Social anxiety is a mental health disorder that causes a person to be afraid of being in public. Some of the physical symptoms of social anxiety include nausea, excessive sweating, tremors, and difficulty of speaking.
Social anxiety can also affect a person psychologically and cause them to:
- Worry excessively about being in a social setting or event
- Avoid social interactions with other people during an event
- Worry about embarrassing themselves in public
- Miss school or work frequently
Alarmingly, social anxiety is prevalent amongst millennials – people who were born between 1981 and 1996. The exact cause of this disorder is unknown but may attribute to mental and social media stressors. Millennials are more tech-savvy and likely to spend more time on virtual interactions than building physical relationships. In addition, trying to familiarise themselves with the various social media platforms. Moreover, keeping up with different trends can put millennials at an increased risk of developing social anxiety. Similarly, social media stressors – cyberbullying, scams, and cheating – in particular, have also been linked with several mental health implications. These include anxiety, depression, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts.
Shy children and those with overbearing parents are more likely to become socially anxious as adults. Negative experiences, such as bullying and abuse, may also contribute to this condition. Lack of social skills is another possible cause.
From a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) perspective, social anxiety associates primarily with imbalances of the heart and stagnation of liver qi. However, it can affect other organ systems. Interestingly, there is promising scientific evidence indicating that acupuncture can improve the symptoms in people with anxiety who weren’t responsive to other treatments. Applying pressure to common acupoints like EX-HN3 (Yintang), HT7 (Shenmen), GB 21 (Jianjing), LI-4 (Hegu), LR 3 (Taichong), and P6 (Neiguan) can also be helpful. This can help to relieve anxiety symptoms when a person is feeling stressed or anxious.
Eu Yan Sang’s TCM physician, Kong Teck Chuan, explains that weak body constitutions such as qi and blood deficiencies will cause malnourishment of the heart.
“Stress and anxiety can cause stagnation to qi flow and muscle tension to build up. Acupressure refers to the application of pressure on acupoints or meridians. It can promote blood flow and qi circulation while helping to calm us down. It can also help reduce tension in our body, thus making us relaxed.”
What is it Like Living with Social Anxiety Disorder?
To better understand how to cope with social anxiety disorder, we have pieced together 5 first-hand accounts of people who live with the disorder. They share with us the steps they take to prevent attacks.
“I’m in Sales, But I Hate Presenting in Front of Clients” – Bella, 36
Bella, a 36-year-old saleswoman, usually finds herself dealing with social anxiety at her workplace. She admitted that she used to struggle during sales presentations, especially if they were in a boardroom setting.
Bella says concerns about her preparedness usually trigger her social anxiety. This prevents her from confidently presenting a sales pitch. She also suffers from low self-esteem, making it difficult for her to converse with people freely.
Unfortunately, dealing with social anxiety also meant having to experience various symptoms. They include nausea and a rapid heartbeat, which made her dread showing up to work every day. Thankfully, she has learned to cope with the disorder through breathing exercises and medication. She believes they have helped to improve her overall work performance.
It is worth noting that TCM views our body and its functions holistically. This means that no entity is isolated from its relationship to other entities. In this regard, it can be deduced that physical and mental problems are correlated and can be a product of disharmony between the “5 Spirits/Energies” and 5 internal (Zhang) organs.
These “5 Spirits” include Shen (mind, connecting Spirit), Hun (non-corporeal Spirit), Po (corporeal Spirit), Yi (intellect, thought) and Zhi (will). Shen associates with joy, whereas Hun is related to anger. Po relates to grief, sadness or worry, while Yi and Zhi links to pensiveness and fear, respectively. Typically, TCM perceives emotional dysregulation as a disturbance of a person’s Shen. (Heart energy). Anxiety can also cause a disturbance of Po (Lung energy).
Physician Kong suggests acupuncture for promoting qi (energy) circulation. This will help to treat problems associated with qi stagnation. In the same way, acupuncture can also complement the consumption of herbal formulations made with rosebuds, mimosa tree bark (He Huan Pi) or chaiyote (Fo Shou). Bak Foong pills (Bai Feng Wan), 8 Treasures soup, (Ba Zhen Tang), Spleen Restoration formula (Gui Pi Tang) or Chinese Angelica (Danggui) can also be consumed to nourish blood and qi.
Another natural option to help with this disorder is dried hawthorn berry slices. They can help alleviate anxiety and tension and stabilise your blood pressure level. Eat it raw, as this is a great on-the-go snack or make a cup of tea.
Though, physician Kong cautions, “The only absolute contraindication for the use of hawthorn is known hypersensitivity to Crataegus products. Its use is not recommended during pregnancy because of potential uterine stimulation. One publication recommends against use in pregnancy based on results of animal studies and human case reports.”
