Owning a Pet Can Help Reduce Social Anxiety

Owning a Pet Can Help Reduce Social Anxiety

There’s no disputing that owning a pet can reduce your anxiety in general, but those working through social anxiety are particularly benefited by having a companion animal. If your life is severely impaired by social anxiety, you might benefit from not just a pet, but from an emotional support animal (ESA). If you’re disabled by anxiety, you may see great improvements by adding a service animal to your emotional toolbox (along with therapy and medication.)

The Health Benefits of Pet Ownership

There are numerous studies surrounding the health benefits of owning and working with animals. According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pets can decrease your cholesterol levels, the level of triglycerides in your blood and lower your blood pressure. Even though these are physical benefits, social anxiety warriors know that improvements in physical health can improve your mental outlook. When you feel bad physically, your anxiety can worsen and your outlook on life can become grim.

Pet ownership has also been shown to decrease feelings of loneliness and isolation. Additionally, the CDC cites pets as providing an increase in opportunities for outdoor activity, physical activity and increased socialization, all of which can be beneficial for those working through social anxiety.

The medical journal “Science” also published a study wherein researchers found that merely staring into the eyes of a dog can boost levels of oxytocin – the body’s natural “feel good” chemical, which reduces anxiety and increases feelings of bonding and affection between humans and animals alike.

The Drawbacks of Animals for Anxiety

Here’s the thing: Animals require care. Different animals require different types of care. If your anxiety is such that you’re unable to leave the house to reach the privacy of your yard, you won’t be able to provide the type of care a dog needs. In this case, a cat or a caged pet might be a better fit for your lifestyle.

If you know you have trouble remembering things, a caged pet or a pet that lives in an aquarium or terrarium might not be a good fit for you, as these animals rely on you to remember to clean their habitat and socialize with them on a regular basis.

If you can’t provide proper and adequate care for your companion animal, you might experience guilt, doubt and a lapse in self-confidence, all of which can worsen social anxiety. Choosing the right pet for your lifestyle from the get-go can circumvent this.

You might also find that pets can have a negative effect on your mental health if you’re prone to depression as well as social anxiety. Cases in point include discovering that your new pet’s personality is incompatible with your own or finding yourself pre-emptively mourning your pet’s passing immediately after adopting it.

Companion Animals, Support Animals and Service Animals

There’s a marked difference between companion animals (pets), emotional support animals and service animals. Pets are what most people have: a dog, cat or another animal that lives with them.

Emotional support animals are like pets, but serve a specific purpose in their owner’s life. If you’re impaired but not disabled by your social anxiety, you can benefit from having an emotional support animal in your life. Emotional support animals aren’t specially trained to minimize or mitigate your social anxiety, so they aren’t afforded the same protections as service animals. However, some jurisdictions do afford emotional support animals more legal protections than pets.

Service animals are specifically trained by a professional to mitigate your social anxiety. A dog trained to alert you to a panic attack and lead you away from overwhelming situations is one example of a service dog for mental illness. Service animals are protected under the law and are allowed anywhere their owner goes – even in places where pets aren’t normally permitted.

Proper Documentation

If you decide to work with an animal to improve your social anxiety, you may have problems finding adequate housing. Even if your housing is pet-friendly, your neighbors can try to make life difficult if your animal is seen as a nuisance or distraction. Not all people are understanding or ethical in this regard.

Pets are afforded no protections under the law. Only some jurisdictions provide limited protections to emotional support animals and service animals are definitely protected under the law. Having proper documentation for the latter two types of companion animals is crucial.

As far as documentation goes, there is no one type of acceptable documentation. Any organization, service or individual who tells you otherwise is trying to sell you something. There’s no official ID or registry for ESAs or service animals.

A letter from your psychiatric health care professional or other health care professional stating your need is acceptable documentation for ESAs, but it still won’t get you around “no pet” laws – and rightfully so, as ESAs are not service animals.

