Service Dogs for Social Anxiety? It’s Possible

Many people use the phrase “emotional support dog” so frequently that it can get confused with “service dog”, but there are distinct differences between the two. Both are four-legged animals that help people, but that’s where the similarities end.

Service dogs have been around for decades to help visually impaired people navigate their daily lives by helping them safely cross streets and avoid obstacles. They can help paralyzed people by retrieving items and alerting deaf people to noises like a crying baby. They can also assist people who are dealing with symptoms of social anxiety.

One major advocate of service dogs for social anxiety is James Middleton, brother in law of Prince William. He recently attended a GQ Men of the Year event with his cocker spaniel Ella as his date for the evening. While Middleton wore a tux, Ella sported a black and tartan “Pets As Therapy” jacket to publicize a UK animal therapy group. “Animals can provide a sense of calm, comfort or safety and divert attention away from a stressful situation and toward one that provides pleasure,” he wrote on his Instagram page. “…developing a bond with an animal can help people develop a better sense of self-worth and trust, stabilize their emotions, and improve their communication, self-regulation and socialization skills.”

A service dog undergoes extensive training to perform tasks that its owner is unable to do on their own due to physical, intellectual or emotional disabilities. They can see obstacles for people with impaired vision, hear things for deaf people or pick up objects for people with reduced dexterity. They can provide emotional support, but their main job is to provide assistance for their owners. They receive more legal protections through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) than emotional support dogs and are legally allowed in almost every public space.

A study by Purdue University’s College of Veterinary Medicine shows that overall symptoms of PTSD in veterans are lower for those with service dogs. Maggie O’Haire, assistant professor of human-animal interaction, says “we found that the group of veterans with service dogs had significantly lower levels of PTSD symptomology than those who did not. They also had lower levels of depression, lower anxiety and increased social participation, meaning a willingness to leave their house and go engage with society in different activities.” Data gathered from the study has secured a grant for a larger-scale study on the effectiveness of service dogs for both military veterans with PTSD and their families.

Emotional support dogs are companion animals that provide therapeutic benefits for people with medically diagnosed mental, intellectual or physical disabilities. Owners can’t decide for themselves that their pets meet these qualifications; they must have a diagnosis from a doctor or mental health professional, as well as a letter stating the benefits of ownership. There are nearly 40 conditions that meet these requirements, including anxiety, PTSD, and eating disorders.

Emotional support dogs are not required to receive any training before their designation, which makes people question their effectiveness. Without proper training, they may not behave as well as service animals, who know how to act in public. They receive fewer protections through the ADA, mostly only with housing and air travel. A home that says “no pets” can be forced to allow an emotional support animal, but restaurants and stores don’t have to allow emotional support dogs into their buildings. Owners can carry their paperwork from their doctors, but that doesn’t guarantee admittance into public buildings.

Determining whether a service or emotional support dog is right for you isn’t something that should be decided quickly. Talk to your doctor about your specific situation to help make the decision that’s best for your lifestyle.

Do you or anyone you know have either a service dog or emotional support dog? How helpful have they been?

Tips for Easing A Child’s Social Anxiety When Prepping for Back to School

Tips for Easing A Child’s Social Anxiety When Prepping for Back to School

Though social anxiety is often viewed as an adult problem, children and teens can suffer from social anxiety issues as well. This can be especially taxing during the back-to-school season; not only does heading back to school require a transition from the routines of the summer, but it also means going into a new set of classes where they don’t know what to expect. Given how much things can change over a summer when you’re growing up, young people and teens with social anxiety may not even be able to take solace in the thought of seeing old friends at school.

Especially for teenagers who are already facing a number of other changes, this can be overwhelming. Fortunately, there are ways to help. If your child or teen appears to have anxiety about returning to school, here are just a few suggestions on how you can help them overcome it and get ready to go back to school.

Start Transitions Early

For a lot of families, back-to-school preparations start around the time that you register for school; this usually gives two to three weeks to get ready for the new school year, though in some cases it’s less time than that. If your child has experienced anxiety issues in the past, however, start early. Focus on the basics, including transitioning to a regular bedtime and wakeup routine, and do what shopping you can in advance. By the time school rolls around, your child will already be well accustomed to a new schedule.

Discuss Plans Together

Have meaningful conversations with your child about the new school year, making sure to ask questions about how they feel and what they are anxious about. Be sure to listen, too, and avoid giving the impression that their fears are unfounded or trivial. Try to find solutions to address these fears so that your child will feel more prepared for the new school year.

Review Coping Techniques

There’s a good chance that your child already knows some techniques for coping with stress and anxiety issues. In the weeks leading up to the start of school, make it a point to review these techniques so your child is reminded of how they can help. This might be a good time to introduce new techniques as well, especially if there is a major change coming (such as the transition from middle school to high school.)

