While many people are looking forward to a summer of outings, gatherings and socializing, others may be experiencing some social anxiety at the thought of heading back out into the world. Due to COVID-19, most of us were indoors for the greater part of 2020 and 2021. But as vaccination rates continue to increase, governments are relaxing restrictions and businesses are beginning to reopen to the public. Though we are still being cautious, many people are now able to visit restaurants, bars, gyms and sports venues after more than a year of lockdowns.
While some are excited at the prospect of life going “back to normal” and being able to visit friends, attend events and socialize, others may feel reluctant about heading back out into the world after so much time at home. This reluctance may be because of concerns about the pandemic itself, or you may have gotten so accustomed to life at home that going out now feels strange.
For others, the prospect of being invited to gatherings and events brings on a feeling of anxiety due to the social expectations. If these feelings of fear and anxiety start to affect your ability to function in your daily life, you may be dealing with social anxiety disorder.
What is Social Anxiety Disorder?
Social anxiety disorder (also known as social phobia) is a common mental health condition that affects more than 15 million Americans. Though many people develop it in adolescence, it can easily continue to affect you in adulthood if not properly addressed.
Social anxiety disorder is an intense and often debilitating fear of being judged or rejected in a social setting or a performance-based scenario. People dealing with social phobia may feel anxious about being seen in public or having to socialize with others. Common thoughts include a fear of being perceived as awkward, boring or stupid to peers or even strangers. As a result of these fears, you may avoid social settings such as dates, parties or dinners with friends or colleagues. For some people, social anxiety extends into work-related settings and can affect your ability to perform in job interviews, performance evaluations, presentations or meetings. For others, social anxiety can affect their ability to go to the gym or go for a run outside, for fear of being watched or judged by others.
When symptoms persist for at least six months and affect your daily life and activities, it may be time to speak to a mental health professional to address the symptoms.
Is social anxiety the same as shyness?
Most people will experience shyness at some point in their lives and it’s easy to conflate this with social anxiety because they can be quite similar. Shyness is very common in childhood and adolescence as we develop social skills and become more comfortable with our bodies and ourselves. By adulthood, most people would have outgrown this shyness or developed coping strategies to enable them to push through the shyness and form meaningful relationships with the people around them.
Social anxiety is characterized by intense and extreme symptoms that can impair your ability to function in your daily life. People with social anxiety often go as far as avoiding social situations altogether, causing them to miss out on important opportunities for personal or professional growth. Those with social anxiety disorder may lose sleep due to their intense feelings about an upcoming social situation and often experience physical symptoms such as a racing heart, shortness of breath or sweating.
If you are isolating yourself on a consistent basis due to fear or anxiety, or if the anxiety is preventing you from living the life you want, you may be dealing with a disorder, as opposed to just shyness.
What are the signs/symptoms of social anxiety disorder?
Social anxiety disorder often manifests in both physical and psychological symptoms. When placed in a social setting, you may begin blushing, sweating or may experience an increased heart rate. Other common physical symptoms include clammy palms, nausea and an inability to project your voice.
Your mind may begin racing, or it may go completely blank. Social anxiety can also result in feelings of embarrassment, self-consciousness or insecurity. You may be overly critical of the things you say and do and how these things will be perceived by others. When your fears and feelings of anxiety cause you to avoid social activities on a regular basis, this is one of the clearest signs of social anxiety disorder.
During a screening for social phobia, your clinician may ask questions such as:
- Do you have an extreme fear of looking silly or awkward to others?
- Do you avoid activities where you might be the center of attention?
- Is it difficult for you to relax in social settings?
- Do you avoid situations that require you to be sociable?
Treatment for Social Anxiety Disorder
The good news is that treatment for social anxiety disorder is available and effective. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one of the most popular treatment options due to its short treatment time and effectiveness. CBT teaches you to challenge the racing thoughts that cause you to become anxious in social settings. For example, you can learn to realize that at the gym, people are too focused on their own workout and body to be judging you. As you learn to reframe your thinking, you can slowly become more comfortable in these settings.
