Social Anxiety in the Digital Age

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By Betty Vine

The Internet has changed our social landscape—especially how we communicate—in both subtle and seismic ways. We text instead of call. We like, share, tweet, post, snap, pin, and swipe. Even when we’re physically together, our eyes remain affixed to our screens.

It only makes sense, then, that social anxiety may also manifest differently in a digital world. Such a change doesn’t necessitate an entirely new diagnostic category. Rather, the same symptoms might find different avenues for expression and different catalysts for their continued existence.

The DSM-5 defines social anxiety disorder as a “persistent fear of one or more social or performance situations in which the person is exposed to unfamiliar people or to possible scrutiny by others.” This anxiety interferes with normal functioning and generally persists for six months or more. It’s also one of the more common anxiety disorders: Estimates suggest about 7 percent of American adults will be affected in a given year, and about 12 percent over a lifetime.

Some degree of social anxiety is adaptive: It “serves a very important survival function for humans,” explains Stefan G. Hofmann, director of the Psychotherapy and Emotion Research Laboratory at Boston University’s Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders. “In fact, in the normal progression of children, the natural stages include separation anxiety, stranger anxiety—all forms of social anxiety. These are very important features. If they’re missing, something is seriously wrong with the child.”

But there’s a threshold at which social anxiety exceeds its evolutionary function and becomes maladaptive, even debilitating. The same is essentially true of our social media use. Social networking is ubiquitous because we all share the need to belong, says Hofmann. Social networks enable this connection and facilitate our ability to meet social needs. “The problem arises,” Hofmann continues, “when people aren’t actually living their real life because they spend so much time on social media.”

Might sufferers of social anxiety—many of whom find online communication less threatening than in-person interaction—spend so much time on social media that they aren’t actually living and thriving “IRL”?

Digital technology is a double-edged sword, perhaps especially as it interacts with socially phobic behaviors. “It’s hard to speak in generalities about this,” as though it were universally good or bad, explains Franklin Schneier, co-director of Columbia University’s Anxiety Disorders Clinic. Yes, Internet use can be a maladaptive avoidance behavior for people with social anxiety. On the other hand, he says, “You may have someone who was so shy that they really would have had very little opportunity to socially interact. And for them, being able to be online is not avoidance, but actually improving their opportunity for interaction.”

Some research supports the idea that many individuals with social anxiety prefer communicating online. A 2016 meta-analysis in the journal Computers in Human Behavior showed a correlation “between social anxiety and feelings of comfort online.” Computer mediated communication offers a few key features that may appeal to socially anxious individuals: “text-based communication with reduced audio and visual cues,” “anonymity,” and asynchronicity (i.e., there is no immediate need to respond). In other words, some of the social cues required of face-to-face communication are absent. These cues often present a source of worry and discomfort for the highly socially anxious. “Gestures, facial expressions, eye contact … these are the subtle features of social interactions that people with social anxiety disorder will often have a problem with,” says Hofmann. It makes sense, then, that they might feel more comfortable in a digital environment.

But this preference for online communication does not necessarily confer any mental health benefits. The aforementioned meta-analysis actually found a modest correlation between social anxiety and pathological Internet use (PIU). (In this context, “problematic” refers to impaired impulse controland withdrawal symptoms with regard to internet use.)

“Arguably,” the study authors write, “socially anxious individuals … feel more comfortable online. Consequently, they may begin to rely on [computer-mediated communication] while increasingly avoiding [face-to-face] interactions.” A study in Personality and Individual Differences found that “individuals higher in social anxiety who frequently engage in online communication report lower levels of self-esteem satisfaction and higher levels of depression, suggesting that their attempts to compensate for offline social inadequacies may fail to improve wellbeing.”

Of course, digital technology also offers new therapeutic avenues. For instance, cognitive behavioral therapy can be delivered via the Internet. As Schneier points out, “Given that most people with social anxiety and other psychiatric conditions actually don’t get treatment at all, if you could make this kind of treatment more widely accessible with a low bar of cost and a low risk of stigma, that could have a positive effect.” Furthermore, he says, researchers have developed “computer-based tasks that might help different aspects of anxiety, like helping people to train their attention away from negative stimuli,” as well as virtual reality exposure therapy that can simulate “public speaking environments and social gathering environments.” And while “most of these things can be done without virtual reality,” it can serve as a kind of “stepping stone to the more critical real-life exposures.”

“Real-life” (in vivo) exposures are still the gold standard for treating social anxiety, because “real life” interactions—not VR simulations—are ultimately the source of one’s fear. As a therapeutic tool, it forces patients to directly confront and engage with reality, to gather evidence that the catastrophic outcomes they imagine are unlikely, and to build trust in their own ability to cope.

