My Own Experience With Social Anxiety Disorder

social anxiety disorder pencil

When I was 15 I moved from Iran to Italy. I was living with one of my brothers in Rome, but felt anxious. A year later, my anxiety level rose to the point that I couldn’t concentrate on my studies and suffered from a host of symptoms: I was excessively self-conscious, worried about others judging me and avoided social situations. Whenever I could, I would stay quiet or try to disappear into the background.

In 1979 when I was suffering these symptoms, there wasn’t so any information about anxiety. Most family and friends interpret these symptoms as shyness or insecurity. Needless to say, this interpretation didn’t help me since I thought that something was seriously wrong with me as a person. I didn’t know that I was suffering from anxiety.

Among my symptoms of anxiety was a throbbing headache. I tried many treatments to alleviate the pain. I began with a doctor and then a specialist, an acupuncturist and finally a psychologist. I took prescription drugs for pain, anxiety and depression. Only the psychologist got past the symptoms that caused the pain. After all, I was far from family; I was worried because the Islamic Revolution had erupted in my native land. The revolution meant persecution for my family and other Iranian Baha’is. Soon I began to receive news of Baha’is being imprisoned, tortured and executed for their beliefs.

After telling all this to the psychologist, he diagnosed my condition as “stress”. I became interested in personal growth and psychology. After many years of personal struggle and studying psychology at the University of Western Ontario and University of Waterloo, I learned many coping skills which served as foundation for my first book, “Stress: An Owner’s Manual”.

However, now, 34 years later, I know that it was neither stress nor shyness. My extreme feeling of self-consciousness in everyday social situations was nothing but anxiety or what psychiatrists call it “social anxiety”. Since then I helped people in Canada, Sweden, Czech Republic and Spain overcome their problems.

While I was living in Europe, I did three post graduate studies, furthering my knowledge of psychology. Gradually, after many years of private practice, and after seeing numerous cases of anxiety, phobias and obsessions, I became known as a specialist for complicated cases.

Why Schools of Psychotherapy are Reluctant to Accept New Solutions for Anxiety

anatomy arm

The course of human knowledge and sciences has been marked by opposition to new methods. The following examples illustrate scientists’ resistance to accept innovative approaches.

For centuries scientists believed that blood was created in the liver and moved around inside the body and disappeared in the extremities. In 1628, William Harvey, a British physician and anatomist, announced his discovery of the circulation of the blood. He described, in meticulous detail and backed by solid arguments, the circulation and properties of blood. Harvey’s shocking announcement was that the heart was a pump that pushed around the blood through veins and arteries. The British censor forbade the publication of his scientific treaties on blood circulation. He was ridiculed by other scientists for his preposterous theories. According to Harvey, he actually made his discovery 12 years before sharing it publicly!

It took him such a long time because he was afraid. In his own words:“…some chide and calumniated me and laid to me as a crime that I had dared to depart from the precepts and opinions of all anatomists…I not only fear injury to myself from the envy of a few, but I tremble lest I have mankind at large for my enemies…”

In 1816 a French physician called, René Laennec, invented the stethoscope. His invention became a major tool in diagnosis. However, many physicians opposed this idea arguing that there was nothing worth listening to.
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Fear and Anxiety Have Their Own Logic

airplane
Source: Yuichi Kosio

A man had a fear of flying. His main worry was that there could be a terrorist on board carrying a bomb. For the last 15 years he had managed to avoid travelling by air. However one day he had no choice to travel to a conference by plane. Since he was a statistic professor, he used his mathematical skills and came up with a logical solution.

He was calm as he packed and head toward the airport. When he passed the security check, they discovered a bomb in his carry-on-baggage. The police hauled him off immediately for interrogation.

“This is strange!” the interrogating officer exclaimed. “According to our records, you’re an accomplished scientist, a caring family man and an active member of your church. Why do you want to blow up an airplane?”

“I’m sorry”, the professor replied. “There must be a misunderstanding. I never intended to blow up the plane.”

“So, what on earth prompted you to bring a bomb on board?!”

“Let me explain. I’m a statistics expert and according to my statistical calculations, the probability of a bomb being on an airplane is 1/1000. That’s quite high if you think about it. It’s so high that I would have severe anxiety on a flight.”

“And what does this have to do with you trying to bring a bomb on board of a plane?”

“You see, since the probability of one bomb being on my plane is 1/1000, the chance that there are two bombs is 1/1000000. If I already bring one, the chance of another bomb being around is actually 1/1000000, and I feel much safer!”

This popular math joke illustrates that at times what seems logical and common sense may not be an answer to a problem. The solution of the anxious professor was based on logical calculations of mathematical probabilities and statistics. However its effects become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The very action of the professor that tried to avoid the danger exacerbates it.
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