People who suffer from Social Anxiety Disorder become very adept at avoidance or safety behaviors. It’s a natural reaction to something that feels bad, and of course, they will do whatever it takes to avoid those situations. But unwittingly they are reinforcing their anxiety and even making it worse.
Often people who suffer from Social Anxiety Disorder make avoidance into an art form. They…
- refuse invitations
- make excuses to leave early
- avoid making eye contact
Avoidance is a way to keep yourself safe, but it also keeps you stuck firmly in the middle of the anxiety.
Avoidance tells you that social situations are dangerous, and you should stay clear.
When avoidance is your only strategy, you never get to challenge yourself, and you never get to try and succeed. You never make any real progress, because you don’t get to develop the skills to get you through.
Avoidance is not so much a skill as a defense.
Think of all the skills you may never know you have if avoidance keeps you from shining. How will you know if you’re great at giving presentations or that you tell a great joke if you never allow yourself even to try?
Have a look at the common avoidance behaviors, and see if in trying to minimize exposure, you’re feeding the beast.
Some experts say that avoidance is one of the biggest obstacles people with social anxiety face. True avoidance means doing anything not to have to face the feared social situation. That can range from just not turning up to parties and refusing invitations, to changing jobs so as not to have to give presentations or even dropping out of college.
- Partial Avoidance
Partial avoidance is a less obvious safety behavior because the sufferer still seems to be participating while still keeping themselves safe. These behaviors include:
- Sitting in the back of the room
- Keeping your eyes lowered and looking like you’re absorbed in taking notes
- Protective body language like crossing arms, or avoiding eye contact
- Drinking or taking drugs.
Not surprisingly, people use escape as a safety valve for anxiety. As in partial avoidance, the sufferer seems to be participating but gets to a point where the stress is unbearable, and they have to leave. This sort of behavior includes leaving a party or other gathering early, pretending to get an urgent message so they can leave a meeting, or hiding in the bathroom
What can you do?
While such avoidant behaviors help in the short term, they act to reinforce your vulnerability. They keep you in a hypervigilant state, constantly on the lookout for danger or fearful situations.
Avoidant behaviors keep you stuck right in the middle of social anxiety. They stop you from trying and failing, but they also prevent you from working and succeeding. You won’t learn how to overcome your fears or learn that you’re pretty good at giving presentations. If you never speak up in meetings, all your good ideas stay in your head. If you hide your light under a bushel, you never get the chance to shine.
An easy gateway technique to start overcoming your social anxiety is to try the five-minute strategy. When you feel the urge to avoid or run away or shrink down, give yourself five minutes. You can put up with pretty much anything for five minutes, right? Just give it a try, be kind to yourself and encourage your real self to take it easy.
Find some techniques that work to squelch your social anxiety and then use them to step out into the limelight.