Beyond its use in treatment, though, face-to-face communication more generally is our natural preference, despite the ease of online interaction. Why else do people travel thousands of miles for conferences when they could just have a webinar, asks Hofmann. Why do we show up to weddings and births when we could just Skype in?

In part, it’s because “we’re evolutionarily programmed to be with somebody in real life,” Hofmann argues. “Physical proximity is directly related to connectedness, to how you actually feel with somebody. A person’s smell, eye contact, little facial cues that suggest emotionality, a person’s oddities, all of that. You can never recreate it in an electronic form.”

Like a diet deficient in key vitamins, unfit to meet our evolved needs, an online-only social diet lacks essential nutrients, allowing us to keep sucking air but not to flourish. This idea may hold true for all of us, but it’s perhaps especially concerning for socially anxious people who rely on the Internet to meet their social needs because of the synchronicity and anonymity it affords.

Betty Vine is a former PT Editorial Intern.

How Habits Become Your Destiny

Author Article
By Susanna Newsonen

Habits are a part of everyone’s life. We all have them, we all know of them, and most of us tend to complain about them. Yet not many of us take the time to learn about them. If we did, we would be a lot more successful with building good habits and eliminating bad ones.

With 40 percent of your daily behavior being based on habits, it’s important to stop and take stock of what they actually are. Imagine if 90 percent of that 40 percent is all bad habits, or habits that are holding you back? That’s not a fun nor productive place to be.

That’s why it’s important to become your very own social scientist for your own life. Explore what your habits are, how they have been built, and whether they are good or bad for you. This is where you have to start. Without the self-awareness and the breaking down of the habits, it’s very difficult to start changing your habits or adding new ones in.

To help you get started, I have three questions for you to use when you start exploring your habits:

1. Is this habit helping me to be happier, healthier or more successful?

If the answer is no, it’s obvious you’ve got to let it go. The only tricky part is you can’t just eliminate it because it’s an existing neural pathway in your brain. Instead, you’ve got to dress that bad habit in new overalls to turn it into a good habit you want to keep.

2. How is my habit formed?

Without understanding what your habit consists of it’s impossible to change it or adapt it. This is where Charles Duhigg’s habit loop comes in, with each habit having a cue (a consistent time, location, emotion, person or activity), a routine (the actual behavior) and a reward (some sense of satisfaction). The key is realising that even the bad habits have a reward even though we might not label them as such.

3. Do I want to change one or more habits in my life?

No one can tell you what habits you should or shouldn’t have. You know what is best for your body and being, and you know what habits you are happy to involve in your life. When you’re deciding whether to change a bad habit or to add a new good habit into your life, make sure you have a clear why behind it. Doing it “because someone said so” isn’t going to keep you motivated through your habit change.

The most important thing to remember is that habit change is possible. Even though it’s difficult at the start, the more you stick with it, the easier it becomes. There are lots of different tools and strategies to test when it comes to changing habits and building new ones successfully, but before all that comes the understanding of what habits actually are, how they are formed, and how you can override the neural pathways of bad habits.

Then, like Aristotle said, you’ll be on your way to excellence: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

Why You Should Work Less and Spend More Time on Hobbies

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By Gaetano DiNardi

As professionals around the world feel increasingly pressed for time, they’re giving up on things that matter to them. A recent HBR article noted that in surveys, most people “could name several activities, such as pursuing a hobby, that they’d like to have time for.”

This is more significant than it may sound, because it isn’t just individuals who are missing out. When people don’t have time for hobbies, businesses pay a price. Hobbies can make workers substantially better at their jobs. I know this from personal experience. I’ve always loved playing the guitar and composing. But just like workers everywhere, I can fall into the trap of feeling that I have no time to engage in it. As head of demand generation for Nextiva, I have enough on my plate to keep me busy around the clock. I can easily fall into the trap of the “72-hour workweek,” which takes into account time people spend connected to work on our phones outside of official work hours.

When I crash, there’s always the temptation to do something sedentary and mindless. It’s little surprise that watching TV is by far the most popular use of leisure time in the U.S. and tops the list elsewhere as well, including Germany and England.

But by spending time on music, I boost some of my most important workplace skills.

Creativity. To stand out and compete in today’s crowded and constantly changing business environment, organizations need new, innovative ideas that will rise above the noise. I’m tasked with constantly looking for new ways to attract attention from potential buyers. But coming up with a fully original idea can be difficult when your mind is filled with targets, metrics, and deadlines.

A creative hobby pulls you out of all that. Whether you’re a musician, artist, writer, or cook, you often start with a blank canvas in your mind. You simply think: What will I create that will evoke the emotion I’m going for?

It’s no surprise that by giving yourself this mental space, and focusing on feelings, you can reawaken your creativity. Neuroscientists have found that rational thought and emotions involve different parts of the brain. For the floodgates of creativity to open, both must be in play.