Focus on the Positives

In your discussions about your child’s return to school, be sure to ask them about any positives they might be looking forward to, as well. This can help to shift their mindset, reminding them that while the return to school is stressful, there are still some good things about the return as well. Be sure not to downplay their concerns in doing so, of course.

Consult a Doctor

If necessary, talk to your child’s doctor and schedule an appointment to address their anxiety about school. If your child is already on medication, a change to their prescriptions may be needed if their anxiety seems worse than usual. This doesn’t mean you should push to medicate your child if they don’t currently take any medicine, however; while the doctor may decide that some medication is warranted, the primary purpose of the visit should be to ensure that your child is healthy (to rule out conditions that are aggravating their anxiety) and to get additional advice from the doctor on how to handle that anxiety.

Which techniques do your children use to help get ready for the back-to-school rush?

Is It Time for Your Medication?  Tips, Tricks and Tools to Help You Remember

Is It Time for Your Medication?  Tips, Tricks and Tools to Help You Remember

Taking your medication on time is an important part of managing social anxiety. Some medications need to be taken within a specific window, while others should be taken with food or with other constraints. If you mess up the timing on any of your pills, it can set you up for a very rough day.

Given the importance of taking your meds on time, it stands to reason that you’ll want to find things that help you remember. Here are a few suggestions to help make sure that you don’t miss a dose.

Set an Alarm

This is one of the most common suggestions that people give for remembering to take your pills, but you’d be surprised at how many people still don’t set alarms as a reminder for pill time. While some people use an alarm clock or programmable timer, setting alarms on your smartphone may be a better option. Not only are you more likely to have it with you if you’re away from home at pill time, but most alarm apps also let you customize the alarm tone so you can set a special reminder tone just for your pills.

Smarter Scheduling

If you have a pill that has to be taken with meals, you’re more likely to remember it than pills you take at other times. This is due in large part to the fact that your meds become associated with something that you do every day. Even if you have meds that don’t require you to take them with meals, scheduling your morning pills around breakfast and evening pills around dinner can still make them easier to remember.

Visual Reminders

Pill boxes are one of the most effective ways to make sure that you remember your pills. Depending on the pill box you buy, you may have multiple compartments available per day to hold the pills you take at different times. The boxes make it easy to tell if you’ve taken a pill or not, and just seeing the box reminds you that you still have pills to take. If possible, store your pill box in a place where you’ll see it throughout the day (though out of reach of children or others who don’t need to get into your pills.) This will provide you with a gentle reminder of your pills at multiple times throughout the day.

Carry a Spare

If you frequently forget pills because you’re away from home when your alarm goes off, consider setting up a cache of pills that you can carry with you when you’re away from the house. Small pill containers are available for keychains or to drop in your pocket, and many are large enough to carry at least a dose or two of the pills you take every day. Fill up the container each time you get a refill of your meds and be sure to replenish it if you get caught away from home and have to take your spare pills. If you make it through the month without using your cache, use the cache to start filling your pill box after your next refill and place new pills into the cache to make sure that the pills in there don’t start losing their potency.

Establish a Ritual

You’re much more likely to remember things that are part of your routine. To help make your pills a part of that routine, establish a short self-care ritual in the morning and evening. This can include a shower, time for meditation, having a cup of tea or coffee and of course taking your medication. This will not only help you take your pills every day, but it can also improve your overall mental wellbeing since you’re taking a few minutes each day to take care of yourself.

Ask for Help

Social anxiety can make it difficult to interact with others, even those that you’re closest to. Your loved ones really do care, though, and they honestly want to help. If you’re still struggling to keep taking your medication every day, ask a friend or family member for help. The little nudge they give to ensure you’ve taken your meds can make a huge difference. On top of ensuring that you take your pills, it will also serve as a gentle reminder that you’re not alone.

Have you ever missed a dose of medicine? What are the tips and suggestions for remembering your pills that you find most effective?

What’s It Like to Live with Social Anxiety?

Social anxiety is becoming increasingly prominent, with more people understanding that it’s a real and complex condition. Simply knowing that social anxiety exists doesn’t necessarily help those who may be suffering and not realize it, however. Many people live with social anxiety and aren’t fully aware of it, in part because they don’t realize that what they’re feeling are symptoms of the condition.

Mental and Emotional Symptoms

Many people think that social anxiety is simply being nervous or uncomfortable in crowds. In truth, however, the symptoms are much more complex than this. While it’s not an exhaustive list, here are a few of the most common emotional symptoms of social anxiety:

  • Fear of being judged by others
  • Extreme fear of embarrassing yourself
  • Fear of interacting with strangers
  • Worry that others will notice that you appear anxious
  • Anxiety or panic in anticipation of future events
  • Expecting the worst out of any negative experience in social situations
  • Overanalyzing your interactions after returning from a social situation

Note that these symptoms are all related to the emotional effects of social anxiety disorder. There are physical symptoms to the condition as well.