Exposure therapy is another effective treatment option for social anxiety. This is when you gradually work yourself up to the situations you fear the most by starting out with less challenging situations. For example, you can start by eating alone in public to teach yourself that nobody is watching or judging you as you eat. As you become more comfortable, you can work your way up to being able to go out with a friend to eat and then a small group.
Based on your unique challenges, a mental health professional will be able to work with you to find the best treatment plan. The clinicians at Flourish Psychology are trained to help treat a variety of mental health challenges, including social anxiety disorder. Schedule your first session with a therapist who can help you to live your best social life.
In a recent episode of the popular podcast, This American Life, I heard a story that caused me to reflect on the effects of unresolved childhood trauma and how it manifests in adulthood.
The featured guest told the story of how she was separated from her parents at a very young age, as they immigrated to the United States from Guatemala, leaving her behind with her grandmother. This difficult decision was made by her mother, who did not want her young daughter to endure the uncertainty and hardship that came with such a big transition. Though she eventually joined her family in the United States a few years later when things were more stable, the psychological effects of the separation followed her for the rest of her life.
When she arrived in the United States, she began feeling pressured to be on her best behavior at all times, for fear that she would be sent back to Guatemala. Many years after her safe arrival, she still had the constant fear of deportation, even as a naturalized adult. Decades later, when she became a mother, she started having nightmares about her son being taken away from her. She began instilling fear into her son about their possible separation, going as far as to install tracking devices so that she could be aware of his location at all times. In this way, she was reliving her childhood trauma, as well as passing it along to her son.
How is it possible for an event from early childhood to affect an adult decades after the fact? Why doesn’t time heal the wounds of childhood trauma?
Unless childhood trauma is properly addressed, its effects will be evident even years after the traumatic incident. Sometimes, a traumatic event may be suppressed for a long time, only to resurface when something triggers it in adulthood. When this happens, it can be difficult to connect the dots between a childhood incident and a ‘grown-up’ problem.
There are many different types of experiences that happen during childhood that can be considered traumatic. There are more obvious instances of traumatic events such as experiencing a natural disaster, major accident, physical or sexual violence or being separated from loved ones. But there are also smaller, seemingly “normal” aspects of our childhood that can have a traumatic effect. Sometimes, traumatic events are the result of deliberate and abusive actions of the adults in our lives. Other times, the adult caretakers in our lives did not mean us any harm and genuinely believed they were making the best decisions for us. Unfortunately, even the best of intentions does not negate the lasting effects of childhood trauma. We all experienced traumatic events as children to some extent, based on our unique family dynamic or physical environment. It’s important to remember that events that may be considered ‘minor’ can have a lasting effect well into adulthood. Here are some unexpected sources of childhood trauma and how they may impact you as an adult.
Moving a lot as a kid
Moving is a major and transformative life event for everyone, but it has an especially significant impact on children. Many studies have researched the long-term effects of repeated moves once children have reached adulthood. The research shows that the more times people moved as children, the more likely they will be to report lower life satisfaction and psychological wellbeing as adults. Researchers also found that those who moved frequently as children had more difficulties finding and maintaining healthy and satisfying relationships in adulthood.
Moving creates a sense of displacement and a feeling of a lack of stability in a child’s life. Just when they have adjusted and adapted to their environment, they are forced to readjust, re-adapt and find a new sense of balance in their new home. With a new school comes the challenges of being “the new kid” such as being bullied, feeling left out and having difficulty making friends. When moves are quite frequent (as often happens with military families) children may feel discouraged from making friends at all, seeing it as a futile endeavor when they may soon be leaving again.
How this may affect you as an adult:
There is quite a bit of research on the long-term effects of moving around a lot as a child, with many studies concluding that it may lead to increased risk of depression, self-harm and substance abuse in adulthood. There is also the likelihood of challenges in maintaining relationships and jobs. Because you are so accustomed to being forced to leave, you may be inclined to quickly “cut off” romantic and platonic partners and may have challenges with keeping a job long term. Longevity and settling down may feel uncomfortable for you because of the lack of stability in your childhood.
