marriage!
Anxiety in mid-life women in mid-life can often simply be due to the stress of trying to squeeze too many responsibilities into 24 hours. Women also tend to compare themselves to other women their age and become self-condemning as a result. They may have negative “self-talk” that sounds something like this:
- Everyone else here looks so thin! I’m the fattest person here. And look at her boots and her hair! I wish I’d done more with my hair before I left the house!
- She always seems to glide effortlessly through work, church, and home. I need to be more like her! What’s her secret?
- Oh! Look at her Facebook photos! Her husband seems to really dote on her! And they’re in France! They always have such glamorous vacations! All we ever do is visit the in-laws!
Another cause of anxiety disorder in some mid-life women is abuse that they suffered as a child, adolescent or young adult that can result in PTSD episodes years after the violence occurred. Females are more likely to be the victims of sexual abuse and violence, and random events or places can trigger latent memories.
Common Anxiety Symptoms in Women
If you’re a woman in your 30’s or 40’s, you may be experiencing symptoms of an anxiety disorder. You may have a vague feeling that something’s wrong, but not sure what. Let’s take a look at the three most common anxiety disorders in mid-life women and what the symptoms are.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder Symptoms
People with Generalized Anxiety Disorder experience incessant worry about many different things – their own health, their children’s health, their career, relationships, finances, relationships, and so forth.
We all worry about these things from time to time, but someone with Generalized Anxiety Disorder literally feels compelled to worry – to stew over every concern to the point where they’re not able to enjoy or engage in life very much.
Someone with Generalized Anxiety Disorder is ruled by anxiety. They can’t snap out of it by distracting themselves with other things or trying to be more realistic. They blow actual concerns out of proportion or even worry about things that aren’t really a problem. They often imagine the worst-case scenario and have a sense of impending doom.
People with Generalized Anxiety Disorder have at least three of the following symptoms that occur regularly and persist for at least six months:
- Inability to relax and enjoy the moment
- Fidgety, nervous, edgy, easily startled, or tense
- Difficulty focusing and staying on task, mind “goes blank”
- Sleep issues: trouble falling asleep, mind racing, waking up with obsessive thoughts and not being able to fall asleep again.
- Fatigue, sleepiness
- Muscle tension and muscle aches
- Stomach problems – nausea, diarrhea
- Increased heart rate, hyperventilating
Panic Disorder Symptoms
People with panic disorder have unexpected and intense fear that comes on suddenly, usually brought on by some trigger, and generally resolves within ten minutes or so.
Psychological symptoms include:
- The sense of impending doom
- Feelings like everything is surreal
- Feeling like you’re going crazy or losing control
- Feeling like you’re going to die or pass out
- Feeling like you need to escape
Physical symptoms include:
- Racing or pounding heart and/or irregular heart rate
- Chest pain or pressure
- Trembling or shaking
- Shortness of breath or choking feeling
- Feeling weak or lightheaded
- Feeling hot and sweaty or chills
- Nausea, vomiting and/or abdominal pain
- Feeling numbness or tingling or “pins and needles” on the skin, especially in hands and feet.
People who have panic attacks begin to have anxiety about having another one, which leads to avoidance behavior – trying to stay away from the trigger that caused a previous attack. Avoidance behavior can quickly lead to a significantly altered lifestyle.
Panic attacks are often undiagnosed because a number of the symptoms mimic heart issues, respiratory disorders, and other health problems. If you are a woman in your 30’s or 40’s and have had at least four of the above symptoms at one time, you may have been having a panic attack.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Symptoms
PTSD symptoms will manifest for at least a month after a person experiences some sort of trauma: such as witnessing a sudden or violent death, being the victim of a violent attack, observing the results of violence in victims – especially in situations such as soldiers in a war zone, first responders to accident or crime scenes, or emergency room personnel.
PTSD may lie dormant for years, even decades, and then symptoms might surface due to another trauma in the person’s life, or having one’s memory jogged by some sort of experience.
PTSD is characterized by the following dominant symptoms:
- One finds they are reliving the trauma in some way, such as through sudden and distressing memories, nightmares, or flashbacks.
- One goes to great lengths to avoid memory triggers – such as people, places or situations that are associated with the trauma, as exposure to triggers causes extreme distress.
- One persistently has negative emotions and beliefs, such as believing the world is an unsafe place, blaming yourself or others for the trauma, emotional numbness, detachment, disinterest in activities, inability to feel positive emotions, and commonly experiencing feelings of shame, horror, or fear.
