Severe social anxiety is taxing on any relationship. The fear of being judged and evaluated by others leads to avoidance and defensive behaviors that are detrimental to the individual and those in their lives. About 15 million Americans have social anxiety disorder and more than one-third report symptoms for 10 years or more before seeking help. Although many realize that their anxiety is irrational, the symptoms persist.
With professional support – Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy has been markedly successful in treating social anxiety – most people can overcome this disorder, especially with understanding and help from their loved ones. Here, five experts weigh in with very different ideas of what can be done to support a partner with severe social anxiety.
A Plan to Highlight Positives and Show Compassion
Social anxiety can be a wedge in an otherwise healthy relationship, and bring on patterns that lead to dysfunction. Imagine having a partner that refuses to, or creates stress around, family visits, going to a child’s school play, attending a holiday performance, going to work picnics, or simply being cordial to neighbors.
A tip to help your partner and, to salvage your relationship if it is suffering, beyond psychotherapy, is to create a commitment to a CBT-esque plan, with a goal, an agenda, homework and support that might look like this:
- Set a goal this week, such as to make casual conversation while food shopping.
- Ask your partner how you could help them do this, and discuss. For instance, your partner may say, I’m nervous, but if you start the conversation, I’ll follow.
- Homework might be discussing how it felt and expressing the positives of the experience.
- Support might be your commitment to either continuing that role until they can do it themselves or allowing a new goal to be discussed.
As a Zen psychotherapist, I must interject that showing compassion throughout this process is key; the most significant gift to give your partner is your presence; do not expect them to be alone, be it therapy or working together as a couple.
Michele M. Paiva, Licensed Zen Psychotherapist, is also on staff as faculty at the BodyMind Institute, was inducted by the Dalai Lama in 2013, and specializes in anxiety, stress, and issues unique to females of all ages. She can be visited at www.michelepaiva.com.
Understand that spending an hour at a party may be all your partner is able to handle. You two can leave separately if you would like to stay at an event for a longer period of time. Being with others can be emotionally and mentally draining for your partner. They will need a chance to recharge after socializing in an environment where they don’t feel entirely comfortable. You stay and enjoy yourself. Your partner will likely appreciate you being so understanding of them leaving early.
Brooke Novick is a Marriage and Family Therapist on Long Island and can be visited at www.brookenovick.com. Her specialties include anxiety, increasing self-esteem and self-compassion, eating disorders, issues related to spirituality, family conflict, and working with individuals who want to process life and grow.
Use A Magnesium Supplement to Help Lower Anxiety
Serotonin, the feel good brain chemical that is boosted artificially by some medications, depends on magnesium for its production and function. Magnesium is known as the anti-stress, anti-anxiety mineral and will go a long way in keeping a person calm in social settings. Numerous studies have shown its effectiveness in lowering anxiety and reducing stress levels as well as helping with deeper more restful sleep. Read more here.
Most Americans are magnesium deficient because this mineral has been depleted from our soils and foods. Over 75% of Americans do not get their recommended daily allowance of this mineral which is a co-factor in 700-800 enzyme reactions in the body.
Not all forms of magnesium are easily absorbed by the body. Magnesium citrate powder is a highly absorbable form that can be mixed with hot or cold water and sipped before and during any social interaction or at work or at home throughout the day.
Carolyn Dean, MD, ND is a stress management expert and author of The Magnesium Miracle. She is a health pioneer with over 25 years of experience with stress management, aging, diet and nutrition issues. She’s authored 30 books including Future Health Now Encyclopedia, The Complete Natural Medicine Guide to Women’s Health, Menopause Naturally, Hormone Balance, 365 Ways to Boost Your Brain Power: Tips, Exercise, Advice, The Yeast Connection, IBS for Dummies and The Magnesium Miracle. Radio, TV, and magazines interview her regularly including ABC’s The View, NBC and CBS, to name a selected few. She is on the Medical Advisory Board for the Nutritional Magnesium Association and can be visited online at www.nutritionalmagnesium.org.
Listen! Listen! Listen!
All people are different. The support they will need will be different. The most important way to help a partner with social anxiety is to open the lines of communication. Ask them how you can help. Listen. Listen carefully. Too many of us hear only what we think would help us in a similar situation.
Accept, Support, and Have Patience
If your partner is suffering from social anxiety, the best thing you can do is to have patience. No amount of coaxing or pushing from you is going to make this issue go away. Your partner may need help from a mental health professional, but from you, all s/he needs is acceptance and support. Let him know that you love him despite his anxiety problem. Make sure she knows that you don’t expect anything from her that she is not capable of at this time. Offer your help if it’s wanted, but if it’s not, your love and support are the best gifts you can give.
Raffi Bilek, LCSW-C, is a marriage and family counselor and the Director of the Baltimore Therapy Center. Visit her online at www.baltimoretherapycenter.com.
These are just a few ideas to help a partner reducing the distress of their social anxiety, ranging from planning, listening, and communicating, to looking after diet and nutrition and, most of all, demonstrating empathy and compassion. With therapy where needed, your partner should soon feel more relaxed, empowered, and confident, but don’t be afraid of occasional setbacks as it is part of the journey together.