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Stress and anxiety are widespread experiences in college. You may be fearful over an upcoming exam or project or be intimidated about meeting new people on campus. One could argue that everyone who has pursued higher education has had one or two or a dozen anxious moments. Because anxiety is so prevalent in university life, social anxiety disorder (SAD) is one of the most underdiagnosed mental health conditions among college students.
Those with SAD have anxiety or fear about being watched, judged or embarrassing themselves. Most students look forward to the new experiences and challenges that college life brings. But for someone with social anxiety, their fear and discomfort can interfere with everyday aspects of being a student.
Whether you have been diagnosed with SAD or you suspect that you may struggle with the disorder, here are some of the ways social anxiety can interfere with your learning experience at college.
Social Anxiety's Effects on Learning
When a student has social anxiety, there is little about their life on campus that remains untouched by the disorder. Social interactions, class projects, test taking and even romantic relationships can all be affected by SAD.
Some of the most common ways the disorder impacts young adults in learning environments include:
- Speaking out in class: As part of the classroom experience, professors expect students to take an active role in class discussions. Sometimes this even involves oral projects where students make presentations in front of the class. No matter if the class size is 10 or 200, those with social anxiety find it near impossible to speak out in this environment. There is always a worry about being negatively evaluated.
- Test-taking: Another aspect of the disorder is an overwhelming fear of failure. Although most people would prefer to get the right answer on a test rather than a wrong one, doing poorly usually doesn't impact how they see themselves. Those with SAD view themselves as failures if they're unable to do well, and these feelings sometimes cause them to freeze up when taking tests.
- Social interactions: Whether it's working with a group for a class project, speaking to a professor or even attending a party, college is filled with ample opportunities to interact with other people and make friends. In fact, most jobs you'll apply to after college assume you learned essential interpersonal skills while earning your degree. Those with social anxiety tend to avoid any situation that will make them feel self-conscious. Unfortunately, this excludes them from many social experiences.
- Dropping out: Because of the many challenges those with social anxiety disorder face in their daily life on campus, there is a high risk of them dropping out of school. This impacts them both in the present and their future, as it limits later employment opportunities and may lead to a reduced income.
Know When to Seek Help
Thankfully, social anxiety is a highly treatable condition. Many people with SAD enlist the help of a mental health professional and may even use medication as a part of their treatment program.
If you find that these outpatient treatments aren't enough, it may be time to call Brookhaven Retreat. Located in the peaceful foothills of Tennessee, we are a treatment center for women specializing in a variety of mental health conditions, including severe anxiety disorders. We are here to offer compassionate care to those who turn to us for help.
Taking a break from university life to focus on coping with your social anxiety disorder may be just the thing to break SAD's hold over your life. Contact us today to find out more.
Quiet. Shy. Introverted. These are words we often use to describe those who prefer to take a backseat when it comes to social situations. But these words can also be a mask to hide an underlying psychological issue — social anxiety disorder (SAD).
Social anxiety disorder is more than just being nervous or uncomfortable in unfamiliar environments or when meeting new people. After all, everyone experiences this at one time or another. For those with this common mental disorder, it goes a step further.
How Social Anxiety Can Impact Romantic Relationships
SAD causes you to experience intense stress and even physical side effects like muscle tension or a rapid heartbeat in a variety of different social situations. Unfortunately, social anxiety can also have a toll on romantic relationships, but there is hope. With compassion and understanding, both those who struggle with SAD and their partner can cultivate a loving and lasting relationship.
Although everyone's social anxiety is different, here are some common ways that it can impact relationships:
- Difficulties trusting
- Less perceived support
- Viewing their partner as overly critical
- Attempting to control partner to reduce their own insecurities
- Demonstrating clinginess or jealousy
- Shutting down and refuses to talk about issues
- Holding back parts of themselves to avoid rejection
- Developing negative forms of communication like criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling.
- Pushing their partner away or sabotaging the relationship
For those in a romantic relationship with someone who has social anxiety, they often have a difficult time understanding where their partner is coming from. They may experience feelings of rejection or hurt because they don't understand why they're being pushed away.
However, if you keep the above warning signs in mind, you both can focus on creating an honest relationship. It will be based on the foundation of open communication as you discuss how the disorder has impacted you both.
Six Tips for Developing Healthy Relationships When You Have Social Anxiety
If you are addressing your social anxiety disorder and receiving treatment, then there's no reason why you can't create a healthy romantic relationship with the right person. Here are six tips that may help you foster a healthy relationship when you have social anxiety:
- Address Issues Immediately: When you have a concern you leave unsaid, negative feelings can develop — which could lead to harsh criticism and an unnecessary conflict. Even though it may be uncomfortable, it's important to be completely honest about your feelings and discuss issues, rather than just ignoring them.
