Dear Charlie:

I have such bad anxiety about being alone in front of people that it's hard for me to even walk to places to get lunch or dinner, and sometimes even go to class, because I feel like everyone is looking at me and judging me. What can I do?

Signed: Anxious

Dear anxious,

Charlie hears you. You say that you have “bad anxiety” about being alone, and this interferes with your daily functioning. You mention being so worried that others will judge you that you have difficulty walking to get meals or get to class. Charlie is here to help.

Charlie suspects that what you are experiencing is more than a little shyness in social situations. Shyness is a pretty common personality trait in which there is some hesitation about doing or saying what you want because of the worry of what others might think. However, what you are describing sounds like it is beginning to interfere with your ability to carry on with your daily life (such as getting lunch or dinner, getting to class, and so on). You may be experiencing something called Social Anxiety Disorder, also known as Social Phobia. People who have Social Anxiety Disorder have a high level of anxiety about being in social situations where it is possible for others to scrutinize them. They fear being judged by others, or that they will somehow do or say something to embarrass themselves. In reaction to this, individuals with Social Anxiety Disorder either avoid the situations or they endure them with much fear and anxiety.

The good news is that you can reduce this anxiety with treatment. Charlie recommends giving my friends at the Counseling Center a call at (765) 285-1736 to set up an initial appointment. If you decide to pursue counseling, your counselor can help you to address the anxiety in several ways. These may include learning new coping techniques, such as breathing exercises, meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation; learning to recognize and replace self-defeating thoughts and negative self-talk, or working to gradually desensitize you to the feared situations. You and your counselor will work together to develop goals specific to you, that you feel comfortable with, and which will help you to overcome your anxiety.

Charlie also suspects that my friends at the Counseling Center will discuss the possibility of group counseling with you. Group counseling is actually a great way to address Social Anxiety Disorder, because you are able to get direct feedback from others in a safe, supportive environment, as well as practice your ability to handle a social setting. Charlie recognizes this may sound intimidating, and you may be thinking “if I can’t make it to class because I’m worried about what others might think of me, why would I join a group where I will have to talk to others about my worries?!” Charlie wants you to know that group counseling helps you by giving others the opportunity to counter the worries and mistaken beliefs you may have. Through the feedback of others, you may come to realize that no one else thinks as harshly of you as you do of yourself, which can give you the confidence to overcome this negative thinking.

Another consideration is whether you may want to consider medication as part of the treatment approach. For some people who suffer from Social Anxiety Disorder, combining medication with counseling provides the best outcome. You can access medication for anxiety in a several ways. One is to first talk to your counselor who will discuss the pros and cons with you. If you decide to try it, your counselor can then provide you with a medical referral. Another way is to go directly to your family physician or the the BSU Health Center (285-8431) for a medical consultation.

Whether you decide to pursue individual or group counseling or medication, Charlie encourages you to reach out to the Counseling Center for help in working through your anxiety.

To feeling less anxious,