Saturday, February 3, 2024

Silent Epidemic: Why Social Anxiety Is Exploding, And How You Can Craft A Path To A Happier, Healthier You

We say that anxiety is a mental illness, but few people appreciate exactly what this means. So let’s talk about Julie.

Julie’s Story

Julie doesn’t like to go out. “I’m a bit plump, my family are not rich, and I can’t afford designer handbags,” she says. “When I go out, people will judge me.”

When Julie gets a new job, she is excited. She doesn’t aim for CEO but she wants a decent career path so she has enough money to live without worrying about bills. She hopes to buy a house at some point or to travel.

Social Anxiety Disconnects Us
Social Anxiety Disconnects Us

But as Julie doesn’t like to go out, she goes to the office and then goes straight home. She doesn’t join her colleagues for the weekly after-office drink, and works from home as much as she can.

When her line manager points out that she’s disconnected from the team and that upper management don’t know her, Julie feels nervous.

She wants to be seen but when next invited to go out for a drink, she refuses. She also ducks out of the annual dinner.

To herself she says, “I do my job. That is all that matters.” But secretly she thinks that if she goes out, they’ll judge her.

Julie does a great job. However, six months later she misses out on a promotion. The boost goes to a colleague who is less able than Julie, but he is the bloke who is there, chatting with the bosses at the bar and smooching at the annual corporate dinner.

Because whether we like it or not, business decisions are influenced by connection and friendship.

Everyday Choices or Anxiety?

Social Anxiety is IncreasingJulie thinks she’s making everyday choices. However, the truth is that her fears are sabotaging her career advancement.  

Here is what we miss when we talk about anxiety being a mental health issue:
Anxiety creates a nightmare world and convinces us that it is real.

When you live with anxiety, you live in a nightmare – but you don’t see it! You think you are perfectly okay but the truth is that your life is constrained by your fears.

Key Takeaway: when your fears prevent you from living your best life, you have an anxiety issue.

Recognizing Social Anxiety

Here’s what social anxiety looks like:

You have an intense fear of being judged.
You avoid social situations.
If you are in a social situation, or maybe just thinking of one, you are nervous.
You are convinced that you suck at being social.

Summary: if it’s a choice between conversation or Zombie Apocalypse, you’re eating brains.

Why Social Anxiety Is Increasing

According to studies, social anxiety is increasing. Sifting through hundreds of studies, one analysis in 2023 pointed out that the COVID-19 pandemic led to a 25.6% increase in anxiety disorder cases (76.2 million additional cases) and a reset is likely to be slow. 

I believe there are several factors fueling social anxiety:

Talking has been largely replaced by texting. So when you do meet people face to face, just chatting feels weird. It is also more immediate. You can check a text; it’s harder to filter your words.

Online communication is forever. Young adults are used to having every single word they’ve said picked apart and criticized by the pack.

Plus, what they thought when they were 12 is still held against them when they’re 28. It’s unfair, and damaging.

Because of the factors above, I see Gen Z as a traumatized generation; young people have been attacked and harassed to the point where they are often shut down.

The pandemic is important because it has added to the disconnect. But we were already well on the way to trouble.

In a broader sense, social convention and social space architecture are now focused on separation (wrongly dubbed ‘privacy’)

Schools put desks in rows, not in small groups.
Teachers let students do group work with their close friends instead of encouraging them to work randomly with others in their class or year.

Coffee shops and canteens have moved from communal tables to individual tables.  Even pubs have individual tables instead of communal bars and tables.
 

Social disconnect is increasing to the point of absurdity.

I saw a promotion this week for a bus company trip to the next town that highlighted, “We promise never to seat you next to a stranger” meaning they will make sure you have an empty seat next to you rather than ask you to *gasp* sit next to someone for 2 hours!!!

Overcoming Social Anxiety

Don’t let fear clip your wings; you deserve to soar.
Don’t let fear clip your wings; you deserve to soar.

The tricky bit about anxiety is that there is usually a kernel of truth in the nightmare. There are people who judge others by the pound or bank balance. That says something about them, not us.

Julie knows this! But anxiety is a mental health issue, remember?  

While a bit of Julie knows her fears are irrational, the main effect is that it is overwhelming.  

The key to effective change is exposure. In non-therapy speak, Julie needs to build up positive experiences to rethink her reality.

In sessions, Julie actively challenges her negative thoughts, practices her social skills in a safe space, and then slowly creates positive experiences in real life.

It is a gradual process where each positive experience helps build up her confidence.

So, if you see a bit of Julie in you, know you’re not alone. Also, there is help.

Don’t let fear clip your wings; you deserve to soar. Contact me.

Images by kandhal keshvala, Pete and WOKANDAPIX from Pixabay



Thursday, January 25, 2024

“Is this something I should seek therapy or counselling for?” How therapy and counselling sessions can work for you

One of the questions I’m asked regularly is, “Is this something I should seek therapy or counselling for with you?” If I had any sense at all, my standard reply would be, “Absolutely, and here are my bank details.” Sadly, ethics get in the way.

So here is my response.

Sessions are a tool and like any decent tool, you can use them in different ways.

Pixabay Image from Gerault
how sessions can work for you



Some people use sessions to make changes in their lives. For example, if you have a long-term issue that bugs you because it stops you from being your best you, you can explore that in sessions and work on changing your thoughts and behaviour. You go for several sessions, and when you reach your goal, you quit. This is the classic sense of ‘going to therapy.’

Some people use sessions to thrash out a short-term question in a safe space. For example, if you are in a relationship and you’re not sure if you should stay or leave, talking it out in a private session can help you figure out what you want.  You may go once and not go again. Typically, that is called ‘counselling.’  

