Social Anxiety Disorder: More than being Shy

Social anxiety disorder tends to be downplayed as shyness or misunderstood as a behavioral problem. Social anxiety disorder is chronic fear of being judged or scrutinized by others. It can be debilitating and isolating if not treated on time. It is also known as social phobia, and it can limit a person’s interaction with others. The person who suffers from social anxiety may understand that their fear may be irrational but they may not know how to overcome it.

Social anxiety usually starts in childhood but can last up until late adulthood if there is no treatment or support. Many may confuse feeling regular anxiety or jitters when faced with certain social settings (Ex. Presenting in front of class, meeting someone new), with an unshakable sense of dread or feeling physically paralyzed when interacting in normal day to day settings (Ex. Turning down a job because it involves public speaking). There is a clear difference between feeling stressed in new social settings and being overcome with fear over having to go to parties. The former option, I believe, we all have gone through it and have found a way to overcome it. The latter option, however, is experienced by many others who may have missed many opportunities to share and connect because they are psychologically incapable of doing so on their own.

Some of the symptoms people with social anxiety disorder may feel when having to perform or socialize are:

  • “Blush, sweat, tremble, feel a rapid heart rate, or feel their “mind going blank”
  • Feel nauseous or sick to their stomach
  • Show a rigid body posture, make little eye contact, or speak with an overly soft voice
  • Find it scary and difficult to be with other people, especially those they don’t already know, and have a hard time talking to them even though they wish they could
  • Be very self-conscious in front of other people and feel embarrassed and awkward
  • Be very afraid that other people will judge them
  • Stay away from places where there are other people”

In their article, National Survey Dispels Notion that Social Phobia is the Same as Shyness, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) offers scientific evidence regarding the false notion that social anxiety disorder is the same as being shy.  NIMM also offers more information on what it feels like to have Social Anxiety Disorder, how to treat it and what causes it. For more in depth information regarding Social Anxiety Disorder please visit The Social Anxiety Association. They are a nonprofit organization that promotes wellness and support regarding social anxiety disorder. The Social Anxiety Institute also offers helpful information regarding treatment, personal experiences and support.

As for coping skills and self-help information, you can surf the internet and find options that can help for you. The first step, as always, is learning more about social anxiety disorder and what it entails. The Anxiety and Depression Association have created an informative and helpful brochure about information on social anxiety disorder. The second step is to get to know yourself and your social anxiety disorder. Even though others may experience a similar illness, everyone is unique and stressors might vary from one person to another. Anxiety BC offers a 9 page brochure about Self-Help Strategies for Social Anxiety. The brochure focuses on how to build up resources for living with social anxiety.

Finally, the most important step, is to seek out professional help. Learning how to help yourself is necessary but having a trained professional to guide your recovery is very important. You are never alone when you have support. Care for yourself and fight for your future.

Signing off,

TWS

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Coping Skills: Healthy Vs. Unhealthy

Coping mechanisms are helpful activities that we can use to help us work through hard times. Having coping skills is important when you have mental health disorders because it helps you step away from detrimental symptoms. Having healthy coping skills is important for building resilience, gaining control and processing specific situations.

Coping mechanisms can be classified into healthy or unhealthy. Healthy coping mechanisms are those that help you feel good, as well as move you towards a space of emotional processing, physical wellness and/or a state of self-care. An unhealthy coping mechanism is an activity that becomes a crutch or a necessity to complete to feel better. In other words, the person feels that they are unable to work through difficult moments if they do not have the unhealthy way of coping. The unhealthy coping skill works to numb the senses and avoid the problem instead of helping understand the problem and process it.

Unhealthy coping skills work to avoid or worsen the symptoms. They tend to increase stress and anxiety. It can lead to detrimental behavior and difficulty in creating/sustaining relationships. Examples of unhealthy coping skills are:

  • Excessive Drinking
  • Excessive Smoking
  • Unsafe sex
  • Self-mutilation
  • Ignoring or storing hurt feelings
  • Sedatives
  • Stimulants
  • Excessive working
  • Avoiding problems
  • Denial

Health coping skills give you strength to get over difficult symptoms and situations. It works to relieve stress as well as establish wellness. Examples of healthy coping skills are:

  • Meditation and relaxation techniques
  • Time to Yourself
  • Exercise
  • Reading
  • Going out with friends
  • Going out into nature
  • Giving your pet’s love
  • Doing art
  • Get enough sleep
  • Eat healthy
  • See a therapist

There are many ways to express self-care through healthy coping skills. The sky is the limit! It is very easy to fell into unhealthy coping skills. However, keep in mind that they will do more harm than good. Always keep in mind that when you practice healthy coping skills you care for yourself. You give love and support to the most important person in your life, which is you. Nobody can care and love you like you can. So why not do it right?