Perspective. One of the trickiest tasks in the creative process is thinking through how someone else would experience your idea. But in doing creative hobbies, people think that way all the time. A potter imagines how the recipient of a vase would respond to it. A mystery novelist considers whether an unsuspecting reader will be surprised by a plot twist.

When I take a break from work to go make music, I reconnect with that perspective. I keep thinking about how someone hearing my song for the first time might respond. I do all I can to see (or hear) the world through someone else’s eyes (or ears). Then, when I resume the work project, I take that mentality with me.

Confidence. When I face a tough challenge at work and feel stymied, I can start to question whether I’ll ever figure out a successful solution. It’s easy to lose creative confidence. But after an hour of shredding on the guitar, hitting notes perfectly, I’m feeling good. I can tell that my brain was craving that kind of satisfaction. And when I face that work project again, I bring the confidence with me.

It turns out people like me have been studied. In one study, researchers found that “creative activity was positively associated with recovery experiences (i.e., mastery, control, and relaxation) and performance‐related outcomes (i.e., job creativity and extra‐role behaviors).” In fact, they wrote, “Creative activity while away from work may be a leisure activity that provides employees essential resources to perform at a high level.”

So to my fellow professionals, I highly recommend taking some time to keep up your creative hobby. It doesn’t have to be long. A study found that spending 45 minutes making art helps boost someone’s confidence and ability to complete tasks.

I also suggest you encourage your business to celebrate employees’ hobbies. Zappos puts employee artwork up on its walls and encourages people to decorate their desks in whatever ways they wish. Some businesses hold talent shows. Even employees who may not have these kinds of talents should be encouraged to do something that feels creative and fun. Some CEOs spend time on their own hobbies, setting the right example.

And when you find a little time for a creative hobby break, make it guilt free. After all, when you do this, everyone stands to gain.

Last week we talked about obtaining goals. To continue on that path let’s talk about setting your priorities. Going from day to day without a set plan makes us lose control of our time. To be able to do what is necessary we need to set our general priorities first. There are different ways to […]

via Focus on the important things in life —

Surprising Countries Where U.S. Citizens Need an Advance Visa

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Many countries require U.S. travelers to present entry visas on arrival.

U.S. passport owners have the privilege of being able to visit various countries—among them CanadaMexicoFranceItalyBelizeIcelandNew Zealand, and more—without needing a visa. However, a number of international destinations do require that travelers with U.S. passports purchase tourist visas before entering the country. Here’s what you need to know about a few of the more frequently visited countries that require visas from U.S. citizens upon arrival.


Before heading to the Land Down Under, travelers with U.S. passports must apply for an electronic authorization from the Australian government known as the Electronic Travel Authority (ETA). You can purchase an Australian ETA online up to—but no later than—24 hours in advance of your departure. Electronic tourist visas are valid for one year and permit multiple stays of up to 90 days in Australia. They currently cost $20 per person.


Although U.S. passport holders can obtain visas on arrival at the Bolivian border, the extensive paperwork you need to have with you can complicate matters, which is why it can be better to apply for a Bolivian tourist visa online or at a consulate in advance. To enter Bolivia, U.S. citizens must provide a completed application form, a passport-size headshot, evidence of hotel reservations (or a letter of invitation to stay at a private residence), proof of sufficient funds and departure tickets, a photocopy of your passport, plus a yellow fever vaccination certificate. All of this is in addition to a fee of $160, which is only accepted in cash at the border.


A Brazilian tourist visa costs $44 for two-year entry or $160 for 10-year entry, and it can be applied for online or at a Brazilian embassy at least one month before travel. In early 2019, Brazil’s Foreign Ministry announced that the country will soon eliminate visa requirements for visitors from the United States (as well as from Canada, Japan, and Australia). However, timelines for this change have not yet been announced, which means that until further notice, U.S. passport holders must still obtain travel visas prior to arrival in Brazil.

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Non-business travelers with U.S. passports are permitted to visit Hong Kong visa-free (for stays of up to 90 days). But to enter China’s mainland, U.S. passport holders must purchase an entry visa through the Chinese embassy no less than one month before their trip. China’s required visas currently cost $140 and allow for multiple entries to the country over the course of 10 years as long as the U.S. passport has a remaining validity of one year at the time the tourist visa is issued.


Cuba might be the least surprising country to appear on this list due to its complicated history of travel regulations with the United States. But U.S. passport holders can visit the Caribbean island nation—they just have to adhere to a few specific requirements for entry, the first of which includes applying for a Cuban Tourist Card (sometimes referred to as a Cuban visa). These tourist cards can be purchased online and grant visitors a maximum stay of 30 days on the island. They’re valid for 180 days after purchase, which means you will need to travel within six months of obtaining the document. (Learn more about the legwork required to visit Cuba here.)