Growing up in an Environment of Poverty or Scarcity
It comes as no surprise that children living in poorer households face unique and complex challenges not faced by children in more financially abundant homes. Trauma can be experienced by witnessing an actual or perceived threat to our safety or wellbeing and this is triggered in many ways while growing up in poverty. An inability to access food, clothing or shelter on a consistent basis threatens a child’s sense of safety and stability. Poverty can also bring on feelings of guilt, shame or fear as it relates to money and these feelings can follow you well into adulthood.
How this may affect you as an adult:
For many adults who were raised in an environment of poverty, the mindset of scarcity follows them for life. Even after attaining wealth or stability in adulthood, you may still operate from a place of lack. There may be the constant fear that you are going to “lose it all” and end up back in an impoverished situation. This can lead to hoarding of resources and an inability to enjoy the fruits of your labour. A lack of financial education in childhood may lead to poor financial planning or decision-making in adulthood, thus perpetuating the cycle of poverty.
Childhood Trauma from Emotionally Unavailable parents
Though a parent may be physically present and make provisions for a child’s physical needs, they may be emotionally absent or unavailable. Most often, they themselves had emotionally absent parents and simply never learned how to offer emotional support to anyone, including their own children. Other times, parents may have demanding jobs or other obligations that do not allow them to be emotionally present in the lives of their children.
Emotionally absent parents are reluctant to display intimacy and may have challenges showing physical or verbal affection to their children. Because of their own inability to handle their emotions, they are unable to guide their children in managing their emotional wellbeing. These parents will often encourage children to suppress emotions instead of addressing them in a healthy way.
How this may affect you as an adult:
Adult children of emotionally absent parents often grow up to repeat the patterns and behaviors of their parents. They may have difficulties in romantic relationships or friendships due to their inability to be vulnerable and affectionate. In turn, they may seek out partners who are emotionally unavailable, leaving them dissatisfied as they yearn for connection and intimacy. It may be difficult to cope with the emotionally demanding realities of adulthood, leading to a reliance on unhealthy coping mechanisms such as alcohol, drugs or impulsive shopping.
Healing from Childhood Trauma Through Therapy
To some extent, we are all dealing with the aftermath of childhood trauma in one way or another. Though none of it is your fault, the responsibility of healing from your trauma rests only with you. By working with a therapist, you will have expert guidance and support as you process difficult moments from your past. Though this can be a daunting prospect, it is one of the most fulfilling things you can do for yourself. To take the first step, schedule a free consult to get matched with a therapist who meets your needs.
Family Planning, Infertility and Mental Health
Planning for a baby can be an exciting, yet daunting time. While planning for one of the biggest changes of your life, you may be thinking about your finances, relationships, career and health. It’s common to face increased anxiety during this experience, especially if you’re having challenges with conception. Several studies show that people dealing with infertility have higher rates of anxiety and depression compared to their fertile counterparts. Though it’s important to take care of your physical health as you prepare for pregnancy, be sure to prioritize your mental health as well.
Diversion from Your Life Plan
Infertility often represents a major diversion from the plans and goals you have made for yourself and your life. Maybe you planned to be a parent by a certain age, or maybe you feel like a baby is what you need to make your life complete. An unexpected challenge to your plans can be disorienting and distressing. Working with a therapist during this time can equip you with the skills needed to cope.
Infertility and Mental Health
Trying to conceive and struggling with infertility can be an isolating and emotionally painful experience. A lot of focus is placed on ensuring your body is physically ready for pregnancy. It’s important not to neglect your mental health while dealing with infertility and trying to conceive. As you navigate this challenging time, you are more prone to depression and anxiety than at other times in your life. Infertility is also linked to lowered self-esteem and confidence. Pay attention to your levels of stress and anxiety and take breaks when things get overwhelming.
Planning a Pregnancy with an Existing Mental Health Condition
If you have or have ever had a mental illness, it’s a good idea to speak to your doctor before planning to have a baby. Most people with mental health conditions have healthy pregnancies and babies, but it’s still helpful to speak to your doctor. Some medications used to treat mental illnesses can also impact your ability to conceive or should not be taken while pregnant. Do not stop taking any medications without first speaking with your doctor. Talking to your doctor can also give you insight on how pregnancy may affect your mental health, so you can feel prepared and informed.
