Social anxiety is a painful and sometimes debilitating condition in which the socially anxious person experiences extreme doubts and negative thoughts about themselves in relation to others. Often, it’s accompanied by physical distress as well. For those whose social anxiety is undiagnosed or untreated, this creates a cycle of avoidance, isolation, and increasing distress. It may also lead to depression.
Depression brings lower mood, tiredness, sleep and appetite issues, lack of joy in daily activities and life, as well as occasional physical pain. It can affect the ability to concentrate and even produce feelings of worthlessness. Research conducted by Dr. Murray Stein and colleagues shows that approximately 35% of those with social anxiety have had a least one major episode of depression.
Dealing with social anxiety on a daily basis is enough of a challenge without adding depression to the mix. The two combined often cause further isolation, which in turn causes worsening of both conditions in a seemingly never-ending spiral. However, the spiral does end; there are ways of breaking the cycle and reclaiming joy.
First and foremost, know that you don’t have to go through it alone. Talking to a qualified therapist can ease the burden along with giving you coping skills. You can also try the following tips to breaking the cycle.
- Adding contact with people breaks the isolation and helps restore joy. Given that social anxiety makes such contact hard to do, reach out to a few of your closest friends – people with whom you feel more comfortable. Spending even a little time with them can make a huge difference.
- Focus on activities and interests that don’t trigger anxiety. Avoidance restricts your life and the result is greater depression. Find those things that bring you joy and make sure to allow yourself some time to do them. This opens your life, resulting in less depression. It’s even better if you can do these activities with one or two (or more, if it’s comfortable) of the people mentioned in Tip #1.
- Be nice to yourself! Those who experience social anxiety and depression sometimes blame themselves for their condition. It’s crucial that you accept that these conditions are not your fault; you didn’t choose them. In fact, much like high blood pressure or diabetes, they are valid conditions that require treatment. Whenever you feel the blame game starting shut it down fast.
- Take action. It’s a fact that depression causes inactivity; the less you do, the more you’re depressed, the more you’re depressed, the less you do. Set some daily goals; break them into hourly goals if need be and write them down. These are small goals, like talk a walk or water the plants. These small actions are tremendously useful in breaking the cycle of depression. The satisfaction of doing them – and checking them off the list – can leave you with a feeling of accomplishment and worthiness.
- Recognize your accomplishments. This Tip ties in to the one before it. When you’re tempted to minimize your achievements, stop. Rather than focus on how little you feel you’ve done or how much you still have to do, write down what you actually did. This helps you see how much you really do – small and large tasks alike – and aids you in changing the way you think and feel about yourself.
Remember, where there is life there is hope. With time and practice, you will break the cycle and reclaim joy in your life.
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