- One has significant changes in reactions and arousal, such as difficulty focusing, disruption to sleep, feeling nervous and very easily startled, irritated by minor things, outbursts of anger, aggressive behavior, and self-destructive behavior
About half of all women have experienced trauma of some sort. Women and men tend to experience different types of trauma, and they also usually manifest different symptoms of PTSD.
We often think of PTSD as being associated with veterans of combat, but women who have been victims of sexual abuse or domestic violence or have dealt with the sudden death of a loved one are also prone to PTSD.
Actually, women are more than twice as likely as men to develop PTSD following a traumatic event. Because women have a propensity to take responsibility for themselves and others, they tend to have a higher anxiety level simply due to stress.
But this sense of responsibility also causes women to take the blame for trauma that has been inflicted on them. Because they blame themselves rather than realize they were a victim, they tend to ignore the impact that trauma has had on them, including symptoms of PTSD.
Where to Go for Help
Are you a woman in midlife and experiencing the symptoms of one of the anxiety disorders listed above? Anxiety issues are common for women, although the symptoms are frequently overlooked. Women often fail to get the help they need because they minimize their symptoms and don’t realize that what they’re experiencing isn’t normal.
The good news is that there is hope and there is help for you! Treatment can be very helpful in reducing the symptoms of anxiety, enhancing the quality of life, and helping you take charge of your emotions and thought life.
You may feel like you can deal with things on your own, but anxiety rarely goes away by itself, and it can interfere with how you live your life and the quality of your relationships. If left untreated, your symptoms could worsen.
If you are struggling with an anxiety disorder, counseling can help you identify triggers, and equip you with the tools you need to deal with its symptoms. A counselor can introduce you to therapy methods that have a proven track record in helping people with anxiety disorders gain control of their life and their emotions.
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Severe anxiety attacks can present in a variety of different ways.
When you talk with a Christian counselor, they may use the phrase panic attack to refer to the event of the anxiety attack, while acknowledging that the effects can last for several hours. The term panic anxiety disorder describes a long-term condition in which people experience frequent panic attacks, often on a daily basis.
Signs of a Severe Anxiety Attack
While there are many different ways in which an anxiety attack can present, the most common signs include:
- Chest pain
- Feeling hot or cold (flushes/chills)
- Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
- Feeling as though you’re detached, or that your surroundings aren’t real
- Tingling and numbness
- Stomach ache, cramps or digestive distress
- Feeling nauseous and/or vomiting
- Feeling like you can’t breathe
- Shaking or trembling
- Rapid heart rate and pounding heart
- Feeling afraid you’re going to die
- Overwhelming feelings of doom and danger
- Feeling weak
- Feeling confused
- Feeling out of control
- Racing, terrifying thoughts
- Experiencing the sense as if you’re falling off a cliff
- Inability to focus on anything
Treatment Options for Dealing with Severe Anxiety Attacks
There are a variety of options when it comes to treating severe anxiety attacks.
A Christian counselor can help you work through these principles:
- Trust in Christ to give you strength. Embrace the promises that God has made in His Word.
- Understand that Jesus empowers you. Remind yourself of the way that God has already worked in your live and depend on the power of the Holy Spirit within you.
- Allow the Holy Spirit to quash your fear. People who experience recovery from severe anxiety know that victory can come through inviting God to enter and tear down strongholds of fear.
- Stop focusing on the “what ifs” in your life. The best strategy to defeat severe anxiety, stress, and worry is to have a “so what?” mindset instead. Focus on this truth: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31b; NIV).
- Take a stand against internal passivity and apathy. When you believe that anxiety is taking away your control, you are giving it power. Instead, surrender your control to the Lord.
- Educate yourself and learn everything you can about your anxiety disorder. Having knowledge and understanding can help you to rationalize what is happening during an anxiety attack, which can counteract some of the fears associated with such attacks. Be an expert in your condition and tell the people who care about you how they can help. Partnering with someone supportive who understands your anxiety can be beneficial.
- Don’t succumb to a feeling of helplessness. Anxiety can be beaten!
- Be compassionate with yourself. It’s very easy to fall into patterns of self-loathing and self-accusation, but these patterns only benefit the enemy who wants to keep you trapped. Never believe the lie that you have less worth in God’s eyes because of your anxiety attacks. You wouldn’t think that of someone with cancer, so don’t think it of yourself.
