Social Anxiety Disorder & Our Reticular Activating System

Updated: Apr 21

Normal Anxiety

We all know what anxiety feels like. Sometimes we experience it prior to writing a test, going to a job interview, having a first date, speaking in front of a crowd, meeting your significant others family for the first time, or convincing yourself to go on a roller coaster. Anxiety is a normal response when someone is faced with stressful, uncertain or new situations. Anxiety plays a very important role in our lives and is often necessary for our well-being and safety. We need anxiety to help us study for that test, prepare for our interview, protect ourselves from danger, and helps us quickly react during situations where we may be able to avoid injury; like car accident.

Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD)

SAD is different, it is characterized by severe anxiety and distress about being judged or not socially accepted by others. An individual may worry that they will embarrass themselves or be negatively evaluated by others. Thoughts could include; I don’t really have anything to say, I am not very funny, what if they think I’m socially awkward, I don’t know anyone here; other than the person I came with, what if he/she leaves my side, or I have no similarities to this group of people, and I don’t belong here. This is not helpful anxiety, it may lead one to use unhelpful coping skills. This severe anxiety can lead to avoidance behavior, quietness, lack of eye contact, and uncomfortable body language. Those just meeting you or getting to know you may prejudge you and form negative assumptions about your character. Research has shown that it can only take a few seconds for people to come up with an impression of another person. One of the key judgments that we make about others when we first meet them, is the Sociability of them. We judge them based on how friendly, likable, and kind they seem. The person who struggles with GAD will likely be judged inaccurately and unfairly as they are often just as friendly, likable and kind as someone who has an open demeanor and may feel confident initiating conversation or asking the right questions to spark up a discussion.

The Vicious Cycle

Almost all of the information we are given at any time enters into the brain through the reticular activating system (RAS). The brain’s RAS rapidly filters and organizes it, allowing the “important” information in. Whatever information you spend your time focusing on, your RAS pulls aside and presents it to you.

If you are experiencing anxiety symptoms, always feel free to contact us for help.

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