When someone is shy or socially anxious, they often grasp onto a variety of coping mechanisms to minimize their fears. A student in a classroom may doodle while the teacher is lecturing to lessen the power the negative thoughts have on their anxiety levels. Or maybe someone says the ABCs backwards in their mind while sitting in a meeting as a distraction technique. These are simple ways to cope, and I have used them in the past. They do not help us to overcome SAD.
Let’s take coping a bit further. People with social anxiety disorder may use drinking, drugs or relationships to bring a sense of calm to their being – even though they do not realize this ‘sense of calm’ isn’t real. Using drinking or drugs to cope can be a slippery slope. Thankfully I never tried drugs, but I at sixteen I discovered alcohol and did use it to cope. I write about this in Chapter 4 of Releasing the Secret Pain, “My naïve mind thought that alcohol could help me, yet the drinking also made the times that didn’t involve alcohol even harder. I acted more outgoing with alcohol and then acted like my shy self again without it…” Many people with SAD end up becoming alcoholics through the use of drinking as a coping mechanism. Drinking is not the answer and it will only make SAD symptoms worse.
When it comes to relationships and using a boyfriend or girlfriend to help in coping with SAD, this can introduce a different set of issues. The relationship serves as a distraction and may cover up the symptoms of SAD to a certain point. The desperation to feel better socially could result in the person with SAD staying in a relationship even though they are being taken advantage of or are being abused verbally or physically. A bad relationship can negatively impact self-esteem and, once the person gets out of the relationship, the SAD symptoms may be even worse.
Don’t get me wrong, having a boyfriend or girlfriend – who is loving and kind – can be wonderful and a good relationship can help a person with SAD to heal. But, even with a good relationship, it cannot become the main focus of our lives. We all must realize that friends are very important and it’s critical to maintain friendships even when we are in a relationship. Friends are there with us for the long haul. I discuss this in Chapter 5 of Releasing the Secret Pain, “It is important to maintain friendships even when you are in a relationship. … They will tell you when you are becoming too attached to your boyfriend or girlfriend and losing balance in your life. Your friends can see what is really happening in your relationship. Even if you may not agree, at least listen and think about what your friends are telling you. They may be right! Open your heart and listen.”
A person with SAD may not realize they have SAD, and may use these types of coping mechanisms to help minimize their emotional pain. They do not know any better because they do not realize what’s really happening in their mind. Once a person is diagnosed with SAD, it’s important to recognize the use of coping mechanisms and to begin to integrate therapies which can have a positive impact in moving beyond the pain of social anxiety.