- Don’t allow anxiety to become your identity. You have anxiety attacks, but they don’t define you.
- Instead of having a pity party because of the way your anxiety affects your life, take control by asking yourself what you can do to manage it.
- Get support. There are support groups for Christians with anxiety disorders and being a part of such a group can help you avoid isolation and despair.
- Never give up on God, yourself or your support network of family, friends and church community.
Things to Remember During a Severe Anxiety Attack
- It’s important that you don’t try to run from your symptoms. This will only make things worse because activating the fight/flight/freeze mechanism simply floods your body with adrenaline that exacerbates the symptoms of anxiety. Ride out the attack instead, because anxiety attacks are always short-lived, even if the after-effects aren’t.
- Remember that the symptoms will pass in a few minutes, and you’ll be back in control. Fear that the attack is going to last forever only makes the symptoms worse. Anxiety attacks are actually your body’s way of alerting you to more long-standing problems in your life that you could work through with a Christian counselor.
- Use breathing and relaxation techniques as much as you possibly can.
Breathing Techniques for Severe Anxiety Attack Management
There are two principle types of prayer/meditation that Christians have been practicing for almost two thousand years. The first of these is a type of concentrative meditation, involving focusing on an object or thought, producing deeper thinking.
The best way to practice concentrative prayer is to restrict the senses. Try concentrating on God’s Word in Scripture. Concentrative prayer meditation is an excellent way of planting the truth of God’s Word in your heart and increasing your focus on what God wants to achieve through you.
The second variety of prayer meditation involves listening to God’s word through the external environment. This might include nature, analyzing current events, analysis of historical events, biblical archaeological analysis, and looking at scripture through the eyes of culture and history. Mindfulness is often used to describe this type of meditation.
Christian mindfulness helps to understand the way the God is at work in our surroundings. It’s a type of prayer that requires listening rather than making petitions to God in prayer.
Many Christians misunderstand mindfulness and fear that it is un-Christian, largely due to the way it is conveyed and discussed in secular situations. However, Christian mindfulness is actually a way of communing with God that is beneficial for people who suffer from anxiety attacks.
Breathing exercises, likewise, are sometimes frowned upon by Christians, but again, there is nothing un-Christian about them. They bring about calmness and allow you to shift your attention from your anxieties onto God and His goodness and promises.
It’s been shown that breathing and meditation exercises have significant benefits for people with mental health problems, and for people with physical issues. These practices are ancient and pre-date all the other techniques that are commonly used for handling health issues.
Four Ancient Breathing Techniques to Practice
1.Sama Vritti (Equal Breathing)
The word sama means equal. The translation of vritti is the state of being. In our fast-paced world, we have become accustomed to shallow breathing, to the extent that we regard it as normal.
One major benefit of this breathing method is its ability to bring calm to the nervous system. It also helps with increased focus and reducing stress and anxiety.
This is a simple breathing technique that is effective with a count of 10 breaths. To start sama vritti you inhale While counting to 4, then exhale While counting to 4. The more you practice, the easier you will find it, and you can build up to counts of 6 or 8 per breath. Always breathe through your nose to get the best effects.
When to use
This breathing technique can be practiced anytime, anywhere. It’s great for slowing down racing thoughts, and if you’re having trouble sleeping. It helps to slow the mind, giving you the opportunity to focus on God instead of your thoughts.
2.Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing)
This breathing method has been developed as a means of uniting the two hemispheres of the brain and create balance in the mind. It is sometimes called a silent breathing technique.
This breathing technique is best done from a seated position. Hold one thumb over one nostril and inhale through the other nostril, deeply. It’s a method that’s suggested during pregnancy and is great for relaxation and circulation.
At the peak of the inhalation, momentarily pause so that you can place your ring finger over the other nostril. Then you lift your thumb and exhale through the uncovered nostril. Continue with this pattern, inhaling through one nostril and exhaling through the other.
It’s important to slow the pace of your breathing with this.
When to use
Nadi shodhana is a great technique when you need to re-energize or re-focus, for example during the mid-afternoon slump. It helps to relax the whole body when done correctly.
3.Sohum Meditation (Abdominal Breathing/ Ocean Wave)
Often referred to as being like an ocean wave, the imaginative aspect of this exercise can be especially effective for visual learners and creatives.
Place one hand on your chest and the other hand on your stomach. Take a deep breath in (breathing through your nose) and make sure your diaphragm (rather than your chest) inflates so as to fill your lungs with enough air to stretch them. You should pause for 2-3 seconds after each breath.