Legally speaking, you aren’t required to produce documentation for your support dog, even if asked. The only time documentation might come into question is during travel or in a court of law. Any business or entity that demands proof is in direct violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Even so, if you must provide proof that your animal is a service animal, it’s necessary to prove that you’re disabled by social anxiety and your dog is trained (and not just naturally inclined) to mitigate the symptoms of your anxiety. To prove disability, medical records or an SSDI determination letter are acceptable. To prove training of your service animal, you’ll need logs from the trainer or a service dog certification from an accredited program, as well as independent evaluation by a qualified trainer. Even then, you could be required to demonstrate the dog’s training and abilities before a court of law, in the event of any litigation.

Your Rights

When you work with an emotional support animal, you have the same rights as a pet owner. Your emotional support animal is not allowed in shops, businesses or public places unless it’s stated emphatically and publicly that the establishment is pet-friendly.

If you have a service dog, however, you are allowed to have your service dog accompany you everywhere. Under law, a business owner is permitted to ask only two questions of you: Is your dog a service dog and what is he or she trained to do?

While a business owner or manager is not allowed to inquire as to the nature of your disability, some people find the second question invasive. Your service dog’s trainer or medical professional can help you formulate – and practice delivering, if necessary – an answer that does not reveal the nature of your disability but still satisfies the requirement for an answer to the question.

Are Pets Beneficial for Social Anxiety?

Pets, emotional support animals, service animals and companion animals are, beyond a shadow of a doubt, beneficial to those working with social anxiety. The physical and emotional benefits of pet ownership can lead to a healthier, fuller life and can help provide means and motivation to work through social anxiety.

More serious cases of social anxiety may allow you to use a service animal, which is a legitimate aid in treating your anxiety just like therapy or medication, providing you with legal protections for a trained, recognized service dog.


5 Ideas for Derailing Social Anxiety in Everyday Situations

5 Ideas for Derailing Social Anxiety in Everyday Situations

Social anxiety affects you in a lot of ways, and sometimes can hit you without warning. You may be aware of all of your common triggers and still find yourself having trouble in situations that don’t contain any of them. These situations are the worst, since they can lead to you heaping on self-doubt that just makes things that much worse.

It’s bad enough dealing with social anxiety brought on by major triggers, but when it blindsides you in everyday situations it can seem that much worse.

That doesn’t mean that your social anxiety has to win, though. While it isn’t always easy to keep your anxiety under control, here are a few things you can try to shut it down before it can shut you down.


You’re probably well versed in deep breathing by now, as it’s a pretty common suggestion when trying to get social anxiety under control. There’s a reason for this, though: It works pretty well. Yes, it’s not going to work all of the time, but a lot of the time you’ll be able to center yourself and calm down through deep focused breathing.

Breathe from your abdomen, inhale through your nose, hold the breath and then exhale slowly through your mouth. Focus on the process, and the control that you have over it. If you can, step away from others while you do so… that will keep you from missing out on some bit of conversation or some other awkward social situation that would just make your anxiety worse.

Shift your focus

Social anxiety is great at making you focus on yourself, your flaws and how your anxiety is affecting you and your body. This focus is part of what drives your anxiety, and why it feels like it’s just getting worse and worse. If you can shift your focus to something else, it robs your anxiety of its power and it can’t tear you down. Find one specific thing to focus on, giving it all of your attention for the moment.

Examine its colors, any fine details that you can see, its texture (if you’re able to touch it) and anything else that you are able to notice about it. If your object is set apart from the crowd or is truly unique in its surroundings, all the better.


This might seem odd at first, since social anxiety can make everything around you so loud… how are you supposed to listen when everything around you is turning into an ocean of noise? That’s actually the trick, though. Find one sound, preferably one that’s pleasant, and focus on it exclusively.

It may be hard at first as you’ll be straining to hear it through the din, but as you keep focusing on that one sound it will become clearer. As it does, you’ll start to phase out all of the other noise. Just like focusing on one object around you, stopping to listen to a single sound will pull you out of your anxiety and shift all of your focus to what you’re hearing. If necessary, you can close your eyes (provided that it’s safe to do so) to block out more input as you listen.

If you have trouble finding something to listen to, don’t be afraid to bring along some earbuds for your smartphone and provide your own sounds to drown out the world.

