Thursday, 26 December 2013

12 Days of Mental Health : Day 1 - Social Anxiety

Merry Christmas to all of you who celebrate the occasion, and I hope that everyone is well. You may have seen on Twitter that from Boxing Day I will be doing a new blog each day for "12 Days of Mental Health". I think traditionally the "12 days" thing should start on Christmas day, but I spent most of yesterday filling up on turkey and playing party games, and so, here we are.

Our first story today comes from a good friend of mine, Joe. But before we hear of his personal experience, here's some information about social anxiety. Considering the amount of pressure there is around this time of year to see family and friends, it's definitely a topic we should all consider and learn more about.

What is Social Anxiety?

Social anxiety disorder, also known as "social phobia" is the term used to describe persistent anxiety linked to social situations and/or being around people.

Those who suffer from social anxiety may have one specific phobia, such as public speaking, or using the telephone. For some individuals, however, they may have such a fear of behaving in a certain way or embarrassing themselves that they withdraw from social contact completely.

What are the symptoms/signs of Social Anxiety? 

We will all face situations in our lives which are anxiety provoking, such as public speaking in class or having a job interview. What is important to note however is that social anxiety is not just a form of "shyness", and can be an extremely debilitating disorder. Some of the signs might be:

  • Avoiding eye contact with others
  • Going out of your way to avoid social situations and potential "triggers" such as talking to strangers, using public toilets, eating out, or in some cases, employment. 
  • An overwhelming fear of others noticing your anxiety
  • Recognising that your fears and worries are "excessive" or "unreasonable"
  • You may also have other phobias such as agoraphobia
  • You may experience physical symptoms of anxiety, such as panic attacks

You may have one or several of these, and it's ALWAYS advised you visit a healthcare professional before diagnosing. 

How common is it and who gets it?

Social anxiety tends to be more common in women than men, and often starts during adolescence. According to the Patient UK website, as many as 1 in 10 adults have social anxiety to some degree at any one time. 

What's the treatment? 

CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) is one of the most effective types of treatment for social anxiety. Speak to your GP to see how you can get access. Otherwise, there are some good online resources for self-guided CBT, along with self-help books. 

For some individuals, medication may be considered. Once again, what works for one person may not work for another, so always speak to your GP in the first instance and understand the pros and cons.

Joe's Story

"Well, hello! This is the first time I've ever dipped my toes into the world of blogging so don’t be expecting the works of Shakespeare!

My name is Joe, I’m 19, Scottish and I suffer from Depression, Anxiety and Social Anxiety.

I was officially diagnosed in June 2013 after suffering since February 2011 when I lost my father to cancer. As I was at a fragile age, it took me a while to go see the doctor, as I just put it down to “oh it’ll be my hormones.” Looking back, it was a real battle sometimes.

One of the biggest obstacles I've faced was the social anxiety. After leaving school, I went to college, and studied Computing Technical Support. The thought of college was very daunting, meeting all these new people, and doing it by myself. But what I have learned is, social anxiety does NOT define who you are, this is my third year of living with it, and only a handful of people know I have it, my friends believe me to be a confident individual who is often the life of the party so to speak. You can still be the person you want to be, it’ll be tough, and every day can be a battle, but no-one and nothing can stop you being the person you want to be, you are unique!

I’d be lying if I didn't say sometimes I wanted to give up, but by giving up, you are conceding the thought nothing will ever change. If we have hope, then there is no reason things can’t get better.

Here’s me, I struggled, with my mental health issues, and the loss of my father, but I’m sitting here just now, with an Higher National Diploma, a support network of amazing friends, some of which I’d never even had met if it wasn't for my circumstances, and for all I’m not happy with the way it happened, I’m proud of the person I've become, and you should be too. 

Because like me, you are still here, still fighting, and one day, we’ll win this fight.


If you'd like to follow Joe on Twitter, please click here.

Where can I find out more? 

I also personally recommend reading this article on the BBC News website posted just this month. It's great to hear social anxiety being highlighted at this time of year. Click here to read it.

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