People who suffer from Social Anxiety Disorder become very skilled at avoiding what’s causing them to feel uncomfortable. It’s a natural reaction to something that feels bad, and of course, they will do whatever it takes to avoid those situations. But without realizing it, they are reinforcing their anxiety and often making it worse.
Take a look at the common avoidance behaviors below, and see if in trying to minimize exposure, you’re actually feeding the beast.
Some experts say that avoidance is one of the biggest obstacles people with social anxiety face. True avoidance means doing anything not to have to face the feared social situation. That can range from simply not showing up to social events and refusing invitations, to changing jobs so as not to have to give presentations or even dropping out of college.
When I was in college, I enrolled in, then dropped, my required speech class 3 or 4 different times. I eventually finished the course, but it was the VERY LAST course I completed before I earned my degree. It was ridiculously stressful for me, but thankfully my desire to finish my degree pushed me.
2. Partial Avoidance
Partial avoidance is a less obvious safety behavior because the sufferer still seems to be participating while still keeping themselves safe.
These behaviors include:
• Sitting in the back of the room
• Keeping your eyes lowered and looking like you’re absorbed in taking notes
• Protective body language like crossing arms, or avoiding eye contact
• Drinking or taking drugs.
Do you find yourself doing any of those things? Yep, me too. I used to do them A LOT. Now… not so much!
Not surprisingly, people also use escape as a safety valve for anxiety. As in partial avoidance, the sufferer seems to be participating but gets to a point where the stress becomes too much, and they have to leave. This sort of behavior might include leaving a social situation early, pretending to get an urgent message so they can leave a meeting, or hiding in the bathroom.
What can you do?
While avoidant behaviors provide relief in the short term, they reinforce your vulnerability and worsen your anxiety. They keep you in a hypervigilant state, constantly on the lookout for danger or fearful situations.
Avoidant behaviors keep you stuck right in the middle of social anxiety. They stop you from trying and failing, but they also prevent you from working and succeeding. You won’t learn how to overcome your fears or learn that you’re pretty good at giving presentations. If you never speak up in meetings, all your good ideas stay in your head. If you hide your light under a bushel, you never get the chance to shine.
An easy gateway technique to start overcoming your social anxiety is to try the five- minute strategy. When you feel the urge to avoid or run away or shrink down, give yourself five minutes. You can put up with pretty much anything for five minutes, right? Just give it a try, be kind to yourself and encourage yourself to hang in there.
SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS: In the past, when you’ve managed to attend a social event, did you feel better afterwards? Are you proud of yourself afterr making it through an uncomfortable situation? You should be!