Hello, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me for another episode of the More Than You See Podcast hosted by me, actor, filmmaker, mental health advocate Deborah Lee Smith. Every Monday, I come to you to share some resources, have a conversation and generally just dive into all sorts of topics around mental health. I am not a licensed practitioner or therapist, but just a woman exploring my own mental health journey and sharing it with you, my listeners. My hope is that this podcast brings you some joy, some understanding, and some tools so that you can build your own mental health toolbox.
Welcome back, everyone to season three, episode five of the podcast. Today we are going to be talking about social anxiety. This is the second episode in our three part series all about anxiety. Now last week, we talked all about Generalized Anxiety Disorder. This week, we're going to be talking about social anxiety. And next week, we are going to be talking about specific phobias that cause anxiety. And I really wanted to make sure that we broke down this anxiety piece into three separate episodes, because as I get into last week, anxiety is number one the most prevalent mental health issue, or illness, or disorder, that is throughout the world. And it also is I think, very misunderstood. And that's kind of where I want to start today because specifically social anxiety is something that I think can be very strongly misunderstood.
People think that they have social anxiety, because they, you know, maybe are more of an introvert or like don't like being in social situations or are afraid to talk to people. And while that can be a symptom of social anxiety, social anxiety in itself is actually a diagnosable disorder just like Generalized Anxiety Disorder, or depression, or, you know, any anything else like that. So social anxiety is a disorder. And I'm going to start with a definition, specifically about social anxiety, and then we're going to talk about why it's different than just like being uncomfortable in social situations, and what are some tools that you can use if you experience social anxiety. But I think it'll also just be very useful tools for anyone who has any kind of discomfort around social situations, which, Hello, folks, that definitely includes me.
And so I'm going to share one of my go-to tips, one of my rules that I made for myself years and years ago when I first moved to LA because of course, being in LA being an actor, being in the creative entertainment industry, meeting people and being a part of a larger community is kind of one of the biggest parts of the job. And it's actually something that brings me so much joy and I love interacting with people, connecting with people, making new friends, all of that kind of stuff, but it does not - it is not - devoid of, you know, anxious feelings for me. And so I made a rule with myself when I first moved to LA, and it's something that I still stick to today, and so I'm going to end the episode with that little tip that I use in order to get through social situations.
But as I said, let's start off by looking at a definition of what social anxiety actually is. According to ADAA which is the anxiety and depression Association of America, social anxiety disorder is defined like this. It is also called a social phobia. It is "an intense anxiety or fear of being judged negatively, evaluated, or rejected in a social or performance situation. People with social anxiety disorder may worry about acting or appearing visibly anxious, blushing, stumbling over words, etc, or being viewed as stupid, awkward or boring. As a result, they often avoid social or performance situations and when a social situation cannot be avoided, they experience significant anxiety and distress. Many people with social anxiety disorder also experienced strong physical symptoms such as a rapid heart rate, nausea, sweating, and may experience full blown panic attacks when confronting a feared situation. Although they recognize that their fear is excessive and unreasonable. People with social anxiety disorder often feel powerless against their anxiety."
Now, as this definition kind of starts to hint that it's not just a fear of interacting with people, it is the consistent overwhelming feeling that you are being judged by others, and because of that judgment that you are kind of going in a spiral about, that causes you to then not want to interact with people because you feel like you can never get any kind of peace from your social interactions. And so this often will then cause people to, you know, not take jobs, because they're going to have to interact with people on a daily basis, or that they don't want to go out to eat with even with their friends, because they will fear that they will have a physical reaction or end up having a panic attack when they're at a restaurant or something like that. So, again, this is not just being shy, this is a specific disorder.
And I do think that it's really important to differentiate because, again, so many people think that they just are shy - or they don't - or people will think that they have social anxiety, and they actually do not. And according to this organization, only 5% of people with social anxiety actually seek treatment in the year following their initial interaction or feelings of social anxiety. And more than a third of people report symptoms for 10 or more years, before they seek help, even though there is a lot of available effective treatments.
Now, some of the treatments for social anxiety is cognitive behavioral therapy, and medication. And just like all of the other different types of you know, mental health disorders, mental illness, it's of course, so important to not just medicate, or or look at just one aspect of the disorder and one way of looking at, you know, seeking treatment, but this is why, you know, if you go to a therapist, they will be able to actually diagnose you as having social anxiety by by giving you a basically a test. And so they'll ask you a bunch of questions just like you can with like depression, for ADHD, or OCD, all of those, you know, different types of disorders. Now, there's basically these questionnaires that you can go to your therapist, and they can talk you through it, and determine whether or not you actually have this disorder that you potentially might think that you do, and therefore what the proper treatment could potentially be. And again, of course, we should look at medication, if that's something that will assist you. And that's something that your therapist is prescribing for you. But it's also - we need to look at, you know, all of the other things - you're, you know who you're interacting with, your social interactions, your history, like your family history, if someone else in your family has anxiety it's more likely that you will. All of that kind of stuff of course, just all wrapped up together.