India’s visa application process changes frequently, so the Indian embassy in Washington, D.C. urges travelers to check its website for updates before planning a trip. At the moment, however, India’s tourist visa regulations are as follows: U.S. citizens can apply online for an electronic travel authorization referred to as an “e-Visa” up to four days before arrival in India, but no more than 30 days before travel. The e-Visa costs $100 and is valid for 60 days upon entry to India. (Be prepared to present a printed copy at customs in the international airport.)

Just as with Australia and India, U.S. citizens planning trips to Vietnam have the option to apply for an e-Visa—also referred to as a “visa on arrival”—online and in advance. Acquiring this e-Visa, which is valid for stays of up to 30 days, requires paying two fees: one “visa letter service fee” at the time of application and another “stamping fee” upon arrival in Vietnam. (The cost varies depending on length of travel and other factors—see more information here.) It’s important to note that Vietnam’s online visa approval process only applies to air travelers who arrive at one of the country’s international airports in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, or Da Nang; travelers arriving by land or sea must apply for a visa through a Vietnam embassy.

For the full list of countries requiring tourist visas from U.S. citizens, including Russia, Nepal, and Tanzania, click here.

44 Things To Do In Your 20s Besides Getting Engaged

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By Molly Burford

1. Adopt a puppy and grow old together.

2. Build a life that is based on your interests, your goals, and yourloves (and not what someone else thinks you should be interested, strive for, or love).

3. Fall in love with your career.

4. Design a home that is a reflection of you, be that a studio apartment or two bedroom house.

5. Find a kickass group of friends.

6. Learn a new language.

7. Become the fittest and healthiest version of yourself.

8. Learn what your standards are and stick to them.

9. Travel alone so you can decide whether or not you hate or love traveling without the pressure of another person.

10. Buy yourself flowers.

11. Actually establish healthy routines and habits that have nothing to do with looking good in your wedding photos.

12. Throw monthly dinner parties for all of the friends who became family.

13. Put together a skincare routine, even if it’s just three to four products.

14. Learn how to cook…like really cook.

15. Keep a journal.

16. Figure out a cleaning routine so you’re not the messy one when you live with someone again.

17. Learn your love language so you can be a better partner.

18. Go to fucking therapy.

19. Try new hobbies so you have an answer besides, “Watch TV” to “What do you do for fun?”

20. Go on a lot of dates for no other reason than to meet someone new. No expectations, just to build the practice.

21. Build a library of the books that shaped you, shook you, and changed you.

22. Learn how the political structure in your country works so you actually know what’s going on.

23. Volunteer and make a difference in your community.

24. Go to movies alone. Eat alone. Do the things that used to make you feel insecure about your singleness by yourself.

25. Keep a list of things you’ve already done like places traveled, accomplishments, random adventures, and then you can look at it if you feel “behind.”

26. Learn what kind of sex YOU like to have independent of what a specific partner’s preferences are.

27. Understand that your life is never going to look the way you think it should, but learn to work with what you’ve got anyway.

28. Meditate.

29. Take one of your historic weaknesses and, like, seriously try to work on it.

30. Travel as much as possible. It’s a lot simpler to do before you have a kid (or pets) and a mortgage.

31. Know what it means to live within your means and then do so.

32. Keep a bucket list (but for your 20s) of places you want to visit and the things you want to do – and actually work on doing those just for fun.

33. Find a self-care practice or a set of practices that work for you and make a commitment to do them weekly. Make self-care a priority in your twenties so you know how to take care of yourself with or without a relationship. Learn how to put self-soothing and anxiety releasing practices like meditation or yoga in your toolbox. Your mental and emotional well-being depend on it.

34. Be the best bridesmaid or groomsman you can possibly be. Appreciate love even when you’re not in it.

35. Learn to listen more than you speak, but understand when it’s necessary to speak up.

36. Find healthy and constructive outlets for stress.

37. Spend time with your parents. Ask them questions about themselves, their lives, their beliefs, their past. Learn from them. Just because you’re growing up doesn’t mean they still can’t teach you something. Your relationship with your parents is always going to evolve the older you get, embrace it.

38. Let people know how you much you love and appreciate them.

39. Figure out your values and commit to honoring them as much as possible.

40. Forgive yourself for all the times you didn’t get it right.

41. Dance a Saturday night away with your best friends and end the night with a drunken heart to heart eating McDonald’s on your bedroom floor.

42. Get lost in your local library and check out any book that sounds interesting to you.

43. Find hobbies you actually enjoy, and not just because it would look cool on Instagram.

44. Sit with yourself. Get to know yourself inside and out. Become so familiar with who you are that no one can shake you because your self-awareness and identity are that strong.