The Impact of COVID-19 on Teen Social Anxiety

COVID-19 has brought many changes to every corner of the world. The pandemic has led to many systematic adjustments that, in some cases, were hard to keep up with. A major part of this upheaval took place in schools.

When schools shut down and students were limited socially, a large part of their emotional, mental, and social well-being were ignored for the sake of academics. Interaction between students in the classroom, the hallways, and even on weekends or during extracurricular activities was put on hold. Not only was this a massive shift in students’ routines, but the fear of the pandemic, getting sick, and losing a loved one was exacerbated by a lack of human interaction at a vulnerable time in their lives.

When fear, loneliness, and a significant shift all occur at once in the lives of teenagers, the results can be incredibly detrimental. The pandemic has introduced or worsened social anxiety for many teens.

Social Anxiety in Teenagers

Social anxiety disorder (SAD) is a culmination of feelings such as fear and embarrassment in social situations but on a higher and more uncontrollable level than most people experience. Those struggling with SAD fear situations where they will be judged by others. Things like job interviews, dates, public speaking, and even talking to a cashier can induce severe symptoms.

For teenagers, SAD can be intense during group projects, classroom discussions, social gatherings, work, and sports. As teens learn to develop a stronger sense of self, SAD can be improved through exposure, but the pandemic resulted in a lack of exposure for all students.

Throughout the pandemic, reports of adolescent depression and other adverse effects on mental health increased. This was especially true for minorities and marginalized youth. Without access to school resources, lower-income students, LGBTQ+ students, and other vulnerable teenagers were left underserved and at risk for things like SAD.

Returning to school after such a dramatic halt left many struggling with academics and socializing. This problem was even more pronounced in students already dealing with social anxiety. Those who had social anxiety before the pandemic may have reported improved mood during the pandemic because they were not exposed to socialization, but suddenly being forced into in-person interaction after so long without it was daunting.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Teens’ Social Anxiety

Many teens experience growing distress resulting from long-term isolation from their friends and peers. Everything from unpredictable changes to the risk of infection to financial struggles weighed on teenagers. The times and places they usually could interact with peers, vent, and even exercise were suddenly gone. An increase in mental health problems isn’t too shocking, but the longer this went on, the worse it became.

When teenagers experience loneliness, their likelihood of developing social anxiety increases. The social exposure they are accustomed to is gone, so positive interactions are at an all-time low. Although this was not purposeful avoidance, social isolation was still avoidance, which means teenagers lacked the social practice they needed to progress properly. As the pandemic slowed and schools opened, re-introduction to normal levels of socialization resulted in higher levels of social anxiety.

Improving Teens’ Social Skills After Lockdowns

When teens struggle with social anxiety, it doesn’t just hold them back from socializing. It can become so intense they avoid all interaction, suffer in school, and are limited in their social development. Understanding and remedying how the pandemic has impacted teenagers’ abilities to adjust to such major changes can improve their resiliency.

A primary form of therapy for treating social anxiety is exposure therapy, but that wasn’t a safe option during the pandemic. Digital therapies were then used to mimic social interaction in the healthiest way possible. Virtual therapy served as a temporary means of exposure to socializing, but since it was not a perfect replacement, similar challenges now occur.

Exposure therapy includes guided engagement. A teenager facing social anxiety will work with a therapist to decrease avoidance and increase tolerance of anxiety-inducing situations. Through exposure therapy, they will learn social cues and how to better navigate their surroundings. By interacting with their fears, they can overcome them and better cope with their struggles. With the tools learned in therapy, teenagers struggling with social anxiety can accept their fears rather than fight them.

Change is scary, and it is perfectly normal to feel anxious or hesitant when change comes so abruptly and dramatically. Not only can loneliness increase anxiety, but adapting to it and going back to socializing regularly can be a lot to reacclimate to. Being nervous is fine, but coping with those emotions is a learned skill that is gained through practice and exposure.

Teenagers often struggle with social anxiety, but due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and widespread lockdowns, lack of social interaction has led to loneliness, isolation, and worsened mental health. At Havenwood Academy, we work with each teen girl in our program to develop a custom treatment plan for their needs. We focus on education, healing past trauma, and how to move successfully into the future. Our methods are both compassionate and effective. We ensure that families and caregivers are included throughout the entire process and take great care to prioritize personal growth and building relationships. The young women in our facility will receive the therapy, treatment, and education they deserve. We are here to help you and your family. If your teen daughter needs help overcoming social anxiety or other mental health challenges, reach out to our admissions department today at (435) 586-2500.


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