Signing off,

TWS

P.S. Here’s some more information on coping skills and strategies

Schizophrenia: Facts, Support, and Recovery

Schizophrenia, as defined by the National Institute of Mental Health, is “a chronic and severe mental disorder that affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves. People with schizophrenia may seem like they have lost touch with reality. Although schizophrenia is not as common as other mental disorders, the symptoms can be very disabling.”

A person with schizophrenia can show a wide arrange of symptoms such as:

  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Thought disorders (unusual or dysfunctional ways of thinking)
  • Movement disorders
  • Flat affect
  • Reduced feelings of pleasure in everyday life
  • An inability to understand information and use it to make decisions
  • Trouble focusing or paying attention

The cause for schizophrenia is highly debated and still much is unclear about the mental illness. However, research has shown that schizophrenia is highly hereditary. Meaning that having a close family member with schizophrenia can put you at a higher risk of developing the mental illness. Even though, this is not always the case, it is important to screen for symptoms as soon as possible. Another possible cause for schizophrenia is a chemical imbalance in the brain. The chemical imbalance can cause in how stimuli is registered and can lead to an intolerance of certain lights, sounds and atmosphere; which ultimately can cause hallucinations and delusions.

Early warning signs of schizophrenia, as provided by Mental Health America, include, but are not limited to:

  • Hearing or seeing something that isn’t there
  • A constant feeling of being watched
  • Peculiar or nonsensical way of speaking or writing
  • Strange body positioning
  • Feeling indifferent to very important situations
  • Deterioration of academic or work performance
  • A change in personal hygiene and appearance
  • A change in personality
  • Increasing withdrawal from social situations
  • Irrational, angry or fearful response to loved ones
  • Inability to sleep or concentrate
  • Inappropriate or bizarre behavior
  • Extreme preoccupation with religion or the occult

One of the most prevalent symptoms of schizophrenia is psychosis which involves losing touch with reality. Mental Health America offers a screening tool that may help pinpoint early signs of psychosis. This screening tool is no way a diagnostic test and does not serve to diagnose anyone with schizophrenia, psychosis or any other mental disorder.

Schizophrenia can be a severe and debilitating disorder. However, there are always options for treatment and recovery. I invite you to visit Mental Health America for more information on treatment, causes and symptoms. The National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) also offers great information regarding support and recovery.

Remember that there is always hope. There is always support.

Signing off,

TWS

P.S. I offer you an extensive narrative about what it is like to have Schizophrenia titled Runs in the Family by Siddhartha Mukherjee.

Strength and Care: How to Support Loved Ones with Mental Disorders

Mental disorders affect much more than just the client. Because people do not exist in a vacuum of space, mental disorders affect family and friends of the client. Like a group effort, family and friends of the client also work towards recovery through supporting and helping the client. Hence, family and friends become a big part of the disorder-treatment-recovery process.

Family and friends, or the support system, offer the majority of their support through acts of empathy and care. These are defined by the way they can be present and available to the client. Examples of empathy are listening and trying to understand instead of correcting or shaming. Being proactive in treatment if they are involved in the goals and interventions set by the client and their therapist. Holding space for the client to be themselves. Researching and offering new resources for care and recovery.

Some of the empathetic behavior comes with being part of the treatment. This is usually decided by the client and whether or not they want to include different components of their support system in their treatment goals set during therapy. Being part of the client’s treatment can include, but is not limited to:

  • being a point-person to talk about difficult feelings,
  • modifying behaviors or triggers within the home to help the client acclimate,
  • attending seminars or support groups to process personal beliefs the family may have regarding the client’s diagnosis

Being a support to someone with a mental disorder can be, at times exhausting and frustrating. Trying to understand and work with someone whom you don’t completely understand can wear you down fast. That’s why it’s important to know our limits. Even though we want to be there for our loved ones we can’t give them to drink from an empty cup. Meaning, that we must first fill our own cup with love, trust, patience, care and support before we can give it to others. Being able to define what self-care is for us is important in caring for ourselves. Self-care can be sleeping in, exercising, cooking a delicious meal, or even saying no. Self-care is your space to recharge and center yourself.