Try to do 8-10 slow, deep breaths each minute, and repeat for at least 5 minutes every day. This helps to lower blood pressure and help you handle stress more effectively. It helps build lung capacity and can also have a positive effect on digestion and heart rhythm.
When to use
This is a perfect breathing technique to use before you take tests, attend interviews, or deal with stressful events. It can be difficult at first to get the hand of controlling the breath, but practice will help.
4.Anuloma Viloma (Intermediate Level of Nadi Shodhana)
Similar in technique to the alternate nostril technique, this requires a more forceful type of breathing, rather than controlled breathing at a slow pace. Ancient sources claim that this breathing method heals all types of internal disease. Regardless of the truth of that claim, there are a lot of benefits to be had from anuloma viloma.
Make sure that you are sitting in a comfortable position and blow your nose to clear any excess mucus. As with the alternate nostril breathing, you need to use your thumb to close your right nostril. Lift your right elbow in line with the right shoulder, making it parallel to the floor.
Force inhale through your left (open) nostril – it will sound like a noisy breath, but that’s how it’s meant to be. Now use your ring finger to cover your left nostril and exhale out of your other nostril. Immediately begin the breath again. It’s meant to be fast paced. The purpose is to clean your lungs to increase heart rate.
Be careful when practicing this type of breathing, however. Because it’s more advanced it may make you feel light headed at first.
When to use
The best time to practice anuloma viloma is when your stomach is empty – such as first thing in the morning. It can also be helpful to counteract the mid-afternoon slump that many people experience. The technique is intended to give you an energy boost that will help you cope with whatever the day throws at you.
A lot of research has been done into the use of breathing techniques during anxiety attacks. The consensus is that controlled breathing can be effective in managing the severity of the attack. It’s a good idea to practice these techniques before anxiety attacks so that you have the resources in your toolbox to handle the symptoms of a panic attack. Additionally, practicing breathing techniques can increase the length of time between anxiety attacks.
For Christians, it’s important that there is an integration of Christian prayer and contemplation. It’s this combination that makes breathing exercises more effective. Breathing exercises can be combined with listening (prayer) to God and focusing on His truth.
Find a Christian counselor if you experience anxiety attacks and want extra support in managing your symptoms. While psychiatrists can prescribe medication, a Christian counselor can integrate faith into your journey towards healing and wholeness.
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There can be times when everyday things may cause excessive worry for someone suffering from generalized anxiety. This worry can interrupt thoughts, disrupt sleep, and may not even make sense to the individual, leaving them feeling silly even acknowledging the dread that these symptoms cause.
However, generalized anxiety is no laughing matter. The feelings of dread and effects of losing sleep over worry can lead to irritability and even depression.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) claims that Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), characterized by persistent and excessive worry about a variety of things, is affecting 6.8 million adults, roughly 3.1% of the entire population of the U.S.
In order to help get it under control, one should understand the neurobiological sources of anxiety. It is only natural to try to understand the fountainhead of anxiety and worry as symptoms begin to surface. Sometimes when the source is identified an anxious individual may begin to make statements such as, “This is ridiculous,” or “I should not be letting myself worry about this.”
Even though this self-talk may be a positive helpful way to combat anxiety, the brain is actively seeking for things to worry about against personal control. Anxiety affects the brain automatically, scanning one’s surroundings or circumstances for sources of worry. Once identified, the body tends to react to a source, producing symptoms of anxiety.
Individuals bodies may react in different ways to anxiety or worry, however, there is a general reaction of fear similar to when a person faces a threat or potential danger. This is similar to when you are watching a suspenseful or scary movie.
The senses associated with the brain are scanning all the information received and the body is reacting to chemicals that the brain releases, producing symptoms such as a tight stomach, clammy hands, and accelerated breathing. This can happen to someone experiencing anxiety or constant worry. When these feelings are experienced over long periods of time there is a risk of developing chronic tension and stress.
Managing Anxiety Symptoms Well
Anxiety symptoms be differentiated into three groups, with three corresponding ways to deal with the symptoms. Group one includes the physical stimulation that can result in panic. Group two involves dread, tension, and stress. Group three centers around brooding worry.
The remainder of this article will deal with the use of Body Management to combat the symptoms of group one.
