It has come to my attention that I suffer a miniature panic attack whenever I have to write an article. Being a professional writer, I have these fairly often. Each assignment starts off seeming like a huge task, an uncalculated risk and a new venture into uncharted territory. I spend hours agonizing over what I have to do, uncertain of whether I will conquer it or epically fail, disgraced never to write again.
But that would be silly, so I pull myself up, sit myself down, and force myself to begin. Somehow, shortly after, writing stops being a daunting task, evolving into a pleasurable activity. Why is that?
I think it has something to do with “social anxiety disorder,” or as others call it, social phobia. Writing, for the most part, is a reclusive activity. It is one person sitting in front of their computer, notepad, or tablet with their thoughts. Yet as soon as an article is published, it becomes public, open for readership, feedback and, of course, criticism. Essentially, writing is putting your personal thoughts into the public domain.
Social anxiety disorders are characterized by extreme mental discomfort in social settings. Note that they are not a prerequisite for or a synonym to shyness. Social settings, thanks in part to social media and networking, are no longer exclusively person to person, and can be just as intimidating online as in real life. Yet, the causes of anxiety disorders are not clearly understood.
In a nutshell, here is what we know so far.
The corticolimbic and corticostriatal circuits are responsible for a range of cognitive and affective processes and are composed of the temporal brain structures such as the prefrontal cortex, hippocampus, the amygdala, and striatum. Together, they impact attention, memory, judgement, and interpretation about the self as well as others. Anxiety disorders cause these circuits to send distorted information in response to external stimuli, that can be negative as well as neutral, causing the person to experience abnormal reactions to otherwise normal stimuli.
The treatment options for social anxiety disorder include, but are not limited, to psychotherapy, medication, lifestyle coaching, or all of the above. (There is also a colored light therapy called “syntonics.”) Those who suffer from anxiety often undergo cognitive behavior therapy that aims to change the thought patterns and physical responses to anxiety-inducing situations. Because our brains create new neural pathways with every experience, we can ultimately impact the way our brain processes these situations.
When writers write, creativity and the process of learning itself, create a positive emotional response in the brain. It’s what makes letting go of the fear of writing possible. Sharing this information with others, especially if it receives positive feedback increases the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter possessing an active role in reinforcement, pleasure, motivation, perseverance, and resilience in the face of challenges.
Social anxiety disorder is often described as the “illness of lost opportunities.” If I gave into my social anxiety, I could never write again, depriving myself of one of my greatest joys, never mind my meal ticket. It would prevent me from being able to publish my work, rendering me, in my eyes, useless to society. Yet my regular perseverance over my anxiety, not only makes it possible for me to actively pursue my occupation, it makes it easier with each assignment.