Social anxiety disorder is a real condition where a person becomes anxious in social situations. It stems from a phobia of doing something that’s humiliating or embarrassing. Shyness is different. Shyness doesn’t have the same level of fear and avoidance. Shyness doesn’t keep you from being able to function, but it can make it very difficult.
Whether your dad has social anxiety disorder or is just extremely shy, it can make it very hard for him to participate in social activities.
There are things you can do to help.
Could It Be Social Anxiety Disorder?
Read these three statements from the Mini-SPIN (Social Phobia Inventory) and have your dad give each one a rate of 0 to 4 with 4 being “extremely likely” and 0 being “never.”
1. I avoid activities where I am the primary focus of other’s attention.
2. I am terrified that others will see my embarrassment or think I look/act ridiculous.
3. Those fears keep me from wanting to talk to or do things for/with others.
If your dad gets a 6 or higher on this test, it’s likely he has social anxiety disorder. If that’s the case, take him to see his doctor and ask for a referral to a specialist who deals in anxiety. Therapy can help him overcome some of his fears.
What if He’s Just Shy?
If it is extreme shyness, don’t push too hard. You don’t want him to shut down and refuse to do anything. Instead of forcing him to attend a large event where he won’t know everyone, hold a family reunion where he knows people. Help him gain confidence as he socializes with your cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandchildren.
Don’t leave your dad alone at a social gathering. Be there for him to lean on. If you need to step away for a minute, have a sibling or other close family member take your place while you’re doing whatever is needed.
While you’re there for him, pay attention to his signals. If he seems to be getting nervous or anxious, leave the room or building. Take him outside or to a quieter place to collect himself. If he says he really needs to go home, don’t force him to stay. Have someone take him home if you can’t.
Don’t force your dad into a large social gathering. Start small. If you don’t have enough time, bring a senior care aide into his life. In addition to helping him around the home, the caregiver can take your dad on short outings into the public.
He could start by attending a fitness class at a senior center to boost his confidence and go from there. Verify that the class only has a few people that tend to show up. The senior care aide is there for companionship and support as he gets used to attending gatherings. Call to learn more about our senior care providers.