Fighting Panic with Body Management
Panic attacks stimulate your body in such a way that you experience accelerated pulse rate, shortness of breath, tingling, and dizziness. When these symptoms come without warning they can both frustrate and terrify the anxious individual. Panic attacks are not the only physical symptom, however, but shoulder, neck, and jaw tension, as well as a hollow feeling in your stomach, or even outright stomach pain, can also occur.
Taking care of the body
Physical solutions are typically used to combat physical symptoms. The first step toward regaining control of an anxiety disorder is to take control of the body. This may be accomplished in several ways. The first, and most important is the general maintenance of your body and your health.
Physical exercise, a healthy diet, and enough sleep are important areas for preventing anxiety symptoms. The use of caffeine or alcohol can cause the body to enter an anxiously aroused state, as well as insufficient sleep and lack of exercise.
Diaphragmatic breathing is a deeper type of breathing that creates a sense of calm and a restful attitude in the body. The more you practice controlling your breathing, the more your body will adjust to being in a state of calm.
It is helpful to learn deep breathing techniques and incorporate them into everyday life, especially when you suffer from anxiety symptoms. Using diaphragmatic breathing can put a complete stop to the stress symptoms.
The practice of mindful awareness is a third way to bring your body under control. Physical symptoms can be so acute that you are unable to focus on anything else. This leads to the ruminating fear and anxious feelings. Mindful awareness can help shift your thoughts from your body to your environment and thus regain control of your body.
Refocus your attention away from the anxiety symptoms to your body’s basic physiology – the way your breathing feels, your heartbeat, how your stomach feels, etc. Next, shift attention to your senses – sounds, smells, or what you can feel on your skin, the room ambiance, the wind on your face, the smell of flowers, etc.
As these actions are performed you will begin to feel that you are in control of your body and can overcome your symptoms. You develop the skill of being present in the moment, disregarding the persistent anxious thoughts or lack of bodily control.
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Can you recall what emotions bubbled up on the first day of high school? Or maybe the first day on the job or the moment you walked through the door for a major interview? For most people, those fears that trickled into their mind can’t be remembered. It was all just a fairly normal response that’s chalked up to first-time jitters.
Can you imagine what it would be like if those were a part of you all the time? If you are a parent of a child who struggles with anxiety, it can be overwhelming just trying to decipher what’s happening inside their mind and body when they think about a social setting.
It’s hard to experience life with a certain set of emotions that are often misunderstood by teachers, friends and even parents. Some teachers are unable to recognize the signs of anxiety, which is why it’s important for the parent to become involved in the school system policies and advocate for support.
There is a difference between anxiety and an anxiety disorder. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) defines anxiety disorders as being different than normative fear or anxiety because they are excessive and last beyond developmentally appropriate times.
Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety in Children
Let’s cover seven different ways anxiety can affect a child’s education and, ultimately, their life.
Extreme worry about themselves, their parents, or family members
Children with anxiety disorders may overestimate the danger of a situation or avoid it completely. They may have irrational thoughts about their parents encountering danger, such as them dying in a car crash, getting lost, or a sibling being kidnaped from the home. Because of this extreme worry separation anxiety can form. If separation anxiety is present, it makes it difficult for a child to focus and participate in class.
Having nightmares and lacking sleep
Children with anxiety disorder often have active imaginations and extreme emotions. These two components combine to create vivid nightmares and lack of sleep. Without proper sleep, a child can’t perform well at school or remain clear-minded. Their concentration will deteriorate as the day progresses.
Experiencing panic attacks
For those who have an anxiety disorder, the panic attacks can be a response to the thoughts that cause extreme fear. Let’s say the child forget their homework at home.
This could cause a panic attack as they wonder if there will be consequences from the school or from home. Their thoughts could lead them down a path of receiving a bad grade on their report card.
Inability to focus and concentrate
How can a child focus or concentrate when anxiety is overstimulating them? Separation anxiety is the most commonly diagnosed anxiety disorder in children. Children with separation anxiety normally have some disruption in their education by refusing to go to school. Children who do make it to school may still endure complications due to lack of focus. It’s difficult to focus on what is being taught when your mind is in a constant state of worry about someone elsewhere.
Loss of social experience
If a child is constantly worried about something unfavorable happening to her or a family member, this will spill over into their social life. A child with anxiety may be reluctant to sleep at a friend’s house or go anywhere away from the home. This behavior will negatively impact healthy social interaction.