Going back to the medication piece, though, I do have to say, and I think that it's so incredibly important to recognize the fact that medication for anxiety, just like medication for every other kind of mental health disorder can be so incredibly important, effective, and necessary for some people. I was actually talking in a social situation today with someone who is a student at AFI, and she was sharing with me that she very recently just went on anxiety medication. And she just has generalized anxiety disorder, which we talked about last week. But it is a medication specifically to help with anxiety. And she said, the amount of mental clarity that she has now, the feeling of confidence and sense of self that she has, because she said it just like allowed her brain, allowed her to kind of take a step back from when she was spiraling, and when she just couldn't control the, you know, anxious feelings about whatever was going on around her. And that this medication has really allowed her to kind of separate her, you know, parasympathetic nervous system and her brain and kind of like, look at what's going on without being completely overwhelmed by the situation. And she was you know, sharing with me today that it was absolutely this medication has been absolutely life changing for her. So again, huge proponent of medication when it is something that obviously has been prescribed by a doctor and has been determined that this is something that will really help you in your specific situation.
Now, let's talk about just like general shyness, which is also you know, kind of related to social anxiety in the fact that most people who are uncomfortable in social situations will feel like they have social anxiety. And that's not actually correct. So let's look now at what you can do if you are just uncomfortable and social in social situations.
Of course, I do think self awareness is huge when it comes to this, it's so important to know if you are someone who gets overwhelmed by large crowds, loud music, lots of people. Like if you're someone who likes only hanging out with three people versus 50, that's very important to know about yourself. And that's where that self awareness can really, you know, help you succeed, help you thrive in social situations, if you know that about yourself.
Now, while you build more awareness around what you like, and don't like in social situations, and potentially, you know, challenge yourself and put yourself in uncomfortable situations, or something that maybe you would have perceived as uncomfortable as far as like, you know, going out and meeting new people or anything like that, I want to leave you with this one little tip. And as I said, this is something that I started doing with myself, about seven years ago when I first moved back to LA. And it has helped me in an insane amount.
So if I am entering a social situation where like, I don't know, anyone, I'm at some kind of industry event, number one, if I walk in and immediately feel myself have anxiety, kind of like coarse through me, and if this is something that you've felt, I'm sure that you understand what I mean, the fact that like, you walk into a room, and you just immediately feel like frozen. It's kind of like someone like cracked an egg on top of your head. And it just like, the feeling just kind of spreads throughout your body of just like, oh, shit, what do I do, the first thing I'll do is I'll go to the bathroom. And for me, that's just like, a safe space. I will go, I will stand in the bathroom, I will look at myself in the mirror. And I will just honestly, like, kind of talk to myself and be like, Deborah, you got this, you're fine. This is a, you know, this may be a little scary, but you're not actually in harm's way, this is gonna be a good experience for you. And then I make a little promise with myself. And I kind of talk to myself again in the mirror and I just say, okay, Deborah, all you have to do is talk to three people. That's it, talk to three people. And it could it be that I talk to one person in the bathroom, and I say, like, Hey, I love your sweater, it could be that I go up to the bartender and you know, order a drink, that counts, that is one person that I've talked to. So I just always make a challenge with myself that I'm going to talk to three new people, I don't put any restrictions on myself. And after I've talked to those three new people, if I want to leave, I give myself that permission. And I have really found that whatever I kind of give myself that rule, I actually end up staying longer talking to more people feeling more comfortable. Because it kind of just encourages me to again, get out of my comfort zone and just be like, Hey, I'm gonna say something kind to three new people. And if that turns into a conversation, great. If it doesn't, then I allow myself to go home and cuddle up with my dog and watch TV and eat popcorn.
So I hope that that's something that maybe is some kind of tool that you can bring. Whenever you are going into a social situation that potentially makes you uncomfortable. Again, this is different than social anxiety, social anxiety, again, is more the traumatic fear of other people judging you. It's not as much the interaction because someone with social anxiety could go into a social situation and not even talk to anyone and still feel an overwhelming sense of fear and overwhelm and just feeling, you know, uncomfortable in that situation. And so that's more social anxiety versus, you know, just being shy and I think the final final tip