Finally, there are people like Bob.

Bob is the CEO of a tech startup. He says, “I can’t talk shop at the bar with my mates because it will tank my share prices. I love my wife, she’s a star, but she works too and having me come home and rant for an hour about how Matt from purchasing screwed up is too much. I won’t do that to her. So I want to trauma dump with you. Let’s do every second Tuesday, because that is when my financial partners come in to haul me over the coals.”

So how you use sessions is up to you. Let me know if you’re interested 😊

Monday, January 22, 2024

Anxiety, depression and negative self-talk

Anxiety and depression lie to you and promote negative self-talk. The negative self-talk then fuels anxiety and depression. Part of the healing process involves breaking this toxic spiral by changing the self-talk. It's not a 1-2-3 easy fix but it's very doable. So if you are caught in this cycle, reach out. You're deserve to be happy ❤

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

From Strangers to Friends: Crafting Connections When You're the New Kid in Town

Image by Chu Viết Đôn from Pixabay
Image by Chu Viết Đôn from Pixabay

We just moved house and I am lonely. 

It's taboo, isn't it? To say that we feel we lack friends? But it's a huge problem. 

Loneliness: The Secret Silent Global Epidemic

In 2023, the World Health Organisation said that current global estimates suggest that 25% older adults experience social isolation and between 5-15% of teens experience loneliness.

In the UK, the 2022 Community Life Survey found almost one in 10 young people in the UK feel lonely often or always. In the USA, about half of adults report measurable levels of loneliness.  

As loneliness is such a huge issue, and we tend not to talk about it, I have been posting my experiences online. I hope to break the taboo, and hopefully to help others.

Thankfully, this is a happy story because we're making friends! 

Friendship After Relocation

We moved to Thornaby in England, a place we had never been before, 10 weeks ago. We have no family here. 

Usually, work provides connections. Not for us! I run my own business, and as a therapist I can't be friends with clients. As for Tom, he had to wait to apply for work because companies wanted to be sure he has a visa first.

Therefore, loneliness was one of my top concerns (along with finding good cat food for Target, Tic Tac and Inkie).

Socializing In A New City

Friendship is about turning up and talking to people, finding common ground, and then meeting up over and over again, so that the connection deepens. 

After landing in Thornaby, we went straight out to the local pub. In the past, the interior design of pubs was fostered to promote community. Sadly, this has changed. The old horseshoe bars where strangers mingle are mostly out, and lots of individual tables are in. So you go out - and sit by yourself!

This is something scientists and politicians should be interested in: interior design in public places should promote communication, not foster isolation.

One pub is too far away for comfort. A second pub is nice but after 4 visits we still weren't beyond a, "What would you like to drink?" So we concentrate on the third pub, our local. After a few visits, people started to chat.

In addition, we looked into mixers. We found the local council has a meet and greet - which led to my first ever game of bingo. We also found a garden bowls group, a classic British game. We're having a go at that tomorrow.

Finally, I joined a book group. It's lovely but it meets only once a month, so probably won't be very productive in terms of connecting.

For us, going to the pub and meeting a happy crowd was the game changer. We have been twice now to meet the same gang, and had a lovely time. So we are on our way.

If you want all the details, I have posted on Facebook about each effort.

My first post, explaining the plan

My second post, visiting the pub alone

My third post, disaster report! 

My fourth post, more planning

My fifth post, success!

Dealing With the Fear of Rejection

Everyone is capable of stepping out in some way, but one of the typical obstacles to reaching out is, “What if they don’t like me?”

I should disclose here that I am bold.  When I meet people who don’t like me, that’s okay.  This is partly experience, I talk to hundreds of people every year as part of my therapy and feature column work, but it’s also partly attitude.

I'm sharing my philosophy because a change of mindset is empowering.

The process of making friends starts impersonally. Yes, it's not about you!

Let me put it this way: suppose Alice likes books, tea and cats, and Joan likes football and raves. They’re both perfectly nice people, but they’re not a good match. 

Building friendships, at least at the beginning, is about matching interests and attitudes. My point of view is that out of 100 people, a good half will have interests that don’t match mine. And that’s okay.

As for judgement, yes, a surprising amount of people confuse “not a match” with “don’t like” or nasty labels like “boring” or “stupid”. That says a lot about them; it’s nothing to do with me.    

When I meet a non-match, I make the most out of the encounter and then I move on. 

How To Game The System

Making friends is a percentage game – at the beginning. You may meet a lot of non-matches at first. Knowing that gives me energy to try again and again, without feeling bad about it.

However, once you meet a match, then the opportunity changes because people tend to hang with their matches.

I think of it as bubbles. If I meet a person I get along with, their bubble is bound to be my cup of tea. I will actively ask for introductions (the bold part) and it usually works great!

Also, as making friends at the beginning is not personal, I am practical about non-matches. When I meet a person who is not a match, I know their bubble is likely to be similar, so it’s best I give it a miss and try something else.   

If You're Introverted

I am fairly introverted, so I keep an eye on my energy levels. I plan my socialising carefully, in blocks on certain days. But when I do go out, I go all out. 

I suggest that you plan carefully, so you make sure you don't overdo it. However, do be consistent. Part of the magic is turning up regularly. You can't make friends if you only see people once in a blue moon!

So there you have my approach. My method means I can approach new connections with optimism and interest. It works well for me. But I am not shy. If you are, then I’d say go at it but do it with a friend. 

I hope you found this interesting, and if you are lonely, useful and inspiring.

PS, Recommend Me

I have two slots open, one on weekend mornings UK time. So if you can recommend me, please do!