Change the experience

Social anxiety tells you that you’re responding to stimuli in a negative way, and it all goes downhill from there. It seems obvious, since all of the physical symptoms of social anxiety are pretty negative. Those symptoms aren’t exclusive to your anxiety, however.

Take the time to analyze what you’re feeling, identifying the specific reactions you’re having and telling yourself that they’re part of a more positive experience.

Excitement is a common one, since it can result in most of the same physical symptoms as anxiety. It might seem weird to be telling yourself that you’re excited at work or at the grocery store, but if you can spin it then your body will believe it; you may just be picking up some groceries, but you’re getting really excited about the dessert you’re going to make for after dinner. Change the experience and your anxiety won’t get the better of you.

Feel the call of nature

Sometimes, it seems like nothing you try is helping. Fortunately, in most situations you can still find an escape route. Excuse yourself, saying that you need to visit the bathroom. Sure, it’s not necessarily the cleanest destination, but you’re not likely to find anyone in there who wants to strike up a conversation or confront you in any way.

Find a small bathroom with a locking door, or an empty stall if there are only larger bathrooms available, and separate yourself from the world for a minute. Once you’re alone, retry some of your other techniques to break your anxiety cycle.

Don’t start feeling like you’re running away from your problems, either, since no one’s going to fault you for going to the bathroom.


Tips for Handling Job Interview Anxiety

Tips for Handling Job Interview Anxiety

Congratulations! You have a job interview for an interesting position! Now … if only you can get through the interview. Many people find the interview phase one of the most challenging parts of looking for a job. If you have social anxiety, the feeling of discomfort is magnified. There are several steps you can take to make this high-stress situation less intimidating, however.

Remind yourself that while you may be more anxious about your job interview than some people, virtually nobody walks into an interview without some level of jitters. Believe it or not, even some human resources professionals and many managers dread interviewing candidates because it makes them nervous!

Get Enough Rest

Being sleep deprived seldom enhances any situation, especially one in which you’re trying to present your best side to a prospective employer. Being well rested will go a long way toward helping you to stay calm.

Think Positive

When you “catch yourself” thinking negative thoughts about the interview, replace them with something positive. Remind yourself that you have been interviewed before, that it has gone well and it will be fine this time. Most people are nervous about being interviewed for jobs and the person you will be meeting knows that. You won’t be expected to do all the talking during the meeting. It’s all right if there are some periods of silence when you need to think about an answer.

Do Some Rehearsing

If the idea of being stuck on an answer is really bothering you, try to think back to previous job interviews or look online for a list of possible questions you may be asked regarding this particular position. Review them carefully and write out your own answers. Go over them until they become natural, not mechanical, responses.

Have a friend or family member role-play a mock job interview with you that includes all possibilities from greeting you at the door to wrapping up the interview. Your friend can ask you random questions from the list or toss in a few unexpected ones.

Afterward, ask your friend to let you how well you did – whether you appeared self-assured and confident or if you need some more practice. Your friend should also rate you on whether you sat up straight in your chair or whether you slumped down to avoid taking up space, if you made eye contact with the interviewer, spoke clearly and if your answers were clearly understandable.

Ease Off on the Caffeine

On the day of the interview, limit those morning coffees or stick to decaf. You may also want to forego chocolate, sugar and energy drinks as well. Being nervous about an interview is normal – attending one with the caffeine jitters will only heighten your anxiety level.

Practice Deep Breathing Techniques

Deep breathing can be done anytime, anywhere, even if you start to feel stressed in the waiting room before your job interview.
Start by sitting in a comfortable position with your back straight and your shoulders relaxed. While learning this technique, place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach (only until you’ve mastered it).

1. Inhale slowly through your nose while silently counting to four; the hand on your stomach should rise and the hand on your chest should not move very much.

2. Hold your breath for a silent count of two.

3. Exhale slowly through your mouth to the count of six, pushing out as much air as you can without blowing it out forcefully. The hand on your stomach should move in as you let your breath go, but the hand on your chest should not move very much.