Additionally, physician Kong also suggests that people who are consuming blood-thinning medicine should seek professional advice before deciding to consume herbs that promote circulation, like Danggui.
“I’m Too Shy to Talk to Anybody” – Leah, 30
30-year-old writer Leah struggles to engage in conversation with strangers due to social anxiety. For example, she finds it difficult to answer questions by a salesperson at the mall. She also finds it challenging to respond to the cashier at a coffee shop.
Leah attributes her social anxiety to a fear of crowded spaces and conversations with strangers. These triggers usually cause her to sweat profusely or experience a pounding sensation in her chest.
Social anxiety significantly impacts her daily life. Leah confessed that she cries herself to sleep occasionally. She is extremely frustrated at her inability to talk to other people confidently.
She still experiences the symptoms of social anxiety from time to time. However, she believes that learning how to ground herself and develop a breathing routine has helped her manage her condition more effectively.
“Everywhere I Go, I Feel Like People are Judging Me” – Kevin, 32
As a fashion designer, 32-year-old Kevin is an eccentric dresser with a unique style. Unfortunately, his sense of fashion is also the bane of his social anxiety. His biggest fear is that wherever he goes, people would judge him or look at him a certain way.
Because of this, he tends to worry about society not accepting him. So, he tries extremely hard to be a “perfect friend” to everyone. However, he gets very nervous when he bumps into old friends, and this causes him to sweat excessively.
He has started practising mindfulness. He believes that it has helped him be more aware of the emotions that drive his social anxiety and keep them in check.
At the same time, it is crucial to get a good night’s sleep. It can help control social anxiety effectively. You can use an essential oil diffuser with different scents, including lavender and bergamot, to promote calmness and quality sleep.
“I’m the New Kid on the Block, But Too Afraid to Talk to My Colleagues” – Abi, 27
For Abi, a 27-year-old customer service manager, the worries that her subordinates may not accept her management methods trigger her social anxiety. As she has recently joined a new company, Abi struggles with the fear that her enthusiasm to do well in her new role might backfire. This may result in her colleagues isolating her.
The constant wave of anxiety has impacted her ability to make crucial decisions at work. It makes her feel as if she is “drowning” in her new role. Fortunately, she has identified “point persons” – people she could connect with to distract herself – especially when she feels an anxiety attack coming.
Alternatively, consuming a health beverage can help you manage social anxiety. Made of delectable ingredients like red dates, longan, and goji berries, the concoction can help nourish your blood and calm your mind.
“I’m Not Comfortable with Making New Friends” – Adrianna, 29
No thanks to social anxiety, Adrianna, a 29-year-old personal shopper, has struggled with making friends her entire life. She recalls an anxiety attack that she experienced during her college years. It occurred when she agreed to go out with a few friends from her study course.
Because of her fear of talking to new people, she couldn’t breathe properly, and her hands didn’t stop shaking. Her condition got so bad that day that she ended up calling a childhood friend to pick her up.
But she believes that experience taught her an important lesson. Being surrounded by strangers who try to include her in conversations would only trigger anxiety and cause her to feel overwhelmed. To this day, social anxiety has affected her ability to make new friends. To cope with this debilitating disorder, she tries to avoid situations that might cause her to feel overwhelmed as much as possible.
You can practice a few lifestyle tips that can help you cope with this disorder. Studies have found that mindful meditation and regular physical activity can be effective in alleviating anxiety symptoms. Physical activity, specifically, can help by reducing hypothalamic pituitary adrenal reactivity and increasing endorphins output.
Tai Chi and Qi Gong are ancient, traditional forms of “moving meditation” that directly impact endocrine circulation and the nervous system to balance and strengthen qi. It is also advisable for you to consume foods like brown rice, barley, quinoa, and oats to induce relaxation. Nuts and chickpeas, meanwhile, can provide your body with tryptophan, which can promote feelings of happiness by boosting serotonin.
Social anxiety may affect every person differently. And although there is no one-size-fits-all method for coping, these first-hand accounts will give you an insight into the different ways to prevent an attack from occurring.
- Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. 2019. Acupressure for Stress and Anxiety. [Accessed 19 August 2021]
- Medical Acupuncture journal. 2013. Traditional Chinese Medicine as a Basis for Treating Psychiatric Disorders: A Review of Theory with Illustrative Cases. [Accessed 19 August 2021]
- SAGE journals. 2018. Effects of Acupressure on Anxiety: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. [Accessed 19 August 2021]
- TheJakartaPost. 2019. Why social media is boosting your stress. [Accessed 19 August 2021]
- Alexander Bystritsky, M.D., Ph.D. Anxiety.org. 2021. Western Medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine Can Complement Each Other. [Accessed 19 August 2021]
- HelpGuide. Social Media and Mental Health. 2021. [Accessed 19 August 2021]