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Finding new ways to handle crippling social anxiety

Dear Annie: As birthdays and important holidays approach, like the recent Father’s Day, I am forced to reanalyze my social anxiety all over again. I know I should call friends and family members to let them know I’m thinking about them, but I get butterflies in my stomach and put it off for hours because I feel like I never know what to say. When it comes to disagreements with anyone, I shake in my boots at the thought of arguing and causing a rift, so I will often let things that bother me go without telling the person when they’ve hurt me. Strangers are, of course, tougher.

Family is one of the most important things to me, so I want to maintain strong relationships with them and not let months go by without talking, but I don’t know how to get over my silly fear of conversations. Currently, I don’t have the money for counseling. Do you have any ideas or words of comfort for anyone struggling with this? — Desperate to Change

Dear Desperate to Change: Making up your mind to change is the first and hardest step when you want to change. You are already halfway to being able to reach out comfortably to family and friends. I applaud your desire to change. Some simple breathing exercises might help you take the edge off. Regular exercise and a healthy diet also help.

Try to take the focus off of yourself, and what you are feeling, and instead focus on how you want to make your friends and loved ones feel appreciated. Express how much you care about them; it’ll leave both parties feeling great.

If you can’t afford counseling, check out local support groups, perhaps as part of a church or a 12-step organization, that offer support for people with anxiety. You are not alone.

Dear Annie: My husband and I are in our 80s. When we were young, we enjoyed the usual sexual activities. As we became older, my husband’s ability to have that kind of sex diminished. I did not initiate it because I was afraid that his not being able to perform would depress him. Drugs helped, but he did not like the side effects. We just cuddled and kissed.

In the last couple of months, we discovered that we both could experience great pleasure by fondling each other. It is fun to play with each other while watching TV, lying in bed or just standing in the kitchen.

We want to invite others who have not discovered this different kind of sexual activity to give it a try. I know some women in my generation feel uncomfortable with erotic pursuits, but the ability to give and receive this kind of pleasure can make one’s senior years more enjoyable. You don’t have to worry about getting pregnant or a sexually transmitted infection. The pleasure can last much longer than when we were young. Try it. You will like it. — Happy Grandmother

Dear Happy Grandmother: Good for you for keeping up a healthy sex life. Thanks for sharing your secrets.

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“Ask Me Anything: A Year of Advice From Dear Annie” is out now! Annie Lane’s debut book — featuring favorite columns on love, friendship, family and etiquette — is available as a paperback and e-book. Visit http://www.creatorspublishing.com for more information. Send your questions for Annie Lane to dearannie@creators.com.

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