People, can at times, be a source of anxiety for those suffering from panic disorder. Many people with panic disorder suffer from some aspect of social anxiety.
Moreover, poor communication with other people can at times be immensely frustrating and certainly can make anyone more anxious, especially if one is prone to anxiety.
You might be wondering how poor communication relates to social anxiety and panic disorder?
Well, as mentioned in another article, a panic attack is the result of the “Fight or Flight Response”. This response is exactly what can get activated when we encounter a considerably negative situation or person where poor communication is at play.
But the great news is that you can learn techniques which can change how you react to these situations without becoming defensive. You don’t have to fuel your anxiety.
From the perspective of a former anxiety and panic attack sufferer like myself, the communication techniques shared by Dr. David Burns, M.D. are an example of such techniques.
Let me provide an illustration followed by an example…
I’m sure you have come across persons in your life who were good at handling trying situations involving communication. You may have noticed that they were not defensive. They remained calm even when dealing with very challenging people. If you look back on situations involving this type of person, you might recognize that by not having taken a defensive stance they allowed the other person to feel that they were heard. Even though they may not have agreed with everything stated by the other person, allowing them to express themselves can be helpful for the other person to feel heard.
Now let’s look at an example. Imagine you are employed by a company, and it is time for your annual performance review. You meet with your boss to receive your evaluation. In his review, your boss has revealed some criticisms about certain aspects of your job performance.
Naturally this would be frustrating. Not necessarily because the criticisms are invalid. Not necessarily because the feedback isn’t useful. But, because, your interpretation of his feedback is that it is unfair, so you therefore feel the need to defend yourself.
So what do you do?
First, realize that it is important not to take a defensive stance because that will simply make things worse. Instead, find a common point with your boss. In other words, you need to find something in the feedback that you can agree with. Even some grain of truth.
For example, let’s say that one piece of feedback provided in your performance appraisal is that you take too long to prepare a certain type of report, which is a required part of your position. Upon hearing this, you immediately think “that’s unfair” or “that’s untrue”.
But using proper communication strategies, instead of reacting in this way, you can agree and say something like:
“I appreciate the feedback and this is helpful for me to improve my performance. I have been working on this area and would appreciate some suggestions on how I can set some goals to improve in this area” In this regard, you are not being defensive but you are also making the point that you are making a sincere effort in this area.
This will probably lead to a more positive conversation with your supervisor – much more helpful than simply closing down to the feedback!
Some clarifications: While it is probably accurate that there can be some grain of truth found in something the other person said, I’m not suggesting that you should agree with EVERYTHING the other person is saying; just SOME of it.
I’m also not suggesting that other people are ALWAYS right.
Resisting the temptation to go on the defensive, however, and finding something to agree with can lead to a better result in the end. It can actually allow you to express yourself better too. And doing so means that you will not have nearly as much anxiety in such situations.
Furthermore, by finding a grain of truth in what the other person is saying – even it’s a minuscule point of agreement – there is some agreement, they feel heard, and you’re not being defensive.
A great way of improving your handling of difficult communication situations is to role play with another person, or even yourself. While you role-play, remember and try to mimic the non-defensive person I mentioned.
You can even write out an imaginary dialogue for possible situations in future. Practice what you’ll say and how you will not be defensive.
I’m not suggesting that such communication strategies are always easy to employ, but, over time, they are a great skill that can serve to reduce your anxiety, while also improving your communication with others bringing you closer together. Another useful book in this regard is Intimate Connections by Dr. David Burns. I would recommend it if your communication with others close to you is quite problematic – and you would like to further improve in this area.
I would encourage you to click here to see part II of this article which discusses another helpful communication strategy for dealing with social anxiety and panic disorder.
But, before you go…This is just a reminder that you can stay up to date on a wide range of tips and information by joining the Panic Attack Recovery Newsletter. Just enter your email address in the box below.
Burns, D.D. (1989). The Feeling Good Handbook. New York, NY: Penguin Books USA Inc.