Q. Dear Dr. Richards,
My problem is this. I returned to college at the beginning of this year in hopes of finishing finally. I did well the first and summer semesters, but throughout the fall I was absolutely horrible. I began to miss classes and avoid doing any of the work.
Of course the SAD influenced some of this, but I wonder if all can be explained by this? Is there a element of ADD or the likes of major procrastination in SAD? I have been experiencing lack of focus to some extent as well as procrastination all my life. Now with this semester I have basically flunked out and have no motivation to do much of anything. Could it be that I am just a lazy person? I would like to think not, especially since I seem to care about the problem. I am not depressed in any way. I just seem to have no motivation and direction at all. It is a very disheartening thing. Can you or anyone provide insight into this?
A. Hi Daniel:
Procrastination is a problem for many people, but seems to affect people with social anxiety disproportionately. "Major procrastination", as you put it, is certainly a part of some people's social anxiety symptoms. Giving in to procrastination leads to lack of motivation, which, in turn, leads to more procrastination. This is another negative vicious cycle that social anxiety disorder creates and continues to fuel. The longer you allow yourself to procrastinate, the more severe it makes social anxiety, which, in turn, causes more procrastination.
The solution to procrastination is, in therapy language, to do the OPPOSITE of what you feel like doing. No complaining, no video games, no television, just make yourself go to the computer and do what you need to do. Stop all the negativity, stop all the excuses you've used in the past. Just go over and start your work. Once you start it, it all becomes easier. This is also a good example of "acting against your negative emotions". When you act against this symptom of social anxiety, you will feel better almost immediately.
No, your behavior cannot be explained by "I am just a lazy person". You are not lazy or you would not want to change. Procrastination feeds itself off itself. The more you procrastinate, the easier it is to do in the future. However, the more you just stop the thinking...and start the doing, the better you will feel and the more energy and motivation you will have. Act against your negative emotions. Stop the excessive thinking, the worry, and the doubts. Just go over and do it. You will notice an immediate change. Your motivation and energy will come back to you as you move forward.
Why live for days and hours in anxious anticipation of something you can deal with right now? Stop your negative thinking and worry, and just do what you can do. Now. Right this very moment.
By responding to procrastination and anxiety in this way, you will change your life forever.
Q. Hi Dr. Richards, I know I've already mentioned this but I'm so happy I found you! I'd like to tell you a little about myself so that you could tell me if I have social anxiety or "generalized" social anxiety. I'm 34 yrs old and have suffered from social anxiety from since I can remember. But it never stopped me from going or doing anything. I attended every party/gathering I was invited to and still do. When I was in my teenage years that would mean having diarhea and major butterflies before the event...but I still went. Later blushing became a big issue. Anybody that would say hello to me I would turn tomatoe red. Now, at 34 my social anxiety still persists except like I said it doesn't stop me from doing anything (I won't let it be that much in control of my life) except make new friends .....oh and the blushing is still there.
1. I have a hard time being comfortable in front of people I think are better than me. I can't look at them in the eyes and I feel they can see I'm uncomfortable and that makes them uncomfortable so making friends doesn't happen so easily. Plus I'm afraid of rejection so I don't make such a big effort. I feel very unpopular and think about it a lot. Question: Do you know if people can really tell I'm uncomfortable?
2. The blushing is still awful. If I bump into someone unexpectadly at the mall, I'll turn red,red, red!! I can't control that....I hate it! I wonder if it's something I can eventually control ... because I know there's no reason to blush, but I can't help it! It's then hard to make small talk when I know I'm so red in the face! Any tips on that?
Again, it doesn't stop me from doing anything, I just hate the feelings I feel when I'm in that situation and I feel because I'm so uncomfortable it shows and I can't make friends. And the blushing really bothers me. ... do you think I have social anxiety or generalized social anxiety??
Thanks a lot!
A. Dear Megan:
Terminology can be a problem here. Generalized social anxiety is a subset of social anxiety disorder. The vast majority of people with social anxiety disorder have the "generalized" form of it. This is what you are personally describing in your letter. You would most likely meet the definition of social anxiety disorder (according to the DSM-IV) if we had a diagnostic session together.
All of this is changeable, however. The brain is plastic, malleable, and can be changed. With the appropriate therapy and willingness to carry it through on your part, you can learn to overcome social anxiety.