A Journey Within and Beyond Social Anxiety

Sartre’s famous quote, “Hell is other people,” is absolutely true for some of us. Social anxiety disorder (SAD), also known as social phobia, is a condition plaguing some women who find social situations a hotbed of triggers for panic. For those of us with the diagnosis, the fear we encounter when triggered by social interactions is so intense, frequent, and crippling that it takes on the role of being a serious “symptom” – an emergence from the underground soul stream of our lives, which bubbles up with urgency and force to disrupt our surface world.

Many of us don’t work through fundamental social anxiety treatment plan goals and objectives to address symptoms until they have become obvious that we literally cannot proceed with our lives until we take the time and care to resolve them. Our social phobia reaches a crisis point when we achieve a little bit of stable sobriety for many of us with social anxiety treatment plan goals and objectives in recovery. With mounting dread, we discover that substance use has been heavily involved with subduing our social fears. Without drugs, we may have no idea how to relate with others and remain calm.

Fear is highly physiological, involving a chain of bodily reactions, the triggering of which is not under our conscious control. We cannot reproach ourselves for having fear because there is absolutely nothing we can do to “just get over” how we are wired. Fear is one of the most basic instincts that we possess. It is directly related to the fundamental operating system installed into our biocomputers at birth, whose prime directive, in essence, is “keep this body alive.” Like with all anxiety disorders, when we look at what it takes to heal from social phobia, we need to understand that the problem and its solutions lie with our program’s core social anxiety treatment plan goals and objectives.

The body fills with fear when some danger is threatening that prime directive. Whatever the danger is – real, distorted, imagined, it doesn’t matter – the brain sounds the alarm and sends the body through a cascade of hormonal reactions that set the body up to address the threat. A woman who has this flavor of anxiety showing up in her life is exquisitely cued to social living’s genuine dangers. Our primate cousins in the animal kingdom, you may notice, live in groups and are highly socially oriented – we are no different. Group inclusion, belonging, and acceptance are extremely relevant to our survival, especially when we are young, vulnerable, and unable to survive without that love.

Those of us who felt only conditionally accepted by our families, schools, communities, caregivers, and authorities, who experienced being abandoned, severely criticized, judged, shamed, humiliated, or in other ways marginalized if we did not stay sharply focused on what these powerful people wanted from us, are naturally attuned to the possibility that we could be ejected from the tribe at any moment if we do something wrong. With that type of background and sensitivity, we will also be highly attuned to any messages that say that we are inadequate or not good enough in some way.

Love is one word that we use to describe the meaning of self-worth and self-value. There are so many words to describe how we feel about ourselves, how we think about ourselves, and how we act toward ourselves. While the sounds may blend, they are vastly different concepts with unique meanings, findings, and purposes. Humans are, by nature, social beings. Because social connectedness is strongly intertwined with self-worth and self-value, social interaction is a critically important contributor to good health and longevity.

Hardwired for social nature, we need to feel good about who we are, and we need others to help us know that, and we need to feel needed. If this basic feedback loop of “Hi adorable being, We see you, you are lovable and we love you, and you belong, and we will keep you safe because you are one of us and we love and value you, we want you here” was missing, distorted or just plain not explicit enough in our families, our brains may not trigger worry. Whatever our background, in the here and now, the cascade of fear responses always starts with a catalyst that our lightning-quick danger software determines to be a threat.

For the socially phobic woman, the threat is often of social interactions that result in humiliation, degradation, shame, embarrassment. Often subconscious, the trigger can be a sight, a smell, a sound, a small detail beneath awareness, and not infrequently, a thought. Since the body cannot often tell the difference between what is “really happening” and what is only taking place in the mind, a thought can be a threat. Next step, the physiology reacts quickly and without asking “us” first. The adrenal chemical epinephrine is released into our bloodstream, speeding up our bodily processes so we will be sharp, on our toes, and ready to correct the mistake that was threatening to expel us from the circle of society’s love.

