Q: Whenever I discuss shidduchim with my twenty-two-year-old daughter, she becomes nervous and panicky. She blushes when she even talks about meeting someone new and I notice her palms get all sweaty. She has always had trouble making friends and prefers small groups to large ones, but her fear of shidduchim is holding her back from meeting her future chosson. I keep telling her to relax and be herself, but I just don’t think I am getting through to her. Is there anything I can do?
A: While I cannot know for sure without having met your daughter, it sounds like she has some form of social anxiety. In 2001, in The New York Times, Margaret Talbot reported that around 13% of the population is affected by social phobias. While social anxiety was originally considered a rare condition, in the late 90s, psychologists, teachers, and parents began to identify it as a much more common issue. Social phobias are characterized not only by nervousness when in social situations or when forced to give a presentation or speech, but also by a powerful desire to avoid most situations that involve interacting with others.
People who believe they might have social phobia exhibit some the following symptoms:
- Frequently blushing in front of people
- Sweating in front of people
- Trembling or shaking in front of others
- Heart palpitations around people
- Fear of embarrassment causes them to avoid speaking to people
- Aversion to speaking to anyone in authority
- Going to great lengths to avoid criticism
- Excessive fear of strangers
Many people might exhibit one or two symptoms of social anxiety – after all, who isn’t sometimes uncomfortable when talking to strangers? However, it is the severity of the fear and the frequency of these reactions that classify people with social anxiety.
Here are some suggestions for helping your daughter deal with her social anxiety:
- Raise awareness. Many people are not aware that social anxiety exists. Helping your daughter understand that what she is feeling is relatable and treatable may relieve some of the stress that she feels.
- Reframe thoughts. Your daughter can recognize that her thoughts cause her feelings and behaviors, rather than external things, such as people, situations, and events. The benefit of this recognition is that once she realizes that the way she thinks influences the way she feels, she can then function even if the situation does not change.
- Social skills training. Through role-playing and interactive activities, your daughter can learn communication skills. If she understands that she has these skills in her social arsenal, she will feel more in control when she meets someone for the first time.
- Breathing exercises. Teaching your daughter relaxation breathing can help reduce the physical symptoms of anxiety. This will, in turn, help her calm her mind when it begins to race.
Most importantly, it is integral to take your daughter’s fear seriously. If you minimize her anxiety, you will only be sending her the message that you do not recognize the very real emotions she is experiencing. Validate her feelings and then work with her to overcome them. Soon, she’ll be on her way to meeting the perfect chosson – just in time for Tu B’Av.