- Discuss What's Important to You: If you've spent most of your life feeling like you were fading into the background, you may not be used to expressing how you feel. But knowing and understanding someone is the foundation of intimacy. Just start small with what you really think about something, like your food preferences or other lifestyle choices, and let it build from there.
- Learn to Embrace Your Own Uniqueness: There's a reason your partner is with you. Don't undermine this by devaluing yourself. Learn to see yourself as the worthwhile person you are, with your own personality and unique insights. When you love yourself, you are better able to recognize what you have to offer your relationship.
- Assume the Best About a Situation: It's never safe to assume what someone else is thinking or feeling, and that's especially true in relationships. Your anxiety may cause you to assume the absolute worst without provocation, but that's often unfair to your partner. When a negative assumption pops into your mind, confront it immediately and choose to replace it with a positive thought unitl you can get more information if needed.
- Keep Communication Open: There are many aspects of your social anxiety your partner will not understand unless you communicate them. You may have triggers that cause you to feel a certain way and that cause you stress. Explaining these to your partner will not only help them understand, but it will also give them the opportunity to help you.
- Focus on the Here and Now: Social anxiety can cause you to over-analyze the past and dread the future. Avoid this by focusing on what's happening right now. Enjoy and embrace your relationship as it is in the present.
It's Okay to Ask for Help
Proper treatment is key when you have social anxiety disorder. If you're looking for methods of preserving your relationships and if you're finding it difficult, that's okay. Mental health professionals can help you learn healthy approaches that will allow you to create a lasting relationship.
Brookhaven Retreat is here to offer a safe place where women who are dealing with mental health issues can find compassionate care and guidance. Admitting you need help may be what your relationship needs to stay on track. Reach out to us today to get more information.
From networking events to company parties and dinners, work events required for many jobs can seriously ramp up your anxiety.
Work events can be stressful for anyone, but if you struggle with social anxiety issues, it can be especially trying. With some planning, there are ways to manage your anxiety to comfortably get through those office functions that require you to be present, professional and social.
Tips for Managing Your Anxiety at Work Functions
When you struggle with anxiety, the key is planning. You may want to believe a particular office party will be no big deal, but there is always a chance that something could trigger your anxiety. Here are some things to keep in mind for your next work function:
1. Get There Early
Rushing around and then being put on the spot the minute you arrive can be extremely stressful. It is a better idea to plan extra time to find the venue, park your car and arrive early. Entering a crowded room can be intimidating, but if you arrive early, you will have an opportunity to get comfortable in your surroundings before people start to arrive.
2. Avoid Excessive Drinking
Some people think that alcohol helps take the edge off in awkward social situations. When you are prone to anxiety, though, too much alcohol can make the situation worse.
If you do decide to drink, take it slow and ensure your total alcohol intake for the evening does not exceed two drinks. This will help you remain in control and keep your stress levels down.
3. Focus on Active Listening
Anxiety tends to creep in when your brain leaves the room. If you allow yourself to start ruminating about what-if scenarios and lose your focus on the present moment, your anxiety could escalate. Instead, practice active listening to keep your mind in the current moment.
In conversation, reiterate what other people are saying for clarity. Ask questions to reinforce the fact that you are following the conversation. By concentrating on what someone else is talking about, you can keep the focus off of you and avoid feeling too self-conscious.
4. Avoid Obsessing Over Interactions
A lot of things are said in casual conversation that seem awkward or inappropriate because social interactions are generally not rehearsed. If you suffer from social anxiety, you may be hyper-critical of your own social performance. The more you worry about or analyze how you are doing, though, the more anxious you will become.
If you say something that gets a negative response or that you think sounds dumb, let it go. Try to move the conversation onto a different topic, or redirect the focus to someone else by asking them a question. No one is going to remember what you said or didn’t say in a social setting like this. No one is taking notes. Understand that you are the only one who notices when you make a mistake in conversation — and by noticing it yourself, you are only drawing attention to it and escalating your own anxiety.
5. Schedule Quiet Time for Yourself Before and After
Sometimes the time leading up to an event can be worse than the event itself. If you spend that time worrying about all the things that can go wrong and make yourself feel anxious and uncomfortable, you will feel defeated before the party even starts. Instead, take some quiet time before the event to relax and clear your mind.
Go for a walk or listen to some music. Spending time alone before a social event can help ground you, so you go into it with a better mindset. After the event is over, take some time to decompress. Allow yourself to go over the event in your mind and remember the high points of the evening. Then, declare it a social success, and do not analyze it anymore.
Struggling with anxiety can make work functions difficult to deal with. If you prepare yourself and have a solid plan going into the event, though, it is possible to enjoy the social interaction with your colleagues. Instead of letting anxiety keep you on the periphery of the crowd, have a plan to manage it and be an engaged participant.
Social anxiety disorder is an extreme fear in social settings and is more common than you think. More than 15 million people in the U.S. cope with the disorder, many for years before they find help from caring mental health professionals that can correctly diagnose the issue.
For those with severe symptoms, their social phobia can overwhelm them during day-to-day activities. School, work or even visits to the grocery store become debilitating with severe social anxiety. It is often difficult to develop close relationships outside of your family, which makes work and school commitments even more daunting.
Understanding social anxiety disorder, and what causes it, is important to being able to effectively treat it.
Symptoms of Social Anxiety
Social anxiety symptoms are physical and mental. These symptoms can cause physical discomfort, as well as poor performances at work or school.
Physical social anxiety symptoms include:
- Raised heart rate
- Trouble speaking
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Shaking or trembling
Psychological or mental symptoms of social anxiety are:
- Absence from school or work due to social phobia.
- Use of alcohol to handle social situations.
- Stress over social situations and upcoming social events.
- Fear of embarrassment in a social situation.
- Concern over people noticing your social anxiety.
Your body and mind’s reaction to social circumstances can also reinforce your phobia and fear. A visit to the grocery store, for example, may cause an attack where you have difficulty speaking with the cashier. While the clerk may think nothing of the exchange, it reinforces your fear of embarrassment in social situations.
Things That May Trigger Social Anxiety
A trip to the grocery store is not a trigger for everyone’s social anxiety. Social anxiety has two forms: limited or selective anxiety and extreme anxiety.
Limited anxiety is not always triggered, but extreme anxiety is in every social situation. It is an overwhelming feeling for those with social phobia because every room they enter, from their perspective, has a spotlight on them at all times.
Common situations that trigger social anxiety symptoms include:
- Asking a question in class or at work.
- Handling in-person or over the phone job interviews.
- Shopping for clothes, food and other supplies.
- Using public restrooms.
- Talking on the phone for work, school or personal needs.
Triggers, such as a job interview or asking a question at school, can affect a person’s education, as well as their career opportunities.
What Causes Social Anxiety?
Social anxiety has several possible causes, which include a person’s history and their genetics. Personal history is often a major contributor to social anxiety. A history of abuse, family conflict or bullying can make suffering from social phobia more likely.
Because of a negative childhood history, people can develop social anxiety and learn to fear social situations. Again, and again, their childhood interactions have reinforced the fear, embarrassment, and pain of social interactions.
The fact that the experiences cause someone to develop a social phobia emphasize how painful the interactions and experiences were throughout their childhood.
Children may develop social anxiety from parents who have a social phobia as well. Because children mimic or learn behaviors from their parents, they can develop those same social anxiety fears, though this is not always the case.
Social anxiety can also result from chemical imbalances. Serotonin, for example, regulates mood, and an overactive amygdala in the brain, can cause increased responses to fear, as well as anxious thoughts.
The causes and triggers for social anxiety will vary from person to person. Understanding what causes your social anxiety is key to finding a social anxiety treatment that helps you regain balance and peace in your life.
Diagnosing and Treating Social Anxiety Disorder
Social anxiety treatment is often not something you can treat yourself, especially if a chemical imbalance is causing your anxiety.
While seeing a mental health professional is a challenge with social anxiety disorder, it offers assistance with an experienced professional who can help you feel safe and comfortable during visits.
Social anxiety disorder is diagnosed based on the dialogue and descriptions you provide, as well as your behavioral patterns. The criteria for a social anxiety diagnosis often includes:
- A level of anxiety that disrupts daily living.
- An understanding that your fears are unreasonable.
- A panicked or anxious feeling before social interactions.
- A continued fear of social situations because of potential embarrassment or humiliation.
After a diagnosis, your social anxiety treatment will likely focus on therapy. Two therapies that benefit and help those with social phobia are Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and group therapy:
- DBT helps you manage your emotions and behavior through contemplation and relaxation therapy. It focuses on accepting your social anxiety, but also changing that behavior to make your life more enjoyable and peaceful.
- Group therapy provides the opportunity to learn social skills and techniques through role-playing alongside others with social phobia. Group therapy can be part of your treatment program later on in your social anxiety treatment after you have become more comfortable with your therapist.
In addition to seeing a professional, there are some steps you can take on your own. At-home techniques include:
- Reducing your caffeine intake.
- Getting eight hours of sleep each night.
- Working to build or maintain positive relationships.
Social anxiety disorder can isolate and limit your life’s enjoyment. Break free with treatment and therapy to help you reclaim and rediscover your life. This may seem like an overwhelming and frightening step to take with social anxiety, but it is immensely rewarding.