We become stressed: epinephrine raises blood sugar levels in our bodies, so our muscles are energized, and we can use them to clamp down on whatever unwanted behavior we have to stop. Our bodies begin to tremble with all this ready-to-use energy as we build tension like a coiled spring. Epinephrine increases our heart rate, pounding our hearts to pump us full of extra blood, which shows up as a red tinge, or flushes, in our faces and necks. As our heart rates increase, our lungs gear up to make sure all that pounding blood is oxygenated, so we take more breaths per minute. All this extra breathing and heart-pounding may create pain in our chests.

Can you relate to that experience? Do you tend to get panicky, lightheaded, out of breath, frozen, and shut down in social settings? Does this hit you too often, too fast? Do you know that dreaded, powerless feeling of being unable to calm yourself back down? Do you know the spiraling, compounding nature of getting into a state where you live in fear of your own fear?

It is important to know that mercifully, how to calm down, once riled up, is highly learnable at Villa Kali Ma. It is highly learnable because it is also a part of your inborn nature –a program that says, “danger is over, so go back to feeling good.” Just as nature wants us to survive, nature has set us up with all the internal equipment to feel ease, peace, and pleasure, to feel open, relaxed, creative, meditative, joyful, socially connected, loving, and happy.

Holistic, Female-Specific Social Anxiety Treatment Plan Goals and Objectives

At Villa Kali Ma, we offer many holistic therapies with social anxiety treatment plan goals and objectives that are designed to help women reach recovery, including (but not limited to):

    • Yoga
    • Gardening/horticultural therapy
    • Massage therapy
    • Expressive arts therapy
    • Sound healing therapy
    • Group therapy work
    • Breathwork
    • Somatic Experiencing therapy
    • Cooking therapy
    • Outdoor therapeutic recreation therapies
    • And more

These activities fire up the natural pleasure and relaxation system in the body to feel what it’s like to have your birthright of peace and ease working properly for once, and without substances. While they don’t always work instantaneously – through wonderfully, sometimes they do – these practices are sustainable and become reliable with a smaller investment of effort than we might imagine. With some dedication, humility to be a beginner, open-hearted willingness, and the diligence to keep at it, these often enjoyable practices quickly help the body and nervous system rewire and reset so that this part of our biocomputer software works again.

Getting good at calming back down is really most of the battle for people with anxiety, and often the most effective, kind, and loving entry point. However, working with the original wound, the fact that we get so riled up, so intensely and so frequently around the topic of social interaction, is also important for resolving a pattern of social phobia. One big piece in social anxiety healing is to find true inclusion amongst people who are capable of the privilege of being close to us. A loving, safe, and supportive recovery community helps heal all wounds and especially social phobia.

Here at Villa Kali Ma, you will find a place amongst people who really, truly, deeply, and unconditionally hold positive regard for us. We need to find those people who can relate and have compassion for us, who are heart-opened enough to hold love for us as we are without any expectation or need for us to be radically different from who we are right now and by nature. The experience of creating, possibly for the first time, a safe family, or tribe, heals the frightened part within us that knew we would not make it in this world without the strength, protection, love, affection, and the company of a group of beings that love us and want us to be there with them.

At Villa Kali Ma, we strive to create such a family of warm, nonintrusive inclusion, and we invite you to come to share yourself in your own time when you are ready. Please know that you can unfold all your imperfections and vulnerabilities within our walls in a safe space free of judgment, condemnation, rejection, and ridicule. Instead, you will be welcomed and cared for with the respect, love, and delight you deserve. For women who have felt that hell is other people, it will be an important part of your soul journey to discover that other people can also be a source of heaven! We warmly encourage you to come to build the foundations of a loving, healing community here at Villa Kali Ma.


Symptoms of Social Anxiety

Social Anxiety is a condition in which a person experiences severe discomfort in the form of intense fear and dread triggered by having to participate in, or even just thinking about, social situations. 

Social Anxiety is many shades more intense than shyness or not feeling fully at ease in groups. Feeling awkward or socially uncomfortable in certain situations is fairly common. Some people, especially those with traits of introversion, may prefer to spend time alone or in one on relationships rather than in groups. 

In general, people have different levels of comfort in social settings, because of personality, culture, and life experiences. Some people are more naturally outgoing while some are more naturally inclined to keep to themselves. 