Lack of communication in social settings
Selective mutism is fairly rare and children often outgrow it. It usually appears in children before the age of five but isn’t recognized until a child goes to school. If a child has selective mutism he might fail to speak in social settings where it’s expected. Does your child talk in the car, but once he gets to school completely stops talking?
This is one indicator a child could be struggling with selective mutism. The high level of social anxiety keeps the child silent in situations with people outside their immediate circle. A child’s isolation can cause them to have social impairment in adulthood if not treated.
It’s a scary world for a child to live in when they are constantly misunderstood. Teachers and other students may not completely understand the needs of a child with anxiety. Frustration can boil below the surface, or worse, the child can be mislabeled as being defiant.
What children with anxiety need are support, comfort, and understanding. Without fully understanding what is happening to your child in the anxious moment, you and others may struggle with how to be of constructive use.
While you can’t cater to your child’s every need, there are steps you can learn in therapy to help ease anxiety in your child and prepare them to separate from you.
All of the worry and fear that a child with anxiety experiences can be exhausting for a child who is just simply trying to manage those feelings. If you think your child could be struggling in school due to anxiety, it’s important to reach out to a Christian Counselor in San Diego you can trust.
Once anxiety is understood, it can be better managed. Scheduling an appointment with a counselor is the first step toward healing for your child and your family. Everybody can come together to learn how to navigate anxiety and attack it as a team.
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Humans are designed for connection. We thrive when we are involved in healthy, mutually beneficial relationships. Yet, for some, the idea of connecting with another person incites a wave of panic.
People battling social anxiety disorder are often terrified to meet new people, are afraid of being judged negatively by others and the consuming fear of potential embarrassment rules their thoughts. As a result, this anxiety can interfere with going to work, attending school, or doing everyday tasks.
It’s normal and expected to have a little dose of anxiety and fear in situations that warrant it. If you are lying in a tent and hear a grizzly bear rummaging around in your camp, chances are you’ll hear the thunderous sounds of your heartbeat, feel the sweat begin to form on your palms and sense a tightness in your muscles. You are experiencing the body’s fight, flight or freeze response to the perceived threat.
On the other hand, you know anxiety has become more harmful than helpful when you become consumed by fear even thinking about going to a friend’s wedding and having to interact with a swarm of strangers. Having a survival response triggered when it’s not needed can become exhausting and interfere with a person’s quality of life.
Management Tools for Overcoming Social Anxiety
Diagnosis of social anxiety disorder requires the fear to have persisted for six months or more. Some people with social anxiety disorder find ways to navigate those anxious situations but do so with crippling anxiety. The goal is to learn management tools for the anxiety to prevent it from overriding the ability to function in a social setting.
Own Your Recovery Plan
Recovery is possible but usually requires some outside help. Powerful first steps getting counseling, reading up on the variety of treatment options available, and recruiting your friends and family to support you.
Here are a few popular management techniques for those facing social anxiety disorder.
Learn to Relax
Some people are more sensitive to their environment. For an individual who experiences more intense feelings, there is a higher probability of allowing their feelings to overwhelm them in threatening contexts.
Sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint where social anxiety disorder originates. Some say it’s a part of their family history while others trace it to emotional scars left by past negative social encounters. Such individuals are more likely to avoid certain social situations, which only makes the anxiety worse.
Relaxation training is designed to decrease the physical responses of your body during the fight, flight, or freeze response. Relaxation can help create opportunities to perform at our best levels.
Types of training for relaxation include yoga, focused abdominal breathing, guided imagery and progressive relaxation of the muscles. Performing these exercises once a month, won’t create long-lasting change. Taking twenty minutes a day to practice relaxing will make it more of a natural reflex.
Retrain Your Brain
Our thoughts inevitably become woven into our actions. Pay attention to the thoughts that ricochet through your mind before or during a social activity that prompts anxiety. The greater the degree of negative thought, the greater the avalanche of anxiety that occurs.
A person suffering from social anxiety disorder might think to themselves, “People will think I’m an idiot if I speak at my friend’s wedding tonight,” and they will likely feel sufficient anxiety to prevent them from making a speech. The intensity of one’s thoughts is directly related to the intensity of one’s feelings.
Thoughts must be reined in and changed to reflect a more positive outcome. Instead of thinking, “People will think I’m an idiot if I speak at my friend’s wedding tonight,” you can change your thoughts to, “My friend will treasure the memory of me speaking at her wedding tonight.” The goal is to lower anxiety levels, so the person feels the liberty to participate in a previously avoided situation.
