Social anxiety news and stories round-up

Blogs

The writer provides a personal insight into a difficult incident of social anxiety in the workplace and her efforts to manage and reflect on the experience: “Today I had to lead a meeting on a topic about COVID and did horribly. I froze up, rambled, and made no sense. My supervisor and two others noticed I was freaking out and didn’t really help. Then I sat in my office and basically just stared at my computer for 30 mins. I decided to just text my boss and said I was going home because I have anxiety and can’t focus. Then I went home and cried for an hour.”

A 27 year old woman describes the difficulties with socialising with family members with strong Trump supporting political opinions and attitudes: “I guess I need to learn to steel myself a little better to their remarks. I know full well that just because they think one way intensely doesn’t necessarily mean they are right. I know it’s not a personal attack against me, but sometimes their opinions make me uncomfortable. It’s that whole them being so right-wing conservative (so Trump brain-washed) that eats away at me because the views they espouse are like night and day from how I feel. And sometimes I sit there wondering how could they really think that?”

The post explores dissociation, with the writer giving personal examples of experiences: “I used to volunteer at a food bank before Covid arrived. I had just received a call from a shop asking if I would like to do two months worth of work experience with them. I said yes and thanked them before hanging up. However, my anxiety kicked in and instantly I dissociated, zoning out into space. I could hear another male volunteer trying to have a conversation with me, but I couldn’t pull myself out. When I finally came out of it, I felt embarrassed and instantly apologised multiple times, explaining that I wasn’t ignoring him and I was just experiencing dissociation. I’m happy to report that he just laughed and said he was okay with that as long as I was okay.”

Working at a grocery store in the US, the writer is unfairly moved into a new role but is able to appreciate the personal benefits, despite the injustice of the decision: “Ultimately, I found this new position to be a million times less stressful than my old position—to the point that I almost consider it enjoyable. Most of my week is spent up front at the doors sanitizing carts or counting customers as I’m one of the few that can afford to spend all day up there without it affecting my work. It also might have to do with the fact that I’m one of the few employees that doesn’t bitch about being up at the doors. I really have no reason to whine since door duty no longer takes me away from working an understaffed area that desperately needs stocking constantly.”

A ‘thirty something environmental scientist’ describes the challenges of a work field trip having started her role as a remote worker, facing challenges with training and interaction: “My co-worker even told me not to be so hard on myself and not to feel like I need to get everything right away because he said after 14 years, he still gets confused and unsure. Our job is nebulous sometimes and subject to arbitrary decisions. Maybe that’s the nature of regulation. We’re almost environmental lawyers, having to interpret what laws mean and squash environment and science into these boxes where they don’t fit neatly.”

Creative writing

i’ll take the long way home, and carve out a path along hiking trails and highways, all of my own. trace the geography of broken promises along my collarbone, and try not to dance on the walk home, a smile breaking out across my cheeks despite it all. despite myself. feel the bruises, and scrapes, and scars, the way my thighs touch, and just let them fucking exist.

a catalog of fears, a series of questions, reasons to disappear. ideally, selfless writing mimics the camera, in the antiseptic laboratory condition tradition, stripped of human emotion. a program which mimics nostalgia. the verb is missing but the lecture continues.

For a group of communinist dissidents, no-one seemed to do much. Young, fashionable people, people with long hair and flared trousers and slim-fit paisley shirts, came to the flat each night to smoke and talk about movies, people at the university, the state of the economy, politics. Ana knew about soil acidity and fermentation tanks. She knew a little about American fiction and her favourite singer, Josipa Lisac. Sometimes she wouldn’t know if they were talking about a film director, actor, politician, or a mutual friend.

Research

  • Social Anxiety and the Generation of Positivity During Dyadic Interaction: Curiosity and Authenticity are the Keys to Success – Kevin C. Barber, Maggie A.M. Michaelis, David A. Moscovitch – Behavior Therapy, online March 31, 2021

“Dyadic analyses revealed that participants’ affiliative goals during the social interaction predicted positive outcomes for both themselves and their partners, although the link between affiliative goals and positive affect was weaker for participants with high SA. Mediation analyses demonstrated that adopting affiliative goals may promote more positive outcomes by increasing participants’ curiosity and felt authenticity. Taken together, results illuminate the pathways through which people with varying levels of trait SA may derive interpersonally generated positive affect and positive social outcomes, with implications for clinical theory and practice.”