Some among us, many of them women with addiction, can deeply dread, fear, and avoid social situations. This can become a problem when the desire to avoid social contact gets in the way of a person’s ability to complete daily routines, have relationships, or perform well at work. 

When a habit or pattern of deep social unease becomes so extreme as to be what we would call “disordered”, it takes on certain recognizable patterns, such that we can give it the name Social Anxiety. 

Symptoms of Social Anxiety may include the following: 

  • Intense anxiety experienced during social interactions or in group settings
  • Excessive fear experienced in anticipation of social events
  • Tendency to imagine worst case scenarios in which you do something embarrassing
  • Obsessive focus on your flaws or beating yourself up for how you behaved in a social situation after it’s over
  • -Paralyzing dread of situations in which you will feel exposed, or in which you may be evaluated negatively (such as a performance, test, or public speaking)
  • Excessive concern of humiliation or that you will make yourself look foolish in front of people
  • Intense fear of having to make small talk or start conversations with people you don’t know 
  • Worry that others will notice how anxious you are
  • Feeling embarrassed of your physical symptoms of nervousness, such as trembling, having a shaky voice, or blushing 
  • Avoiding activities that involve interactions with people because you’re afraid you’ll feel embarrassed
  • Steering clear of situations where you may be the center of attention 

There are also some physical symptoms which can indicate the presence of Social Anxiety, especially if you experience them intensely and whenever social situations arise. These include blushing, alongside other typical anxiety body reactions like trembling, rapid heart rate, sweating, stomach problems, muscle tension, dizziness, and trouble taking a full breath. 

The most telltale sign of having Social Anxiety is when it affects your behavior in the world to a significant degree. Those who have this pattern may find certain everyday social engagements very difficult to tolerate. Meeting new people, interacting with people you don’t know very well (for example in a work setting), dating, going to parties, initiating conversations, making direct eye contact, or entering a room after everyone has already arrived can all feel very difficult, to the point where it may just feel easier to skip most social activities. 

Like all psychological struggles, symptoms of Social Anxiety will likely come and go, and may get worse during times of personal pressure and stress. 

Causes of Social Anxiety

Social Anxiety has many causal origins and cannot be reduced to any one factor. 

Causes may be partly biological (shyness is considered to be an inherited trait), however environmental causes play a sizable role as well even when that is the case. In combination, a child who is by nature somewhat more timid around new people can be impacted to develop anxiety if not supported to find ways to tolerate social situations they experience as overstimulating. 

There is likely a connection with family. If someone else in your family history has or is suspected to have had Social Anxiety, it is more likely for you and others in your family to manifest the same. When your siblings or parents have Social Anxiety you are even more likely to have it yourself, as these patterns tend to affect whole family systems. Even if no one else has anxiety, but there are other troubles, such as depression, addiction, or serious mental illness, then Social Anxiety is more likely to show up in one or more family members. 

Unsurprisingly, negative experiences with people, especially during childhood, contribute to the presence of Social Anxiety significantly. People who experienced humiliation, rejection, abandonment by a parent, bullying, ridicule, or abuse, will very often develop Social Anxiety.

Social Anxiety may be more likely to be experienced by those who stand out in a crowd due to their appearance, such as people with disabilities and some minorities (if raised in a context where they are not part of the majority, or feel otherwise noticeably different from their peers).  

Finally, Social Anxiety can appear as an adaptation to a specific situation, crisis or event in one’s life. Formerly extraverted or socially confident individuals may develop Social Anxiety after a traumatic event or while going through certain life stages. 

Left unaddressed, Social Anxiety can make a person struggle more than the average with low self-esteem, problems asserting oneself, perfectionism, hypersensitivity, negative self-image, and substance use. 

Treatments for Social Anxiety

There are many options for getting help for Social Anxiety. Depending how disruptive and distressing symptoms are, you may want to try different approaches. The duration of the course of your treatment can vary for the same reason. Some people will be able to absorb help relatively quickly and some will need a longer time to make deep changes in their ways of perceiving, feeling and relating to the world. 

Overall, there is ample reason to believe that with support, you can transform your Social Anxiety into a different experience, one that feels better and helps you be yourself in the world more comfortably and successfully. 