An added component to self-care is the definition of boundaries. Many a time we are quick to jump on board and try to help without first checking in with ourselves. We need to be able to know when enough is enough. We need to know when we have done all that we could for the day, for that moment, or even for that lifetime. By not being able to set boundaries of how far we are willing t help, we are basically throwing ourselves to the wolves. We are not all powerful nor all knowing, and understanding that is the first step to accepting our limitations.

Finally, with any care-giving job we need to be aware of the fact that we are not here to save people. Our job is not to bring people back from the brink of hell and into a heavenly space. Recovery is a very personal and arduous process. As a care taker you can support the client, provide a healthier and safer environment, a non-judgmental space and your genuine care; however, all these things are not the only helping factors that come into play when caring for someone with a mental illness. All your support does create a base for trust and love but it does not, by itself, bring a complete recovery to a person with a mental illness. The client will need therapy, maybe medication, self-exploration, processing, and a desire, as well as movement, towards wanting to get better. You, as the care taker, are responsible for your support and how you treat the client. You, however, are not responsible for the recovery or the lack there of. A person must want to change before they can actually move towards wellness.

It’s kind of like riding a bike. Another person’s desire for a kid (the client) to learn how to write a bike is not enough to actually teach the kid to ride a bike. The kid has to want to ride the bike and seek for someone who can teach you how to ride the bike. The support (you as a caretaker) that the kid is given are given is what keeps the kid feeling safe and motivated to learn.

Care-taking is exhausting and frustrating; and just because you can think of ways that a person can get better does not equate to the person a)knowing that they can do better, b)understanding how they can do better, and c)getting better. If you are feeling at the end of your rope, frustrated or angry towards the client than it’s time to step back and re-evaluate. You cannot live someone else’s journey for them. The client needs to find their own strength, their own autonomy and their own self-love.

It is hard to accept that you can’t completely help someone get better. People are not objects that get fixed. People are messy and complicated sets of thoughts, feeling, and actions that act on their own accord. All you can do is support them, care for them, and love them in the hopes that they love themselves enough to seek help and care for themselves. You did your part by being present, helpful and caring; now it’s the client’s turn to find ways they can be all those things for themselves.

Signing off,

TWS

Autism Spectrum Disorder: Support, Hope and Care

Autism spectrum disorder is a group of a wide range of neurodevelopmental disorders that are evident by repetitive behavioral patterns, difficulty in social interactions and communication, as well as difficulty in processing sensory information . Autism spectrum disorder is composed of different types of disorders that include people who are partially impaired or completely disabled by their disorder. People who are diagnosed with any type of autism within the spectrum tend to also be assessed for intellectual disabilities and language impairments.

Autism spectrum disorders can be diagnosed as early as 18 months. As well as it can be overlooked and later diagnosed in adulthood. Some early signs are:

  • Lack of or delay in spoken language
  • Repetitive use of language and/or motor mannerisms (e.g., hand-flapping, twirling objects)
  • Little or no eye contact
  • Lack of interest in peer relationships
  • Lack of spontaneous or make-believe play
  • Persistent fixation on parts of objects

When working with people who are in the autism spectrum it is important to remember that their needs and symptoms differ depending on the disorder. Being helpful starts with educating yourself of what the differences and needs are. The Autism Society offers helpful information on what autism is, what it’s like living with autism, resources for family members and resources in Spanish. The National Institute of Mental Health offers an in-depth list of symptoms to look for in adults and children. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke offers a comprehensive breakdown of autism and different resources for treatment.