  • Response Inhibition, Cognitive Flexibility and Working Memory in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Social Anxiety Disorder – Ana Isabel Rosa-Alcázar, Ángel Rosa-Alcázar, Inmaculada C Martínez-Esparza, Eric A Storch, Pablo J Olivares-Olivares – Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Mar 31;18(7):3642 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33807425/

“This study analyzed response inhibition, cognitive flexibility and working memory in three groups of patients diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, social anxiety disorder and generalized anxiety disorder, considering some variables that may influence results (nonverbal reasoning, comorbidity, use of pharmacotherapy).”

  • Social anxiety disorder and the fear of death: An empirical investigation of the terror management approach towards understanding clinical anxiety. Zuccala, M., & Abbott, M. J. (2021). https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2021-01861-001

“Emerging evidence suggests that death anxiety is an important transdiagnostic construct underlying a range of psychological disorders. Terror Management Theory (TMT) is currently the preeminent theoretical framework used to explain the role that death fears play in psychopathology. This study sought to examine the TMT approach to understanding clinical anxiety while addressing several methodological limitations associated with the existing empirical literature. Method: Semi-structured diagnostic interviewing was employed to recruit two groups of participants with either Social Anxiety Disorder or no anxiety diagnosis. All participants were randomly allocated to receive either mortality salience or control priming, before undertaking two tasks designed to measure social and physical anxiety symptoms, respectively. Results: The overall pattern of results failed to provide evidence in support of the novel hypotheses derived from TMT. Mortality salience priming did not exacerbate social anxiety symptoms for participants with Social Anxiety Disorder, but did exacerbate physical anxiety symptoms for these individuals. No such effect was observed for non-clinical participants. Conclusion: These results suggest that more robust theoretical frameworks may be needed to explain the evident, but likely complex, relationship between death fears and clinical anxiety. Directions for future research are discussed. “

“The relationship between separation anxiety and suicidality has not been explored extensively,” Stefano Pini, MD, of the department of clinical and experimental medicine at University of Pisa in Italy, and colleagues wrote. “One study found an association between separation anxiety disorder and increased risk [for] suicidal behaviors in a prospective study of 500 Indian adolescents in a rural community. Another study reported an association between severity of separation anxiety symptoms and suicidal ideation in a small sample (n = 31) of patients with social anxiety disorder, although the observed association was dependent on comorbidity with major depression and avoidant personality disorder.”

  • Candidate Factors Maintaining Social Anxiety in the Context of Psychotic Experiences: A Systematic Review – Warut Aunjitsakul, Nicola McGuire, Hamish J McLeod, Andrew Gumley – Schizophr Bull. 2021 Mar 29 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33778868/

“Prominent psychological factors maintaining social anxiety included self-perceptions of stigma and shame. Common correlates of social anxiety included poorer functioning and lower quality of life. In conclusion, stigma and shame could be targeted as a causal mechanism in future interventional studies. The integration of findings from this review lead us to propose a new theoretical model to guide future intervention research.”

News articles

A light-hearted look at the fears of a young woman and her friends as lockdown restriction easing in the UK allows her to meet up with five friends outdoors over Easter: “Staying at home eliminates the holy trinity of social anxiety: the fear of missing out, the fear of actually being there, and the fear of what you did or said that creeps in after you’ve left.”

A humorous take on common behaviours prompted by socially anxiety: “This is my favorite game to play. Peek-a-boo, you don’t see me. I can’t recall the number of times I’ve strolled into a store and out of nowhere, launched myself behind a rack for cover because I recognized someone. Did they see me? Oh God, I hope they didn’t see me. What if they saw me hide? What if they come my way now, what do I say? Oh God, why am I like this? Usually, I’m by myself, so I don’t have to explain my behavior to someone else and feel extra stupid. But when I’m out with my husband, I have to deal with him too because he snickers and leaves me to my own insanity. Hello, social anxiety. I trail slowly behind and intermittently ask him to check if the coast is clear. I keep track of that person’s whereabouts until they leave the store. Don’t ask me how much time I’ve wasted doing this.”

