If you are someone who has been in or is considering drug counselling, then you may know about social anxiety. Social anxiety is a phenomenon that many people in the modern world experience. Unfortunately, there are those of us who resort to escaping it by numbing or distracting ourselves with drugs or alcohol.
Let’s dig a little deeper into what causes social anxiety, what it feels like, and ways you can deal with it that don’t work to create or maintain addiction.
Social Anxiety: How it Feels
Let’s begin this with a disclaimer: everyone experiences their feelings differently. One person may experience fear like a tightness in their chest, while another may say they feel lightheaded. These are all real feelings, and if yours don’t align exactly with what is described here, that just means that you experience them differently. And with that, let’s proceed.
The DSM-V (Diagnostic Statistical Manual for psychological disorders) classifies social anxiety as a disorder characterised by fear of being in a situation with strangers or people that you fear judgement from. The DSM-V is not the end-all of psychological knowledge, it is just a diagnostic indicator for practising psychologists. Social anxiety is also something that can be experienced by everyone, it does not necessarily have to be as prevalent in your life as to be a disorder.
The important thing to remember about what it feels like to have social anxiety is that it feels like a fear or reluctance to be around others, especially strangers or people you aren’t comfortable with, because you fear judgement from them in some way. You could feel like you’re not as smart, or maybe not as likeable as other people, and this makes you shy away from social interaction because of the fear that others will notice.
It is important to note that thought does not equal truth. That is, just because you think something negative about yourself, that does not make it true. In the business, we call this “irrational thought”. For example, if your anxiety springs from thinking you are unintelligent, the people you are talking to are most likely not thinking the same. Whether or not you know exactly where that feeling of anxiety comes from, an excellent start is noticing when it crops up, and how strong it is in certain situations so that you can figure out what triggers it.
Why Drugs and Alcohol Numb Anxiety
Social anxiety, or just anxiety in general, is usually caused by overly active inhibitions or fears. Drugs and alcohol numb the centres of the brain that control our inhibitions, giving us confidence and making us feel unstoppable, or just really relaxed. So, many people who experience that anxiety may form a coping mechanism of taking drugs or alcohol when they feel that anxiety, because it makes the fear “go away”.
Fear is uncomfortable, and wanting to be rid of it quickly is very understandable. But the trade-off for this coping mechanism is the formation of an addiction that can have a negative impact on your life, and possibly send you into a substance abuse treatment centre. So, what are some other ways that you can deal with the anxiety; both in the moment and in life in general?
Dealing with Social Anxiety
Dealing with social anxiety in the moment begins with noticing when it is happening. For many people, the easiest way to do this is to keep an eye on how you feel physically. Is your heart beating faster? Are you sweating a lot, or do you feel your chest getting tight? Is it hard to breathe?
If you feel any of these things, check in with your thoughts. If they’re racing too fast to catch, or if they’re focused in quite obsessively on one thing, then the situation you’re in is most likely causing you to experience social anxiety. Here are a few tricks to give yourself some space to breathe:
- Yes, this is a proven method. This gives your mind something to focus on that isn’t what’s making you anxious. You can do this in whatever way you want; counting the knuckles on your hand, counting to 10 in your head over and over, or counting the number of things you see in a particular colour. Whatever it is, give your brain something else to focus on.
- Sight, smell, hear, feel, taste. Use your senses and ground yourself in the moment. What do you see? What do you hear? List a few things for yourself to bring your mind back into the moment.
Breathing. 4-6-6. Breathe in for four seconds, hold for six seconds, and breathe out for six seconds. This one is a bit uncomfortable at first, and it might feel like you’re really out of breath for the first few times, but keep doing it and your breathing should even out. This is pretty much telling
- your body to calm down, much like when you breathe slower as you sleep.
Our last tip.
If you find that you’re having trouble not reaching for the easy method of coping, or if you feel like you need some help along the way (which everyone does, trust us), then that last step is to get yourself some help. Zen Detox is one of the best centres for rehab New Zealand has to offer. We offer holistic treatment, where we look at all dimensions of health and work with you towards your goals for recovery.
Contact us now for more information.