Many forms of treatment exist to help people with autism manage acute behaviors and effectively communicate. One helpful form of treatment for autism spectrum disorder is art therapy. The Art of Autism explores how art can mold and reshape the lives of people with autism. In their site, they emphasize how art therapy promotes self-exploration and self-expression while building important skills, addressing deficits and problem behaviors. People with autism who have trouble speaking have found art therapy to be helpful in communicating through images. Art therapy has also been helpful in effectively relating client to therapist in situations where the client found it difficult to do one-on-one interactions. Art therapy has also been found to helpful when treating people with autism because it explores and addresses symptoms such as sensory processing problems, difficulty in relating with others, and tolerating unpleasant stimuli.

Being on any side of the autism spectrum can be considered a definitive and inflexible impairment. In specific case, it can be disabling and would require the person to have extra care. However, in some cases, people with autism can be independent, verbal, and have a social life. It may take treatment and support, but it is a strong possibility.

Signing off,

TWS

Substance AbUse: A Mental Health Issue

When talking about substance abuse and substance dependence some people tend to classify the actions of those who use the substances as a choice rather than a mental health problem.  Studies show that some people are genetically predisposed to have addicting behaviors that cause them to use, and sometimes abuse, specific substances. Other studies show that people who have other mental disorders, like depression and anxiety, tend to self-medicate by using substances which can lead them to develop a substance abuse. Substance abuse cannot cause a mental disorder but it can complicate it or make it more evident.

Having substance dependence (addiction) means that a person is unable to control their impulses in regards to specific substances. The person finds that they can no longer function normally without using a specific substance. The person’s body will stop producing necessary chemicals that have been substituted by certain drugs. People with addiction problems will experience tolerance of their preferred drug; meaning that they will seek out a higher dosage to feel the same ‘high’ as the first time. They will tend to use substances compulsively, no matter their state of mood. The substance user can experience physical reactions such as nausea, tremors, and low blood pressure if they stop using the substance. They can also experience psychological reactions such as irritability, depression and anxiety.

In a substance abuse happens when a person actively engages in activities and behaviors that can cause harm with the goal of getting their preferred substance. This may include drunk driving, getting arrested for possession and use of illegal substances, failing to keep commitments because the person was too high or drunk to functions, breaking up with a partner over fights about substance use, between many other risky behaviors. Substance abuse and substance dependence similar, but not the same. A person can have substance dependence and not be an abuser.

The first step, like all other mental disorders, is to admit that there is a problem. For a substance user to seek help they must first become aware that their dependence is a problem. Even though family and friends can help create interventions and support for the substance user, it is the substance user who has to take the first step.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration offers in-depth information regarding statistics, continuum of care, best practices, prevention and other important variables when working with substance use. The National institute of Drug Abuse offers helpful information such as Drug Facts and a list of Drugs of Abuse.  Finally, Mental Health America offers a few pointers for family and friends and how they can support and help loved one who have an addiction problem.

Signing off,

TWS

 

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: Pervasive Thoughts, Uncontrollable Compulsions

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is used, by those who do not have it or understand it, as a jest to mean someone who is very neat and clean. This idea only serves to perpetuate stereotypes about this serious mental disorder and make light of its detrimental and lasting effects on people who are diagnosed with it.

The National Institute of Mental Health defines OCD as “a common, chronic and long-lasting disorder in which a person has uncontrollable, reoccurring thoughts (obsessions) and behaviors (compulsions) that the person feels the urge to repeat over and over” Obsessions are fueled by ideas or images that cause anxiety or fear of harm. Whereas compulsions are the behaviors that work to lessen the obsessions (e.g. fear of germs is accompanied by constantly watching their hands).

When OCD is experienced by adults, the may be aware that their fears are irrational but they still feel helpless in stopping their compulsive behavior. People who have OCD may find that they spend more time in their compulsive rituals to an extent that they are unable to live their lives without them. These rituals can extend between minutes to hours. The obsessions and compulsion can be physically and emotionally detrimental as they take a lot of will power to stop and lot of time to complete.

The International OCD Foundation offers examples of what it’s like to have OCD. They also offer a table that explains the most common obsessions for people with OCD. The International OCD Foundations also offers a directory of therapists and clinics that specialize in OCD. It also offers resources for family members and how to help and support someone with OCD.

Though invasive and detrimental, OCD can be treated and people who have been diagnosed with it can live normal and healthy lives. Learning how to work with, and not against, your mental disorder is part of treatment and recovery. There is help and there is hope.

Signing off,

TWS