Impact on Your Relationships
Deciding to have a baby can be a mutually fulfilling experience that creates a stronger bond between you and your partner. In other cases, trying to conceive can be stressful and may have a negative impact on your relationship with your partner. If both people aren’t on the same page, this can cause tension and uncertainty about the future of the relationship. For some couples, sex can become boring or routine while trying to conceive, causing issues with intimacy. If planning your family is causing stress in your relationship, it may be worth looking into couple’s counseling.
Deciding to become a parent can impact other relationships, too. Friendships may be affected since you may be less able to dedicate time and energy to those interactions. If your friends are not becoming parents, you may find yourself drifting apart as your interests and lifestyles change.
Professional Support at Every Step of the Way
At Flourish Psychology, our clinicians can help you process concerns about pregnancy and building a family. We can also support you through the process of fertility treatments or healing after a miscarriage. If you are considering surrogacy and need emotional support in making this life-changing decision, our clinicians offer a safe and welcoming therapeutic environment.
Contact us for a free consult to get started.
Everyone should be taking care of their mental health right now. With all the stressors of 2020, we believe that everyone can benefit from working with a therapist in 2021. If you want to start therapy for the first time, or if you want to return after a hiatus, there’s no better time than the present. If you’re fearful about taking this step, check out our last post on overcoming a fear of therapy.
At Flourish Psychology, we work with patients through depression, anxiety, grief, relationship issues and so much more. No matter your situation, you likely have a lot to process right now. You may be experiencing anxiety because of the uncertainty of the future, the continuing pandemic or the political climate. Maybe you’re grieving the loss of a loved one or a job. There are so many things impacting your mental health at any given moment. Here are just a few reasons you may want to consider seeing a therapist this year.
1. To process stress and anxiety caused by the pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has rocked the entire globe, so it’s no surprise that it’s number 1 on our list. The pandemic has been life-altering for everyone in many ways. How have you been affected? Maybe you’re experiencing anxiety related to constant news cycle or maybe you’ve been affected economically. We believe that after surviving such a difficult year, we could all benefit from a few sessions with a therapist.
Seeing a therapist is an ideal way to process any COVID-related stress and anxiety. Our sessions are now online, so you can start therapy from the safety and comfort of your home.
2. Help with feelings of loneliness
With the pandemic came lockdowns, quarantine and isolation. Many of us have lost our usual sources of socialization and are feeling the effects of loneliness. Loneliness can be devastating, especially for those who are single or who live alone. When you start therapy, you will be better able to process feelings of loneliness and find coping strategies.
3. Help with feelings of hopelessness
It’s completely understandable to be feeling somewhat hopeless or nihilistic right now. With so much fear and uncertainty in the world, it’s easy to start feeling hopeless about the world the future. These feelings of hopelessness may be happening within ourselves about our own lives and futures. This can easily lead to depression or even suicidal ideation. Working with a therapist can help you to become more resilient in the present and hopeful for a better future.
4. Heal after the loss of a romantic relationship
The pandemic has affected our relationships in many ways. For some, they may have started spending more time with their partner as they quarantined together. Others may have been separated from their partners. Many people have made the difficult decision to end a relationship and may now be experiencing difficult emotions. Seeing a therapist after a breakup is one of the healthiest way to process your feelings. Your work with a therapist can help you to move forward from a place of healing and self-love.
5. Get support while you are grieving
The pandemic has taken many lives and many people have faced devastating losses. The death of a loved one is one of the most difficult things that we can face. Losing a loved one can leave you confused and angry, even while you are grieving. Grief can affect your work, your ability to take care of yourself, and your outlook on life. We can guide you to develop healthy mechanisms to cope with your loss and manage your grief.
6. Deal with work-related stress and anxiety
The pandemic has affected our work lives. Some have lost jobs, changed jobs or have had other significant changes to their working lives. With many of us working from home, there is a huge adjustment to be made in the way that we work. How have you been feeling about work? Are you overwhelmed by your workload or doubting your abilities? Are you finding it hard to separate your home and work life while working from home?
The work we do is a fundamental part of who we are. Work-related stresses do not stop at the office and may affect your relationships, your home life, and your general mental health. The therapists at Flourish Psychology understand the impact of a fulfilling career on your overall wellbeing. We want to help you to do your best work so you can live your best life.
Whatever your reason for wanting to start therapy, you should feel proud of yourself for taking this step. We want to make sure you are paired with the best therapist to meet your needs. By scheduling a free consultation, you’re well on your way to making positive changes in your life.
It’s the time of year when many of us are considering our goals and resolutions for the year ahead. We may also be reflecting on the year gone by and feeling several emotions in the process. This year, your reflections and resolutions may look a little different. It’s no surprise that many people consider 2020 to be the most challenging year of their lives, due to the pandemic and everything that came with it. The year also brought civil, political and racial unrest.
Because of COVID-19, many people were unable to fulfill goals and resolutions that they had set for themselves. The pandemic affected everything from travel to job security to the economy. Maybe you had financial goals that you were not able to achieve because you lost your job. Maybe you planned to get married this year, but the stress of quarantine led to the end of a relationship instead. Maybe 2020 was the year you finally took that trip, but it had to be canceled.
When everything is so uncertain, it can be demotivating to set goals and resolutions for ourselves. The disappointments you faced in 2020 may cause you to be reluctant to set resolutions for 2021. Yet, this is when we need goals the most. Goals give us a reason to look forward to the future. They provide a source of inspiration and motivation and give us something worthwhile to spend our time and energy on.
The solution is to take a different approach to your goals and resolutions this time around. Here are a few things to consider when setting your goals for the new year.
Take the time to process your loss
What did you lose in 2020? Some losses are life-changing, like the loss of a loved one. Some losses may seem smaller, but can still affect you if left unaddressed. Take the time to grieve whatever you may have lost in 2020 – opportunities, friendships, or even just the ability to sit in your favorite coffeeshop. If you are dealing with serious grief or loss, you may consider speaking to a therapist or counselor who can help you to process these difficult emotions in a healthy way.
take the time to be grateful
Despite its challenges and setbacks, can you find reasons to be grateful for 2020? Maybe you picked up a new hobby or interest to help pass the time. Were you able to reconnect with old friends via technology? Maybe you are simply grateful to have survived a year that took so many lives. Were you able to keep your job and work from home? That’s something to be thankful for. Did you see any remarkable displays of kindness or compassion during these difficult times? If you look hard enough, there were many things to be grateful for this past year.
SET SIMPLE, ATTAINABLE GOALS
If it’s one thing that 2020 taught us, it’s to slow down and embrace a simpler lifestyle. Consider taking a similar approach with your resolutions. Changing tiny things about your daily habits is more likely to yield success than setting huge, lofty goals. Here are some examples of simple, attainable goals:
- Set a reading goal. How many books would you like to read next year? Break that down into monthly or weekly goals. Start slow. If you are not a regular reader, try reading one book per month or every two months. If you are a regular reader, try increasing your goal from last year.
- Resolve to attain a healthy sleep schedule. Get disciplined about having a regular bedtime and waking up at around the same time every day. Getting sufficient sleep is the foundation for many other things in our lives.
- If you didn’t exercise as much as you wanted to last year, can you move your body a bit more in 2021? Consider free or cheap ways to get (socially distant) exercise. This can be as simple as resolving to take a ten-minute walk every day and increasing to fifteen and twenty-minute walks. You can listen to music, audiobooks, or podcasts on your walk. How about going jogging or starting an at-home yoga practice?
- If you are not already journaling, 2021 is a great time to start! There are so many benefits to journaling and so many things to journal about.
Resolve to take care of your mental health in 2021
Think of how you can take care of your mental health in 2021. Resolve to pay more attention to self-care and learning how to become more mentally resilient. We can’t predict what will happen next year, but we can ensure that we are able to cope with whatever 2021 brings. Techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy can teach you how to manage life’s inevitable challenges.
If you have been thinking about going to therapy, 2021 is the perfect time to start. Scheduling an appointment is easier than ever and you can attend sessions from the safety and comfort of your home, via video chat. Consider setting the resolution to contact us for a free consultation to get matched with a therapist who best meets your needs.