4. Continue to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, keeping a slow, steady rate of the four-in, hold for two and six-out pattern until you feel calmer.

Plan Some Post-Interview Fun

Don’t make the interview the highlight of the day. While it’s important to your career and you naturally want to present yourself well, it’s likely not your first or last interview. Just about everyone has a story to tell about how they aced or bombed an interview, so put it behind you, hope for the best and plan to treat yourself to something you enjoy afterward.

Whatever you decide to do, you’ll have something to look forward to after you’ve finished with the interview. You may even be celebrating that it went better than you expected!


Tips for Managing Phone Anxiety

Tips for Managing Phone Anxiety

Millions of people dread using the phone. Full blown “telephonophobia” is characterized by feelings of panic, terror and anxiety attacks when faced with the prospect of talking on the phone. A lesser form of this, telephone apprehension, can still be nerve-wracking. The bad news is that you can’t cut out your dealings with the telephone entirely. The good news is that you can manage your anxiety and mitigate the effects of phone anxiety. Here are six tips for reining in your phone panic:

Examine Why You’re Afraid

Why are you really afraid of the phone? Is it part of a larger generalized anxiety disorder? Is it social anxiety – are you afraid of upsetting or being upset by the person on the other end of the line? Is it fear of miscommunicating? Is the sudden, unexpected and jarring sound of the ringer a trigger for your anxiety? Figure out what really bothers you about the phone and take steps to mitigate it, either alone or with your mental health care professional. Knowing exactly why you’re afraid can help you more easily manage your anxiety.

You Control Your Interactions

Reminding yourself that you are in complete control of your telephone interactions is a useful way to help quell phone anxiety. In today’s world where phones are ever-present and multi-functional, it can be hard to remember that phones are a tool for communication and nothing more. Because the phone is a tool, it only gets used when you want or need to use it.

You should be no more afraid of your phone than you are of your screwdriver. You can hang up at any time, call back at another time, silence the ringer if you don’t feel like answering calls or simply turn your phone off altogether. Voicemail and answering machines are also useful tools: if you don’t think you can face the phone at any given point, let the call go to voicemail and return it when you’ve gathered your willpower.

Practice What You’re Going to Say Before a Call

If your telephonophobia stems from the fear that you’re going to say the wrong thing, freeze up or be unable to communicate clearly and effectively, practice what you’re going to say before you pick up the phone. Grab a pen and paper and jot down some notes or talking points. Keep these notes in front of you when you’re speaking.

If you’re really worried, you can write out an entire script. Try to anticipate questions and how you’ll answer them. Practice saying the words out loud or in your head to give yourself more confidence in your phone interactions.

Make Yourself Comfortable

Stress takes a toll on you and avoiding the phone isn’t an option, so take control of the things you can. When you must speak on the telephone, sit in a place where you feel comfortable and at ease. Surround yourself with positive cues, like your favorite picture or object. Grab a glass of your favorite tea to calm your nerves and sip on while you speak. Wear comfortable clothes and light some incense or a candle or open a bottle of your favorite scented oil to soothe your nerves.

Increase Your Phone Use

One of the best ways to banish phone anxiety (or at least lessen it) is to face that fear head on as often as you can tolerate. Make more phone calls. If you have the option of phoning in an order for pizza or booking an appointment instead of entering the information online, do that. Call people you love regularly and engage in pleasant, uplifting conversations to increase your telephone confidence. The more successful conversations you complete, the more in control of your fear you’ll become.

Fake It ‘Til You Make It

Your emotions show through your voice. If you’re scared, nervous or anxious about talking on the phone, it will be apparent in your voice and the person on the other end of the line will pick up on it. It can set the tone – usually negative – for the interaction. If you can’t be calm, cool and confident on the phone, fake it.

Put on a smile, even a fake one: the act of smiling changes the way your voice sounds. Pause when you lose your train of thought instead of relying on filler words like “um,” “uh” and “like”. Enunciate clearly. Speak slowly and if you feel yourself speeding up, slow it down. Remember, you’re in control.

