Social Anxiety in Teens
Though parties, social gatherings, and large events look fun to most people, some can’t handle the anxiety they feel in crowds. Others feel anxious in smaller settings too, and prefer to only speak to people they know in controlled settings. When anxiety around social events gets so intense that it’s debilitating, social anxiety may be at play.
What Is Social Anxiety?
Social anxiety is described as “an intense, persistent fear of being watched and judged by others.” Social anxiety is a mental disorder in which a person feels extreme anxiety when faced with social situations. It is estimated that about 7 percent of the population suffers from social anxiety to some degree. Meeting new people, attending classes, needing to talk to clerks and store workers, making phone calls, dating, and even family events can be stressful for those suffering from social anxiety.
For people with social anxiety, the stress brought on by social interaction is beyond their control, and attempts to calm down or regulate in front of others can make the judgment they feel seem worse. People with social anxiety may worry about social events they have coming up long before they happen. Some people who suffer from social anxiety do not have a fear of large groups or social settings, but they do have a fear of public pressure or being in the spotlight. Things like speeches, dancing, performing in an athletic event, or other public performances can be too much for those who have social anxiety.
Social anxiety usually begins with children. Shy kids will sometimes come out of their shells, but children with early social anxiety may remain shy through their teens and well into adulthood. Their fear of social situations only increases as more social situations are introduced through each stage of development. A lot of kids will work through their strategies for overcoming social anxiety in certain situations and completely avoid others. Though kids can naturally adapt to get through some of their fears in social situations, many go untreated and end up limited in their choices and potential for schooling and careers they may otherwise have excelled in.
As far as researchers can tell, social anxiety tends to run in families. Social anxiety may be triggered by trauma, but it’s mainly genetic. No one is quite sure why some family members get social anxiety, and some don’t.
Symptoms of Social Anxiety
Symptoms of social anxiety begin as soon as the affected person is required to be around others or perform in front of others. These symptoms include:
- Blushing, sweating, trembling
- Rapid heart rate
- Mind going blank
- Feeling nauseated or sick to their stomach
- Rigid body posture, little to no eye contact, and barely audible voice
- Finding it scary and difficult to be with or around people due to the fear of judgment, especially with people they don’t know. They may want desperately to speak but have a hard time talking.
- Feeling self-conscious in front of people and feel embarrassed to be there
- Holding the fear that others will judge them above all other rationales
- Avoiding places that have lots of people
Though general anxiety is an intense fear of the future and other situations, social anxiety is only a fear of social situations. When speaking with a doctor about anxiety, one should keep these symptoms in mind and distinguish whether they have a general anxiety disorder or social anxiety.
For teens, social anxiety can feel like a relatively new phenomenon. Many children who suffer from social anxiety don’t catch it until their adolescent and teen years. Doctors may have suggestions for treatment on a case-by-case basis, such as:
- Psychotherapy (talk therapy): Psychotherapy, specifically cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), is the most effective way to treat social anxiety. During a CBT session, the client will be taught to think, speak, and behave in different ways, challenging the current thought processes that make social situations so difficult. When the client is ready, CBT can also be delivered in a group format which will help the client with different social skills.
- Support groups: Support groups both in-person and online can be extremely beneficial for those with social anxiety. Support groups are a judgment-free zone with like-minded people who share the experience of having social anxiety so they will understand when other members struggle.
- Medication. There are three types of medications approved to help with social anxiety, including anti-anxiety medication, antidepressants, and beta-blockers. Anti-anxiety medications are helpful for general anxiety, but clients can build a tolerance for them if they are taken over long periods. Antidepressants are mainly used for depression, but they can help with social anxiety symptoms. Beta-blockers help with some of the physical symptoms of anxiety.
Social anxiety in teens can create situations at school, home, and work where teens feel judged for existing and for not completing whatever ideal they think they’re expected to complete at their age. For teen girls, the potential for comparison and peer pressure can make social anxiety unbearable. If your teen is suffering from symptoms of social anxiety, or if their social anxiety is rooted in trauma, let Havenwood Academy help. At Havenwood Academy, we understand that your teen’s social anxiety can make long-term residential treatment difficult. Leaving treatment to people your daughter doesn’t know can seem impossible and frightening. Our professional and experienced staff can help create a treatment plan that is specifically catered to your daughter’s needs, taking into account social anxiety and other concerns. We offer cognitive-behavioral therapy, as well as other treatments for trauma or any co-occurring disorder. Call us today at (435) 586-2500 for more information on how Havenwood Academy can help.
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