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November 3, 2011 at 9:02 AMComments: 0 Faves: 0

Treating Social Anxiety

By Dr. Jeff Chamberlain, MD More Blogs by This Author

Gerry Barnaby (host)- Hey, what's up, Barnaby here with another HelloLife moment with paper in hand. Because Doc, we've got so many questions from people who have tapped into this Smart Living Network known as hellolife.net, with questions for you, Dr. Jeffrey Chamberlain, family medicine specialist. We've been going deep into anxiety disorders recently and there's a whole library of information for you to check out in that regard. This question specifically has to do with a person writing saying, "You know Doc, I feel just perfectly fine at work and yet, once leaving work, going to someplace as mundane as a supermarket, suddenly I am in turmoil. Why is it I feel better in certain situations and not in others?"
Dr. Jeffrey Chamberlain-  That's a really great, great question and it sounds like this person has a social anxiety disorder, or social phobia. By definition, for anxiety disorders, they're irrational, the people are experiencing intense anxiety emotions but when they stop and think about it, they know, "I know this isn't a dangerous situation, but I'm really feeling this way." It can happen in anything. It might be, for this person, that going to work is something they do on a regular basis, it's normal people, it's a normal situation and, so, their body has been used to that. Where, once they go into a new situation, like the supermarket, there's strangers, it's a big area, they don't know what's going to happen, all of a sudden the anxiety starts setting in and the phobia starts taking over and it can be pretty debilitating when this happens.
B- You mentioned the word irrational and I think that would be cause for a lot of people not to express that they are having this sort of difficulty because immediately that tag gets put on them. It's, "Well, you're thinking irrationally, just think this way." But that's not healthy...
C- It's not healthy to tell someone, "Oh, that's irrational, just snap out of it, or just do it." That doesn't work, because the person really is experiencing something. These anxieties are real, there's a chemical imbalance that's causing it. It's a real thing that's really being experienced by the person, it's just that the situation itself, the person can usually logically say, "I know this isn't a dangerous situation but this is the way my body responds to it."
So, to treat that, you really need to get at the root cause of it and also try to get your body used to the situation and that's where therapists who specialize in this sort of thing, and do extinction exercises can really help. Really, what an extinction exercise is, is practicing being in the situation that causes a problem. Usually it starts off as just being super mundane, like just imagining it. Like ok, let's imagine, you're going to the supermarket. Believe it or not, that can cause a lot of anxiety and panic in people who have phobias like this.
B- The mind is quite powerful...
C- It is! So, it takes a lot of practice just to be able to imagine yourself in the situation. Maybe, once you're used to imagining yourself in this situation, maybe then it's just going to drive by at the supermarket, and that might take a long time for the body to get used to just driving by the supermarket. Basically, it's taking a lot of baby steps to gradually get your body used to this. It helps a lot of people, these types of therapy.
B- Yea, I've been working through the fear of the dark with my son, who's eight. Having him just imagine the things in his room without lights, you know, there's a dresser here, the toys are here. Slowly but surely, he's getting acclimated to the fact that darkness is just the absence of light, there's nothing scary there just because there's no light.
C- Exactly, fear of the dark is a huge one that seems like that's a natural phobia...fear of darkness, fear of snakes, fear of spiders, natural phobias that people have and the key is not let this take over your life or run your life.
B- You know, when you think about anxiety disorders, it's not just big, big things in life, it can be very small things. The big thing is, to deal with it and deal with it quickly.
C- Exactly. You don't want it to run your life, you don't want it to get so your life is super complicated or hard because of it. So, the sooner you get help, the better off you're going to be.
B- Alrighty, and if you have questions still lingering about anxiety disorders, we invite you to just peruse the site, it's here for you, it is hellolife.net.

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