Sometimes, in today's day and age, we can forget that mental health issues have been around since the beginning. As the human brain increased in complexity, so did it's ability to go a bit astray at times. Although it s an extremely powerful part of us, the brain is still a sensitive and easy to disturb organ. And this is not only limited for humans and our ape friends! Nope! even animals experience mental illnesses. Parrots are known to pluck out their feathers from stress and military dogs have been shown to suffer from their own sort of canine PTSD.
In today's article, I'll be focusing on the history of social anxiety. When was it first mentioned? How has it changed through the years? Where are we at as of now? Along with some tips and advice on how you can to control it.
Social anxiety has been a part of society since the very beginning, however was never truly noticed until the early 20th century. The first documentation is from 400BC. People were simply known as very shy, as the scientific term for it had not yet been recognised or discovered. Hippocrates described a socially anxious person as someone who “loves darkness as life” and “thinks every man observes him”.
During the early 1900's, being “very shy” was finally recognised as having some psychological context. Psychiatrists used the diagnosis of “social phobia” and “social neurosis” to describe the extreme shyness in their patients.
The mid-centuries was the turning point for what would become known as social anxiety. A number of psychiatrists, such as Joseph Wolpe (in the 1950's), and Isaac Marks (in the 1960's), contributed greatly to furthering our knowledge on the illness, with Wolpe advancing behavioural therapies for phobias and Mark proposing that social phobias should be in their own category (separate to other sorts of phobias).
In 1968, the American Psychiatric Association published a second edition of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). In this social fears were described as a very specific fear. It was a phobia of being watched closely and examined or being in social situations. Although the worlds understanding of this form of anxiety had dramatically changed, it was still very narrowly defined, along with not a lot known about what it actually is.
Fast forward to 1980, when the third edition of the DSM was published. This time, social phobia was included as an official psychiatric diagnosis. Unfortunately, it was only referred to as a fear of formal and/or performing situations; less formal situations such as normal day, social occurrences were instead known as avoidant personality disorder. At first they could not be diagnosed together until 1987, when a review of the DSM brought changes to the definition. This lead to the term generalised social phobia being introduced, which referred to a severe case of the disorder.
Social anxiety was slowly becoming what it is known today. It was transforming from just a simple trait that many labelled as “shy” to a diagnosable and life altering mental illness.
People were becoming aware that a slight nervousness wasn't what social phobia was about, but instead was a mental health issue that had a range of severity.
Finally, in 1994, DSM-IV was published, in which social phobia was now known as social anxiety disorder (SAD). The disorder was defined as “a marked and persistent fear of one or more social performance situations in which the person is exposed to unfamiliar people or possible scrutiny
from others”. Our understanding has only furthered since this point, with the importance of the mental illness and the effects it has finally being realised.
I, myself, went through a period of social anxiety when I was around the age of twelve till fifteen. I went from being an extremely bubbly outgoing child to one that was withdrawn, scared and very anxious at the thought of being judged, and incapable of starting a conversation (without thinking about it for at least 8 minutes).
Fortunately, I have improved and believe I no longer fall under this category. The effects are still evident, as at times I don't really know how to start a conversation, and I awkwardly don't really know how to keep it going!
A lot of the advice received can be hard to do. So I have conjured up some things I used to help me cope during those terrifying walks, silent conversations, and uncomfortable outings.
1. The number one thing that greatly helped me was my imagination. To help me cope when out and about, I used to picture myself with two giant wolves (or whatever large carnivore I preferred that day) either side of me. The thought that such powerful and beautiful creatures were walking along with me sent a surge of confidence through my mind, allowing me to walk taller and stronger. Anyone who looked at me was merely staring in awe at my impressive friends who strode loyally along with me. Of course, there were times when I stupidly reminded myself that that wasn't reality, and then I'd quickly turn back into a scurrying, eyes on the ground kind of gal. Over time I taught myself to try and keep this facade going for as long as possible. When I did begin to remember and sense my anxiety heightening I'd say to myself “so what?” and (hopefully) be able to picture those prowling lions, or defiant wolves beside me once more.
2. Ask people things! When I say this, I don't mean go into detailed conversations with them that reveals all their inner secrets, I mean things like “what time is it?”, “do you know where this is?”, etc... In shops I would ask workers were a certain item was. I knew very well where, but my ability to communicate needed improvement, and the first step for that was to start talking to someone. Asking for the time is another good one. Unlike the shop scenario, you can ask anyone this question. Everyone usually answers either with a time or a simple “I don't know”. It slowly teaches you to not to be ashamed to approach people. Humans are not mean. Basically everyone will be kind or at least say something back.
3. Wear a pair of odd socks one day. The first feeling you have may be embarrassment, shame, or a strong urge to run away and hide. But after a while you'll notice that no one really notices, and if they do they don't care. Soon, you'll begin to not care either. From this technique I learnt that most people are too interested or busy with their own problems to care about possible miniscule (r even catastrophic) errors you make. Next to no one will point, jeer, or laugh at you.
Social anxiety is a really difficult thing to overcome, and when you do you'll still be let with some psychological scars that can change your personality. Although my advice won't make your anxiety diminish, it'll hopefully help you open your views on how you're actually feeling, as well as helping to slightly ease your panic.
Anxiety has a history that goes right back to the dawn of human existence. As our understanding of it grows, so will our remedies and treatment. Feel proud every time you find the courage to get up and put something in the bin, or every time you answer a question in lesson, or when you step
outside. We want you to be happy and feel safe; hopefully together we can get there.
Teenagers With Experience is an organisation created to provide teenagers worldwide with an online platform to share their own experiences to be able to help, inform and educate others on a variety of different topics. We aim to provide a safe space to all young people. You can contact us via email, social media or our contact form found on our home page.