“Think about the biggest challenges you’ve faced and overcome. Looking at your strongest, wisest moments, do you think you could use that same strength and wisdom to prevail in this potential challenge as well?

What do you think you could learn from it? In what ways do you think you would gain strength as you face these new obstacles?

Thinking about your strengths and your best moments can help you to remember that, while you may not enjoy your current circumstances, you have the strength to handle what comes. You may find new strengths you didn’t know you had!”

Article on London based writer, Russell Norris, who experiences severe facial blushing as an anxiety symptom: “Norris has decided to confront his fears by being more open about them. He’s written a book, Red Face: How I Learnt to Live with Social Anxiety, about what life is like as a perpetual blusher. “It’s not easy, is the short answer,” he notes. “I became an expert in avoidance.””

“The Purgatory Of 9 Till 5” – Working in a Warehouse

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Ravens by Anna Vanes ©

Isolated, menial work can provide some comfort for those troubled by difficulties interacting but such a lifestyle can give rise to degradation of self-worth, loneliness, depression and suicidal ideation. Moreover, poor working conditions in such employment, including, compensation, can not only contribute to damaging health but can leave one dependent on such employment.

Writing in a new autobiographical blog, a 33 year-old clothing warehouse worker details a typical working day. It involves a 7.5 hour shift in the ‘purgatory’ of the warehouse performing manual tasks and avoidance of most interactions with co-workers, to the extent of protecting himself from contact during the thirty-minute lunch break: “Unlike the normal socially functional humans I retreat for half an hour into my private safe space inside the toilet cubicle. This is my peculiar routine to never enter the intimidating coliseum of the canteen. That environment i find far too aggravating for my fragile defective personality.”

The writer was diagnosed with autism at a young age and identifies himself with schizoid personality disorder. His life is dominated by the opposing forces of desiring human intimacy and a severe difficulty interacting with others and severe social anxiety, resulting in depression: “My mind is ingrained with these fantasies of having a lover a person that validates your existence that makes you feel human. I realise in the chasms of my mind i will never have these wondrous tangible human adventures of sex and love. I am damned to locked inside this box of alienation never to receive the treasure chest of human infatuation.”

Ten years of this lifestyle shaped around working in the warehouse has degraded his self-worth and happiness: “Long ago in the embryonic stages of my tenure at TWC i was proficient enough to cultivate friendships here. Now at 33 my condition my asocial behaviour has deteriorated to the point friendships in the workplace milieu or outside in the world is unimaginable.”

He closes down communication out of a combination of hopelessness at forming intimate bonds and severe social anxiety: “Instead of embracing the light I retreat into my shell denying myself the improbable dream of love into my vacuum of a life. I ignore all these coruscating lights avert my gaze and put on this glacial mask.”

This pattern is followed in the safety of his flat: “When on the rare occasion somebody attempts to contact me i refuse to answer the incoming communication. A stranger or relative knocks ardently on my door i act all quiet turn off the lights giving the illusion I’m not home. Never do I depart from my humble abode to socialise with other humans except in isolated instances when I urgently need to buy some food or need a much needed haircut.”

It is clear that the “semblance” of safety that his isolated work and home provide are, in fact, deeply harmful: “Performing the carbon copy tasks like a mindless robot. The noxious fumes of this insular survivalist existence is slowing poisoning me like carbon monoxide chocking my soul removing the joy the desire to even be alive.” The goes on to writer describe his consumption of alcohol and drugs in his free time.

The writer depicts a wider social environment of economic deprivation in his home town in the UK: “Every workday to work and back home, again i face this sadness this urban sprawl of bordered up buildings of broken people living broken lives. To witness the decay every day effects my state of mind taking me deeper into prolonged states of forlornness.”