Look at the Big Picture

When you feel yourself getting anxious about the phone, look at the big picture. Your anxiety has probably already given you a million ideas about the worst possible scenario that could come of poor phone interactions. But in the long run, does it really matter if the pharmacist doesn’t like the way you talk on the phone?

One bad phone call or even multiple bad phone calls, are not the end of the world. Everyone fails from time to time, even those without phone anxiety. Even if the phone call is important, say for a job interview, what matters is that you’re getting better at controlling your anxiety, facing your fears and working on the skills you need.

The Bottom Line

While it’s not practical to avoid the phone entirely, there are ways to manage your anxiety or apprehension. Taking the steps toward self-care and self-soothing while talking on the phone can help you relax and mentally preparing yourself before and after phone interactions can help.

The more you face your fear of the phone, the easier it becomes to make and receive calls. Don’t give up – if you find your anxiety escalating, speak to your mental health care provider.


Overcoming Social Anxiety at the Gym

Overcoming Social Anxiety at the Gym

Getting regular exercise is an important component of staying healthy. However, when you have social anxiety, the thought of putting on workout clothes and heading to the gym can be enough to make you decide not to bother with going out to exercise at all.

If you have concerns that people at the gym may be looking at you and judging you as you are doing your routine, you are definitely not alone. Many people feel overwhelmed when entering a gym – especially if it appears to be full of members who look as though they don’t really need to be working out – people who are obviously in great physical shape.

Maybe entering a gym is intimidating because you don’t know how to use the equipment efficiently. With these types of thoughts rolling around in your mind, the thought of actually speaking to someone you encounter at the gym is even more off-putting. The good news is that there are steps you can take to help you overcome social anxiety at the gym. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

Keep your Focus on Improving Your Health

When you step into the gym, try not to think about the other members. Your focus should be squarely on you and your health and fitness goals. You’ve made a choice to improve your health, improve your muscle tone, relieve stress, lower your blood pressure or lose weight (if that is part of your plan).

Increasing your level of physical activity will also help you to feel less anxious over time, which is an additional bonus on top of the other health benefits you’ll get from making trips to the gym part of your regular routine.

Schedule a Session with a Personal Trainer

As a new member, you’ll want to get some instruction about the best type of workout to help you achieve your fitness goals. The gym may give you a preferred rate on one or more sessions with a personal trainer.

You can use this time to map out a workout routine and get to know how to use the equipment properly. When the time comes to work out on your own, you’ll feel more confident about stepping up to the machines on your own.

If you can’t afford a session with a personal trainer, ask whether an employee can take you around and give you the rundown about how each piece of equipment works. The management wants you to be happy as a new member and you’ll get the added benefit of getting to know a staff member you can greet by name the next time you go in for a workout.

Sign up for an Exercise Class

The good thing about an exercise class is that you’re working out with a group and that everyone is learning something new together.

You won’t be expected to be an expert and the instructor will be happy to help you if you get stuck. Once the class starts, the participants will be too busy focusing on following what’s going on to be thinking about what anyone else is doing, so there’ll be no reason to worry about how you’re doing.

Do Smile at Staff and Fellow Members

Even if you find it challenging to speak in social situations, you can try smiling at the gym staff and fellow members when you’re at the gym. In most instances, the gym staff will be quite friendly and may even say, “Hello” or ask you how your day or workout is going.

Most of the staff will be aware that you’re a new member, so one or more will probably make an effort to ask whether you’re enjoying everything at the gym or if you have any questions. You may find it easier to communicate if someone else initiates the conversation. The first few times you speak to someone at the gym, you may decide to keep these encounters short.

Once you start to feel more comfortable in the surroundings, you can start to make conversations longer by asking questions, such as asking a staff member about other classes you could take or how to determine when to increase the number of repetitions (reps) of a certain exercise. If you’re talking to a fellow member, you could ask what they think of a particular piece of equipment or whether they have been a member for a long time — adding that you’re trying to get a feel for the place.

Most people are happy to give new members both encouragement and helpful opinions and suggestions without much prompting, so this can be a good way to start a conversation without having to do “all the work.”