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Social Anxiety in Teens

Teenage years can be a difficult time in life when you are working out who you are and what you want, how you want to interact and with whom, and on top of this there are all the hormonal changes that happen. While it is normal to feel anxious about things, some teenagers will experience more intense and persistent fear which could be a sign of an anxiety disorder. You may feel self-conscious and struggle with social relationships and attending social events.

If you are a teen who is experiencing social anxiety or the parent of a teen it is useful to understand what social anxiety is, how it affects you, and helpful ways to ease the discomfort of it and ultimately develop confidence. We will discuss all these factors in this article so read on to find out more. Sometimes, third-party help may be required so we also discuss seeking professional help.

What is Social Anxiety Disorder?

What is Social Anxiety Disorder?

Social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia, is recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). It is a fear or anxiety relating to social situations where you may be judged. This fear is out of proportion to the dangers that are faced by social interaction and can cause problems with socializing, work, or other functions. It will typically last for at least six months to be formally diagnosed.

Those with social anxiety may recognize that their fear goes beyond the threat, but this does not reduce the fear. Many people will avoid social interactions completely due to it. However, they will usually be comfortable interacting with family and close friends.

Symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder

Symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder

Psychological and Behavioral Symptoms

  • Anxious feelings – being overly concerned about what people think of you
  • Overwhelming self-consciousness
  • Fear of judgment
  • Avoiding social interactions
  • Difficulty talking with people
  • Self-judgment after social interactions
  • Negative beliefs – worrying for days or weeks before a public event
  • Trouble developing or maintaining friendships
  • Finding it difficult to do things while others are watching you
  • Trouble attending classes at school or college

Physical Symptoms

  • Blushing
  • Few facial expressions
  • Nausea
  • Stomach aches
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle tension
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Palpitations
  • Panic attacks

Selective Mutism

Selective mutism can also be a symptom of social anxiety. It is characterized by an inability to speak in specific situations, places, or to specific people, even if there are negative consequences due to not speaking such as shame or punishment. Selective mutism can also occur in people with autism.

Risk Factors for Social Anxiety in Teens

  • Children who are shy and withdrawn
  • Negative self talk
  • Health problems, particularly if the source of anxiety is visible
  • Speech impediments
  • Being bullied
  • Overprotective parenting
  • Trauma

How Much is Due to Society?

Sadly, some of the language that is used to speak about people with social anxiety disorders and how they should manage it can be seen as problematic. It compares communication and learning styles to a norm that is set by society. But what is the norm? Our society often praises extroverts who can express themselves fluidly in front of groups of people. Introverts who do not naturally communicate in this way may be seen as psychologically abnormal.

While it is important to recognize when someone is struggling with anxiety that is affecting their lives, it is also important to accept different ways of socializing. If you are neurodiverse, you may face particular pressure to act in a way that is not authentic to who you are.

Some people prefer to engage in deeper conversation and find small talk uncomfortable or unnecessary. They may only wish to speak when they feel that they have something important to say. There is strength in both types of communication but generally, one is promoted more. At school, we are taught that we need to work in groups and be comfortable speaking in front of people.

However, a lot of our greatest thinkers have been introverts who have made their greatest achievements while working alone. This does not mean that introverts will never be able to speak in front of a group of people. Many find that speaking about something they are passionate about is easy to speak to a group. What is important is to value different communication styles.

How to Help

Overcoming social phobia means getting to a point where you feel comfortable and confident in yourself and can go about your daily functions without overwhelming fear. Some may fear social situations but want to communicate in a way that is seen as standard, while others may be happy to communicate and socialize differently.

For these people, it could be more important to find like-minded people so that they do not feel isolated. They may also wish to learn about the validity and strength of different communication styles and neurodivergence that may fit with how they experience the world.

Support Networks

Family and friends can be a great help when you have social anxiety. Speaking to someone you trust about how you feel could help you to feel understood and stronger. You may find that some of your friends are experiencing the same as you, and you can help each other to be more comfortable.

If you are a friend or family member of a teenager with social anxiety disorder you should not put them down or blame them for what they are experiencing. Social anxiety is not their fault and blaming them will likely make the situation worse. Instead, you can make sure that you are open and understanding so they are comfortable speaking with you. You can also encourage them to take up an activity they enjoy as this may make daily life more manageable.

Helping Yourself

Writing about what and how you are feeling and how you behave in social situations could help you better understand what you are going through. One method is to write yourself a letter, being honest about how you are feeling. Then you look back at it a few days later and imagine that someone else wrote it. It may sound silly, but this could help you understand how you would feel if someone else was going through your experiences – we are often more caring and understanding of what others are going through than ourselves.

Other ways of helping include:

  • Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises – can help you in moments when you feel particularly stressed and need to take a second, but can also be practiced when you are feeling fine to strengthen your overall sense of ease
  • Break challenges into smaller parts that seem more manageable
  • Find a hobby or interest to focus on – if you are looking forward to something else this may help stressful situations feel more manageable

Professional Help

If such methods have not helped your social anxiety, you may want to speak to a professional. One of the best treatments for social anxiety is psychotherapy, particularly cognitive behavioral therapy. This helps you to identify negative thought patterns and behaviors and change them. You will develop tools and skills to help you manage unhealthy ways of thinking and behaving.

Exposure therapy is also thought to be helpful, but this should be done with caution. Exposure therapy is where you are gradually exposed to your fear while being kept to feel safe. However, if you do this too fast it can be detrimental. For example, if you are terrified of speaking in public and you are told to speak in front of one hundred people you may perform badly and never want to speak in public again.

It is better to build on things slowly – perhaps you first make a small presentation to one person you are comfortable with and build from there. This can be done alone but having a mental health professional alongside can make it easier and ultimately more beneficial.

Some people also benefit from social skills training and academic skills training which may be offered as part of school-based interventions led by teachers or therapists. While it may help you to get through school and college, be aware that you do not necessarily need to fit into the norm in terms of learning and socializing. Indeed you may find groups and work that accept different and equally valuable ways of communicating, learning, and working.

Medication can also be helpful if anxiety is affecting your daily functions. The most common medication is selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors which are typically used for people with depression but also help to regulate anxiety. Some doctors may prescribe benzodiazepines for anxiety. However, they can be very addictive, so should be taken with caution and not for a long period. They are more helpful if you are suffering from extreme anxiety and experiencing panic attacks.

Treatment at Rivers Bend

Treatment at Rivers Bend

Social anxiety is a common mental health disorder in early adolescence. You are not alone in your feelings. If you are socially anxious, and you have fears that go beyond normal anxiety-related fears, you may wish to get professional help.

We focus on mental health as well as substance use. You may have found that you have started to use substances to self-medicate your social anxiety – perhaps you need a couple of drinks before you meet groups. We are here to help you.

The Rivers Bend campus is nestled among 80 acres in North Fort Worth which overlooks Eagle Mountain Lake. We provide a family-style environment so that you feel that you are cared for and part of a community. If you would like your family to be involved in the process, to understand what you are going through and how to support you, we allow families to join activities at the weekend.

If you would like to find out more please visit our website or call us at (817) 259-2597.

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