There are remnants of self-care and self-worth that give hope; after his shift, he describes arriving in his flat. “Firstly though i run a luxurious bath that relaxes my nerves. A lavender infused bath is drawn in which the bathroom is permeated with ethereal classical music taking to a higher plain of consciousness. The bath becomes a therapeutic relaxing habitual event that alleviates the toxic anxiety that i accrue during the day working in a noxious warehouse environment. The bath enables me to escape the moil the drudgery the agita of my life.”

Contrastingly, the writer has neglected self-care regarding his teeth, with significant impact on self-worth, body image and social anxiety: ” These once radiant teeth that once along time ago when i smiled revealed a glorious beaming youthful smile. Now in public I’ve become so intensely self conscious at these grotesque unappealing teeth that i refrain from smiling or laughing to prevent me from exposing my ugly fangs to the world. My self consciousness at the sad state of my teeth is emblematic of the flaws the holes in my personality my aversion to be vulnerable.”

It is through self-care and self-attention that the possibility of gradual steps of overcoming depression, isolation and anxiety seem to lie. Self-care could also include opening up to others and seeking help. It may, potentially, include, seeking new opportunities, whether in employment or connecting with people. The economic and health struggles can be overwhelming in isolation and support may provide the only real option.

Image designed by Anna Vanes.

To read the full blog-post, “Chapter 8: The Purgatory of 9 to 5,” click the link below:

Dystopia

Every working day starts and ends in the same laborious way. There’s no meaningful differentiation from one day to the next. It’s me completing the same task the exact duplicate itinerary for every single working day. It’s a vacuous boring subsistence existence that i have been condemned to endure. The routine however is comforting allowing myself for prolonged stretches of isolation from direct human contact. It’s my solitary employment I have maintained for over a decade now that protects me from proximate human interaction.

Despite the tedium of working in a claustrophobic intellectually uninspiring environment it provides me with solace working in a menial warehouse locale. The dearth of direct social communication the limited verbal acuity that is needed to be a functional employee at TWC are beneficial to my defective personality. The atmosphere however is slowly poisoning me with the noxious fumes of alienation I force myself to abide…

View original post 7,105 more words

Finding Your Tribes: Solidarity Networks for Social Anxiety

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Dark by Anna Vanes ©

Finding your ‘allies’ and ‘tribes’ is not to find groups of homogeneous personalities but to find networks of diverse people who share a common interest and can offer mutual companionship and solidarity. For individuals with social anxiety disorder symptoms, such groups also likely offer opportunities to learn to manage and overcome aspects of social fear.

Common support groups are friends, family units and the medical profession. However, finding wider and multiple tribes offers a richer set of resources to call upon. A tribe which includes individuals who can closely relate to one’s experiences, including of similar mental health difficulties, offers unique potential for understanding, as one writer puts it: “Her journey wasn’t mine, but at least I knew that she was still on it, still surviving. I was surviving, too, and eager to keep becoming the only self I would ever have.”

As a child, the writer describes herself suffering severe social anxiety and depression at a time that “the online community around mental illness was not as accessible or developed as it is today, especially for young people.” Her family seemed to not understand her difficulties and, yet, she found an unlikely ally. At first, comparisons with her Aunt Layla were uncomfortable: “I couldn’t view her journey as a parallel to mine. I couldn’t look at her and see the stable person I might one day become.”

However, having been the subject of her parents’ oversharing of her mental health difficulties, she comes to recognise that Aunt Layla had suffered a similar fate: “We had both been exposed and held up to our old selves—and also, in some ways, obscured. My fear of being confronted with my aunt’s stability dwindled and I began to empathize with her more.”

A simple gesture by her aunt during a moment of “paranoia” that lead to the writer, as a young teen, secluding herself in her grandparents’ house, seems to seal the bond between aunt and niece.

Another writer, Lizzie, writes on her blog of her challenges with coming to terms with grief after the death of two friends. One of her friends committed suicide and Lizzie describes a sense of guilt: “I wasn’t able to save my friend, and that was translating into all sorts of other things that I didn’t feel able to do. I began having panic attacks, to the point where they were happening everyday at work.”