2021 may or may not be easier than 2020. The pandemic has changed many aspects of our lives. There’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding when or even if we will ever be able to see some semblance of pre-pandemic life. Go into 2021 with the mindset that you have become strong enough to handle whatever it throws your way.
Holidays are traditionally a time for friends and family to gather and celebrate. For some, it’s the only time of year when they get to see their family and many look forward to it all through the year. The holiday season looks different this year and a lot of us are experiencing increased loneliness. It may be difficult or impossible for you to visit loved ones due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. Maybe you’ve decided to be alone this year to help reduce the spread of the virus.
For some, this may be our first holiday season alone. Others may have experienced this before, but it doesn’t make it any less difficult this time around. Some people may be apart from their family for reasons that have nothing to do with the pandemic. This could include situations of estrangement, where you have taken the deliberate decision to reduce or remove all contact with family members.
The holiday season is a common trigger for loneliness. People who may have been completely content being alone throughout the year may begin feeling sad, isolated and lonely as the year comes to a close. Here are a few things to consider as you try to manage these feelings.
Take care of Yourself
It’s important to take care of yourself when you are feeling lonely. Consider the ways that you can be a friend to yourself during this time. Self-care is especially important when dealing with loneliness. This is because we may have a tendency to neglect our own needs when we are feeling alone. Take the time to ensure you are having sufficient and healthy meals and getting enough sleep. It may sound simple, but ensure that you are drinking enough water, too. Take the time to keep your environment clean and comfortable. These basic acts of self-care are examples of showing up for yourself and reaffirming your relationship with yourself.
BE EXTRA KIND AND GENTLE
Loneliness can trigger thoughts of self-pity or worthlessness. Practicing acts of kindness towards yourself can help to counteract these feelings. Taking the time to tell yourself reassuring words can be very effective during difficult times. Maybe you have a favorite phrase or saying that you can repeat to yourself when these feelings arise. Consider creating a playlist of songs that make you happy. You can have the playlist ready to go for when the feelings of loneliness arise. Maybe you can create a list of favorite movies to watch when you feel alone. What other ways can you show kindness to yourself? Think of something that you would want a friend or loved one to do for you and do it for yourself. Doing things to make yourself happy helps to remind you that you are self-sufficient.
reach out when you can
Sometimes, we double down on our loneliness by withdrawing from loved ones. We may feel lonely, but still find ourselves sabotaging relationships. This turns into a cycle as our actions confirm our feelings of loneliness. This may manifest in many ways such as not returning calls or texts from friends and family, even though we crave connection. Try to push through these feelings of isolation and reach out to loved ones to maintain contact. A quick phone call can do so much and only takes a bit of effort and time. Remember that the best way to have a friend is to be a friend. Consider that your loved ones may be feeling lonely too. Who can you reach out to today?
rEMEMBER tO bE gRATEFUL
There are many benefits to practicing gratitude. A great way to counteract loneliness is to feel appreciation for all the good in your life. This is because loneliness is a feeling of lack, while gratitude is a feeling of abundance. Take the time to step outside of your loneliness and examine the positive things in your life. Though you may be lonely in the moment, you still have people in your life that you appreciate. You still have things in your life that you appreciate. What fills you with joy? Is it your work, hobbies, a passion project or a pet? Can you recall a happy day from your past that you feel grateful for? Being grateful for the past and present reminds us that there are good things to come in the future.
mANAGE hOLIDAY eXPECTATIONS
As a society, we have come to have great expectations of the holiday season. Holiday movies show us grand gestures and extravagant gifts. Social media may cause us to compare our holiday to someone else’s. You may feel like your holiday is inadequate if it doesn’t match up to expectations you have created for yourself. This year, it’s more important than ever to manage holiday expectations. The pandemic has created challenges for everyone and it may simply not be possible to have the holiday that you want. Consider how you can learn to be content with your current circumstances by accepting that this holiday season won’t be “perfect” – and that’s okay. How can you make the best of what you have and perhaps create new traditions on your own?
Speaking with a therapist can help you to manage feelings of isolation and loneliness this holiday season and as the pandemic continues. Schedule a free consultation to get matched with a therapist who meets your needs.