Physical Symptoms of Social Anxiety

There are several ways that social anxiety can affect you physically, though specific physical symptoms can vary from person to person. Again, this isn’t an exhaustive list, but here are some of the more common physical symptoms of social anxiety disorder:

  • Frequent blushing
  • Increased heartbeat
  • Sweating
  • Nausea or upset stomach
  • Dizziness and lightheadedness
  • Trembling or muscle tightness
  • Hyperventilating
  • Difficulty thinking and memory problems

Unfortunately, the mental and emotional effects of social anxiety disorder aren’t the only symptoms of the condition. Because of the social focus of the anxiety you feel with the disorder, it can have a significant impact on your social interactions and readiness for social situations as well.

Social Symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder

As with the other lists of symptoms, this is by no means all-inclusive. While everyone’s experience is unique, here are some of the most common ways that social anxiety can affect your social interactions:

  • Difficulty interacting with strangers or authority figures
  • Difficulty making or maintaining eye contact while talking
  • Increased absenteeism from work or school
  • Reluctance or inability to enter rooms where an activity has already started or where others are already seated
  • Reluctance or inability to eat when others aren’t eating or have already finished
  • Difficulty starting conversations or approaching others, even in situations where it would be socially appropriate (such as returning items at a store or asking questions in a classroom setting)
  • Inability to ask someone on a date or make other overt romantic gestures

In cases of severe social anxiety, it can even become difficult to leave the house or go anywhere that others will be present. The longer these feelings go on, the harder it can be to reestablish normal social interactions for fear that someone will have noticed your absence.

So What Does Social Anxiety Feel Like?

The experience of social anxiety will be different for everyone who experiences it, but for many people, it doesn’t always feel like what you would expect from anxiety. Instead, it comes across more like a feeling of dread or a fear of embarrassment. The intensity can vary depending on the situation and your overall health and mental wellbeing, with the symptoms getting better or worse over time. The condition can also be comorbid with depression or other mental health issues, worsening the symptoms of both and at times making those symptoms feel overwhelming.

If you worry that you’re experiencing some of all of these feelings, it might be time to talk to a doctor you trust or a mental health professional. That can be a very scary talk to have if you suffer from social anxiety, but in the end, it can make a huge difference in your life.

If you suffer from social anxiety, what resources do you have to help you cope with your condition?

What is Social Anxiety?

Do you get a little nervous when you’re around a big group of people? That’s a natural worry for a lot of people. If your reaction extends past mildly uncomfortable and you find yourself experiencing panic attacks, self-medicating, avoiding social situations at all costs or acting in other ways that are detrimental to your health and life, then you may be experiencing social anxiety.

Exactly What is Social Anxiety?

Social anxiety disorder, as defined by the diagnostic criteria set forth in the DSM-V, is a persistent, ongoing and chronic fear of at least one social situation where you’re around unfamiliar people.  You feel embarrassed, anxious or fearful. Your reaction to the situation doesn’t change – you’re always anxious and it’s severe, up to the point of (but not necessarily always including) panic attacks.

With social anxiety disorder, you know your fear is unreasonable or out of proportion to the social situations, but you can’t manage to shake it or cope with it no matter how hard you try. You’ll go out of your way to avoid the situation or you’ll be in distress while going through it. At the same time, avoiding it, anticipating it or experiencing it is detrimental to your ability to function – you could lose your job, miss out on schoolwork, lose friends, upset family and/or disappoint yourself.

Social anxiety disorder can last six or more months and it isn’t due to an underlying medical condition, a side effect of another medication and isn’t the result of substance abuse.

How is Social Anxiety Treated?

There’s no cure for social anxiety disorder, but it is treatable. Symptoms are managed by learning coping mechanisms to lessen anxiety and fear. Cognitive behavioral therapy (“talk therapy”), dialectical behavioral therapy or exposure therapy are all used to help combat the symptoms of social anxiety or get to the root cause of it. In certain cases, medication can help you work through your fears, and when combined with therapy, can help you make progress in combating social anxiety disorder.

How Do I Get Help?

It’s extremely rare that a person is able to successfully manage social anxiety alone. If you’re looking for help, contact your local mental health care provider about your options. If you don’t currently have a mental health services provider or don’t know where to start, ask your general practitioner for a referral or advice in finding help – they should be able to point you in the right direction. It may take some work and multiple tries to find a therapist or other service provider that works well with you, so don’t get discouraged if the first provider you try doesn’t feel like a good fit.

In addition to seeking the help of a licensed therapist, counselor, psychiatrist and/or psychologist, it can help to make use of other resources available to you. Books, podcasts and social forums like can all be valuable tools in learning to live with and work through social anxiety disorder. While resources are not a substitute for qualified professional help, they can give you some insight into what coping mechanisms may work for you, ways to deal with your anxiety on a daily basis and a gentle, non-triggering way to connect with others so you feel less alone – all of which are important when you’re living with social anxiety.