It took an intervention from a work colleague for her to seek medical support, including being prescribed medication and undertaking cognitive behavioural therapy which, though not working on her grief, helped her anxiety symptoms. Despite these treatments, she describes putting up an “emotional wall” at this time and putting unrealistic expectations upon herself to succeed at work.

Reflecting on her journey, Lizzie writes of her social anxiety symptoms and her “control freak” desires to control what people thought of her as being obstructive traits: “I often struggled to let others into my grief, as I didn’t want to be a burden.”

Her Christian faith was a source of strength and, particularly, her church, when it came to integrating and processing grief: “During the summer of 2019, I had the chance to meet regularly with some ladies in my church and we dug deep into the difficult places of our heart and our past that were preventing us from living a life of total freedom. This is where I learnt about and was set free from the feeling of inadequacy relating to not being able to save my friend.”

“Self-compassion,” the writer adds, “is one thing that I did learn throughout this tragic journey. I learnt that there were things that were so out of my control, that it wasn’t worth worrying so deeply. Instead, I needed to create space for myself and allow time for healing.”

Allies and tribes are not homogeneous groups but people whose commonalities allow unique understanding and empathy and whose differences enable them to provide support. Whether an aunt, friendship group or church group, these networks, comparable to therapy groups, can offer a wide range of knowledge, interaction, understanding, trust and sharing. Combined with necessary medical treatments, they can offer meaningful and practical support for someone suffering mental health illness or difficulty.

Ayetola Fagbemi’s account of the discovery of her connection with her Aunt Layla can be found on the Sinai Magazine site here.

Lizzie writes of “Journeying Through Grief” after the deaths of her two friends. Click here for the blog-post.

Image designed by Anna Vanes.

Reblogged: Buying the Milk: Employers’ Demand for ‘Reliability’

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I am a machine by Anna Vanes ©

Employers’ expectation of reliability of performance and regularity of attendance can be at odds with the unreliability and irregularity of mental health illness symptoms and episodes. This leaves the mental health illness symptom sufferer who wishes and needs to work with difficulty finding suitable work. This is even more the case with someone, such as the writer of the blog-post linked below who lacks qualifications and a consistent work history and, therefore, references.

As the writer, who lives in Australia, discusses, there is a limit to how open a mental illness sufferer can be with an employer: “If the panel knew that my mental health had caused me to abruptly leave a job, that my anxiety about answering the phone meant I wouldn’t be able to be very good at the job they were interviewing me for, that my depression could flare up at any moment and would put me at serious risk of abruptly leaving the position, they wouldn’t have hired me.”

Yet, for some, ‘hiding’ severe illness is not a feasible option. The writer describes the second breakdown she suffered during her previous employment, causing her to leave for good: “Those negative thoughts, the feelings of being overwhelmed, and not good enough, started to bubble beneath the surface. They came back. It felt like all the progress I had made was futile. That this was just going to happen over and over again, and I would never be able to function like everyone else. Like I was in a hamster wheel and kept falling off.”

Now without work, social security has been made inaccessible for her: “The stress of applying for government help negates whatever my earnings would be. I have been and done that, and I have no desire to be treated like that again, even if it means living on the streets. Moreover, she wants to work, to feel purposeful – and to help support her partner, who is working.

Being out of work, the writer says, is like not buying milk. When she made her second suicide attempt, she intentionally had not bought milk. The writer describes needing employment on her terms – to fit around her mental health illness symptoms and that “could wait, just for a little bit” when she felt ill.

Reform of the job market is needed to provide more meaningful and secure work for those who suffer mental health illnesses. The benefits for employers will be dedicated workers with potential to grow and develop. Whilst freelance and zero hours working suggest flexibility, the reality of such precarious work, including, no or limited of sick pay, is very different. As with sick pay and all other worker rights, dignified and stable work for severe mental health illness sufferers will only be achieved through worker solidarity, organisation and activism.

Image designed by Anna Vanes.
For stock image credits, click here.

To read the full blog-post, Buying the Milk, click below: