The Power of Acceptance: Embracing Change for a Brighter Future
Everyone deals with a certain degree of social anxiety from time totime. But while the majority of people are able to get through some awkwardnessin order to maintain a healthy social life, others find the thought literallyimpossible.
Around 7 percent of adults have social anxiety disorder (SAD). Many people use drinking as a way to deal with their anxiety, and even cite this as their reason for starting to drink. But ultimately this practice makes anxiety worse and puts users at risk for alcohol addiction and a host of other stress-inducing complications.
This is partially why 28 percent of those who are diagnosed with SAD also suffer from long-term alcohol use disorder. Additionally, about 20 percent of social anxiety sufferers also havean alcohol addiction.
Because SAD is such a common condition, affecting two to 13 percent of the generalpopulation, it’s easy to see how important it is to find more constructive waysto address this widespread issue.
Social anxiety disorder is defined by the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic Manual (DSM-5) as “A persistent fear of one or more social or performance situations in which the person is exposed to unfamiliar people or to possible scrutiny by others.” People with SAD worry that they might act in a way that’s embarrassing and the knowledge that they’ll have to be social in some way prompts extreme anxiety.
Peoplewith this disorder, unsurprisingly, tend to drink most in social situations.Drinking might initially ease fears and provide some desperately sought-aftersocial lubricant. But over time, drinkers build a tolerance to alcohol’srelaxing effects – in short, it no longer works. Not only is it ineffective, but alcohol actually makes anxiety more severe.
Alcohol isa powerful central nervous system depressant and sedative, which is why itsrelaxing effects provide so much relief to those experiencing high levels ofstress. But for people who are predisposedto anxiety, alcohol creates an anxiety feedback loop that compounds the disorder, makingeverything far worse than it was in the first place.
Drinking in large quantities, or regularly over long periodsof time, can also have a significant impact on your mental, physical andemotional health. Consequences of alcohol abuse include memory loss, cognitiveimpairment and damage to your interpersonal relationships – and these can allcreate more anxiety as you struggle to manage their outcomes in your life.
One of the main contributors to alcohol-related anxiety is sleep disruption. Aside from the fact that latenights of drinking throw off your normal sleep schedule, it robs your body ofdeep sleep. Alcohol decreases rapid eye movement (REM) sleep – the part ofsleep that has the most restorative benefits. And sleep deprivation leads tofurther increased anxiety.
If you’ve been drinking heavily and have become physicallydependent on alcohol, you may suffer from alcohol withdrawals, of which anxietyis a major symptom. And, if you’ve been doing it for a very long time, you maybe at higher risk for developing an anxiety disorder, as alcohol alters yourbrain chemistry and impairs your ability to regulate your emotions.
While many other phobias can be avoided, socializing is a necessary part of life. California-based depression and anxiety therapist Greta Angert says, "The thing about social anxiety is it's unavoidable. It's not like a fear of heights or planes, where you can choose to avoid the situation."
So howshould you deal with an upcoming social situation without using alcohol as acrutch? A little preparation goes a long way.
Mind-bodypractices boost your endorphins and confidence, giving you an edge up when itcomes to navigating situations you find intimidating. Try a simple breathing technique: slowlycount your inhales and exhales, elongating your breath and making it even. Thisdelivers more oxygen to your bloodstream, whichhas a calming effect, and sends a signal to your brain that you’re okay (asopposed to shallow breathing which leads to more panic).
Verbalize your fears. Once they’re out there and identified, they’re no longer so looming and scary. If talking aloud isn’t your thing, you can also try jotting them down. Talk to yourself positively, reminding yourself that the reality of the situation is not as scary as your mind thinks it is.
Set a time frame for yourself before you even arrive at a social event. Having an idea of the duration going in will help you mentally prepare. And don’t fret about leaving early – people do it all the time; they’ll just assume you have other plans. Remember that your are free to choose what is in your best interest.
While it’s important to learn how to navigate situations you may find uncomfortable, there’s no need to overdo it by putting too much pressure on yourself. If you start to feel panicked or overwhelmed, take a few minutes to yourself to breathe, practice relaxation techniques, and/ or confide in a friend.
One way to avoid social paralysis is to bring a buddy. Arrange to hang out with people you feel comfortable around. Outgoing friends who don’t have a problem introducing themselves to new people or carrying the conversation through moments of awkward silence can be especially helpful. Practice asking for help.
If the idea of small talk terrifies you, take some in-the-moment pressure off by thinking of a few light conversation topics beforehand. Go with open-ended questions that show interest in the other person and take the focus off you. This also helps the other person feel you’re connecting with them on a genuine level.
Takeopportunities to expose yourself to small social challenges, and take a momentto reflect on your successes. "Taking small steps to win against anxiety helps desensitize how scary socializing canbe," says James Gross, Ph.D., director of the StanfordPsychophysiology Laboratory. Each small victory will continue to build yourconfidence.
If social anxiety is driving you to drink at levels you’re concerned about, it may be time to consider professional help. Therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) are proven to be effective in treating social anxiety disorder.
Here at Serenity Vista, we offer a deeply transformational, holistic alcohol addiction treatment program that addresses both your alcohol-related issues and the anxiety underlying them. Our small group size means you receive intensive counseling and plenty of one-on-one support.
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