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For many years throughout my teens and my twenties, I suffered from a condition known as social anxiety. This is apparently the second most common anxiety problem in the UK, which is recognised by symptoms including heart palpitations, increased sweating, blushing, dry mouth, shaking, extreme shyness and often cutting oneself off from other people. In this article, I will briefly explain my experience of the condition and its affect on my life, before explaining a bit more about it and what can be done to help those who are suffering.

My Experience

I have always been fairly shy and awkward in social situations. However, this did not progress into what I would call social anxiety until my teens. Looking back, it appears the main factors for me were my poor social skills (especially in small talk) combined with evasive behaviour, which only served to exacerbate the condition.

At school, this started by not going to the lunch hall and packing my own lunch instead. At Sixth Form College I got more of the symptoms of social anxiety. I started avoiding going to the busy cafeteria, as I couldn’t stand the noise around me; I also failed to turn up to lectures if I didn’t know anyone else going.

At university, things got progressively worse. I ended up avoiding most of my lectures because I didn’t know anyone there and would feel incredibly self-conscious. Of course, not attending lectures only made things worse, as I didn’t meet anyone new. I spent a lot of time inside, by myself, waking at strange hours and venturing out to the supermarket if I needed to buy more supplies. I also became more interested in hallucinogenic drugs than might be deemed healthy.

As my attendance suffered, so did my grades and my confidence. As a result, upon graduation I avoided the ceremony and found it difficult to get a job owing to my grades and lack of experience. The social anxiety eventually lead to depression.

For me, things started to improve when I got a job and I started to meet more people. Perhaps the best thing for my confidence was to attend a language course, which was not only something I was interested in, but also meant I would be forced to interact with others frequently.

My biggest hurdle was having to teach English as a foreign language to a class of Chinese students. This is something that I previously would never have been capable of doing and it gave me the courage to do what I wanted to do.

What can be done to help?

I visited a counsellor at university, who introduced me to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). I was informed that my condition was basically because I was too on edge and nervous which caused adrenaline production, in turn leading to all the unpleasant side effects. A person suffering from social anxiety is dealing with the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response. It is apparently something that would have been beneficial in our humans’ ancestral environment.

The idea behind CBT is to recognise your problem and gradually make efforts to change your behaviour. For example, if I felt like an ‘attack’ was on its way, I was advised to sit down on a bench and relax (recognise the absurdity of my behaviour). I’m afraid I can’t spread much more knowledge on this technique because as like many of those who suffer from depression or associated illnesses, the motivation to attend the sessions was lacking…! [Follow the links for more info.]

My personal advice would be to try and become more sociable. Join some clubs which allows you to meet with new people (activities I enjoy include kayaking and kayaking) or learn another language (join a course or organise some language practice sessions). Anything that will get you talking and meeting more people is a bonus. I would also add that there is no rush. You do not have to suddenly become a social butterfly. Simply trying to gradually increase your social activities is beneficial. You may find the steps recommended for treating depression in ‘The Depression Cure’ to be useful.

My second piece of advice is to take some exercise. If you can combine the social component with the exercise component regularly you are on the way to a recovery. Exercise releases chemicals which improve your mood; furthermore, getting in shape gives you some form of control over your life.

For more information on Social Anxiety and how to treat it, take a look at some of the links below:

Useful Associations

http://www.leadinglight.org.uk – a London association to help people suffering with social anxiety and a couple of interviews with Ruby Wax, explaining what it is.

http://www.anxietycare.org.uk – information on anxiety in general, its different forms and how to treat it.

http://www.social-anxiety.org.uk/ – information on anxiety, including links and a forum.

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