Philippians 4:8 gives us some clues on how to structure our thinking. “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”
You can ask yourself a few questions to align with this verse:
Do my thoughts match the truth in God’s Word?
Are these thoughts pure and lovely?
Would I praise my current thoughts?
Take a moment to process your thoughts and look for an avenue for clarity. After asking yourself the questions above, articulate a thought that is more balanced and then speak it out loud to yourself. At first, this may be tough to do because our mind is a battlefield. Through Christian counseling, people suffering from social anxiety disorder will learn to change core beliefs that impede their day-to-day functioning.
Face Your Fears
Phobias are a result of becoming overly sensitized. The sufferer comes to relate a given stimulus to anxiety. Let’s take public speaking as an example. If a person avoids public speaking, she feels better because she gets rid of her anxiety. The more she avoids public speaking, the more intense the anxiety will be when she is faced with the having to engage in public speaking. Like riding a bike, the more you practice the better you become.
Neuroplasticity refers to the ability of the brain to create new neural connections over the course of one’s life. Though anxiety can become hardwired into a person’s brain, the brain can be “re-wired” by facing fears.
Edmund Bourne, Ph.D. in his “Anxiety and Phobia Workbook” describes it like this:
“Exposure is the process of unlearning the connection between anxiety and a particular situation. For exposure to occur, you need to enter a phobic situation directly, letting your anxiety rise and enduring the anxiety for a period of time to learn that you can actually handle your anxiety in a situation you’ve been accustomed to avoiding. The point is to 1) unlearn a connection between a phobic situation (such as driving on the freeway) and an anxiety response, and 2) gain confidence in your ability to handle the situation regardless of whether anxiety comes up. Repeatedly entering the situation will eventually allow you to overcome your previous avoidance.”
How do you eat a big meal? One bite a time. The same applies to overcoming anxiety. Begin by exposing yourself to the fear-inducing situation in small increments. So suppose that the fear is public speaking. A first step could be to imagine addressing a large crowd, all the while substituting positive thoughts in place of negative ones.
Once you’ve mastered that step, you can practice your speech in front of a mirror or camera. After that, speak in front of a small group of trusted friends or family. Finally, you are ready to speak at that staff meeting. These are confidence-building steps to overcome a debilitating fear of public speaking. You are rewiring your brain one step at a time.
Anxiety can cause people to lose their voice. Naturally, people with anxiety don’t always want to speak up. They rather tuck their heads into their shells. Being honest about your feelings and sounds hard, to the point that keeping them to yourself seems the easy way out.
Assertive communication is a clear and honest mode of self-expression. You advocate for your needs while respecting the needs of the other person. Assertive communication can help you break down communication into easily digestible chunks.
Assertive communication includes discovering what you really need, describing the way things are, opening up about your feelings, clearly stating what you want, and giving solid reasons why others should cooperate with the request.
For example, let’s say that I’m upset with a sibling who constantly borrows my clothes, but never returns them. The first step should be to understand what I really need. In this case, it would be “trust.” I gave something of value of mine, without it being returned as promised.
Now that the “need” is sorted out, I should take time to speak to my friend and describe the situation as it stands in a calm, collected manner. “Susan, I noticed that I’ve allowed you to borrow my clothes five different times, and you never returned the items.” If your feelings are hurt you can explain further, “I trusted you to return my favorite sweater and it frustrates me when it doesn’t happen.” Finally, add any requests or positive reasons for cooperation: “I need you to return my clothes when you promise or at least communicate with me if there’s a problem. This helps to build trust so that I can continue to share my favorite clothes with you.”
If Susan cares about the friendship, she will most likely apologize and return the borrowed items. This is a small example of leveraging assertive communication in common conversations. To become successful at assertive communication, it’s a best practice to learn the process and practice role-playing with a supportive person first. Before football players win the game, they spend hours practicing. It makes a difference in being more confident in social situations.
The above actions give you some idea of what can be done when anxiety attacks. Of course, anxiety is more complex than what can be covered in one article. If you are struggling with social anxiety disorder, find a Christian counselor you can trust to create a tailored recovery plan for you. Not only is recovery possible, but you can even thrive in social settings.
“Afraid,” courtesy of Joseph Gonzalez, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Stretch,” courtesy of Jacob Postuma, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Worried,” courtesy of Eneas De Troya, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “Worried,” courtesy of Had Limcaco, unsplash.com, CC0 License
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