There are psychotherapies, for example Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), which work especially well with Social Anxiety. These approaches reshape one’s experiences in the world through changing thoughts, perceptions, deep beliefs and ways of looking at oneself and one’s world. 

CBT and ACT will help with changing behaviors and gradually desensitizing to triggers, so that situations do not have to be avoided as a way of bypassing overwhelming feelings of distress. 

It is also useful to remember that social skills such as small talk, starting up conversations with strangers, making eye contact, relating emotionally, feeling relaxed among others, and even telling jokes are all learnable behaviors. Social skills training can go a long way to help those of us with Social Anxiety to learn how to behave in ways which we feel will draw less attention or censure to us. 

Consider also that Social Anxiety may be caused by trauma. When we have a strong fear of how others may see us or treat us, that can be a sign that we were deeply hurt by experiences with others in the past. We may find that after receiving appropriate support to process and release the traumatic memories related to our experiences in social settings, we adapt to have a more positive association with our ability to feel safe in groups and have positive social bonds with others. 

Parts Work, also called Internal Family Systems, is a form of psychotherapy that works well with Social Anxiety. Parts Work befriends different sides of us, to help bring greater harmony and coherence to our insides. Parts Work can work with the Parts of you that fear your past experiences of embarrassment will be recreated at any moment. With greater inner Self-connection, many outer-world experiences feel way more tolerable – Parts Work can help us feel deeply safe, worthy, and connected emotionally even though we have a tendency to get embarrassed or feel shy in social settings. 

How to Manage Your Symptoms

There are many good strategies that you can learn and use to cope with and manage Social Anxiety. Good coping methods and approaches will support your preexisting strengths, helping you be your natural self, just more comfortably. 

Many strategies for managing symptoms of Social Anxiety relate to helping the body be in a relaxed, comfortable alert state. When we feel socially safe, our bodies feel safe and good, pleasant and relaxed, lively and curious. It also works in reverse – when we use tools to deliberately help our bodies regulate, we will also feel ourselves as more socially safe, even in settings that on another day would be triggering for us. 

Exercise is one of the most readily available tools that help regulate the body state, and therefore help with Social Anxiety. Anxiety is very similar to stress – it builds up in the body and requires release or else it can turn toxic. The body releases stress naturally when we exercise, as the energy that was creating anxiety as muscle tension, shallow breathing, and so on, is gently forced to exit the body through being spent up as you move and exhaust your body. Exercise also triggers hormones and neurotransmitters that create balanced, happy feelings in the body. It is very difficult to feel too anxious about any topic after physical exercise. 

Healthy sleep is another key to helping with any form of anxiety. Making sure to avoid substances (like sugar and caffeine), and behaviors (such as late night screen time) that interfere with restful sleep is an important support for reducing symptoms of Social Anxiety. 

Similarly, Social Anxiety responds very positively to changes in diet. Many foods have been linked with negative emotional and energetic states in the body, while others have been shown to regulate, relax, and more appropriately nourish the body to be at its best. Villa Kali Ma is committed to coaching best practices for good diet with all women who attend our programs for this reason. 

Yoga and meditation are also both highly beneficial practices for people looking to manage symptoms of Social Anxiety. Yoga is one of the best ways to retrain the body to be in a positive state that circulates emotions and energies naturally and easily. Meditation increases the mind-body connection, repairs breathing patterns, and creates space between ourselves and our distressing thoughts and experiences. 

Finally, learning strategies to deliberately induce a relaxed state in the body can be an important assist. Tools like breathwork, hypnotherapy, and even activities like music and art can help bring about states of wellbeing that make Social Anxiety less likely to get a foothold in you. The good feelings you create in your private time while practicing these strategies then surround and protect you even when you go into situations where you may have to face triggers. 

In addition to the strategies that focus on the body, there are tools that help Social Anxiety by expressing feelings, noticing and writing down thoughts, and working with our core belief sets. Journaling, expressive arts, and making lists of our worries and fears can all be helpful for staying in command of one’s state of being, suffering less from the stresses of worrying about social settings. 

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