Most people who struggle with social anxiety have become so used to their baseline state they’ve become oblivious to the detrimental effects anxiety has on their lives.
It is human nature to adapt to the situation we are living in. Sufferers of social anxiety develop coping strategies to help ease the pain associated with their difficulties with social interactions. We are hardwired to connect to others and if we fail at this, significant stress can occur every single day and it is natural to develop coping strategies.
One coping strategy often has to do with predicting triggering situations and avoiding them. When people who struggle with social anxiety spend a great deal of time avoiding situations that trigger anxiety, they miss out on opportunities to develop the skills and confidence they need. What’s more, opportunities for developing resilience within themselves are lost.
If you struggle with social anxiety, here are three ways in which your coping strategies are holding you back.
It interferes with your sleep
One of the most common symptoms associated with anxiety is poor sleep. Anxiety and sleep affect each other in a bidirectional way. Often your thoughts and worries prevent you from falling asleep. The severity of your worries usually correlates with the severity of your inability to fall asleep. When you do fall asleep, your sleep is not as sound or as restful as it should be. If you seek to develop the skills required to become more comfortable in social situations, your stress levels will decrease and your situation will change.
It causes you to feel chronically exhausted
Contrary to popular belief, the primary cause of exhaustion in our society is not being overworked, it is the experience of chronic worry and anxiety. Our bodies were never meant to be in a state of fight or flight on a continual basis. If you are worried about an interaction with a co-worker or any of the other countless social interactions we all have each day, your nervous system is continuously circulating stress hormones. Our body’s stress response was designed to keep us alive during short acute situations such as a brief encounter with a wild animal. The fear for our life will set off our sympathetic nervous system, giving us an extraordinary amount of energy to fight or run. But we are not meant to operate in this state for an extended period of time. We need to rest and recover.
We are social beings and living within society is required for optimal physical, mental, and spiritual health. If we are unable to comfortably interact with people our stress response lets us know there is something wrong. If we do not learn the skills to reduce our sense of alarm around others, we continuously endure an overactive nervous system. Over time, our hormones become habitually depleted. You can read more about how chronic stress affects the body here.
It can stunt your mental growth
Chronic struggles with social anxiety can stunt your mental growth. How? Lack of challenging life experience. It may be easier to avoid making connections with new people who will both challenge and nurture you. People who struggle with social anxiety, spend so much time avoiding their identified triggers that they end up dealing with fewer life challenges such as interpersonal conflicts, rejections, and healthy risk-taking. It may make sense to avoid a new career opportunity because of the stress and uncertainty it will cause. If your main goal is to manage your anxious state, you can do little else and many opportunities for growth are missed.
Over time, untreated social anxiety can lead to a kind of slowing of normal development that occurs as we age. You can become emotionally stuck with how you see the world, then, as society places more expectations congruent to chronological age, you may experience a regression due to the overwhelming stress.
Help is available
People who struggle with social anxiety can and do improve. With learned skills, support, and practice, they can begin to genuinely feel calm in situations that previously made them anxious. When this happens, new opportunities present themselves. Doors open up that were previously closed. Working with a therapist or life coach will begin a process that will bring about real changes and allow you to interact and connect to others with more confidence and ease.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach. If you would like to learn more or work with Ugo, you are welcome to call and schedule an appointment or fill out our contact form and press send.