Social Anxiety in Adolescence
Social anxiety in adolescence can negatively affect the personal development of the teen who suffers from it. Far from being mere shyness, social anxiety is a disabling disorder that requires professional help.
Adolescence is the quintessential stage of sociability and friends. For teenagers, their peer groups become role models and a foundation to start building their independence on. Thus, imagine what it must feel like for a teen when social interaction causes them anxiety!
What’s social anxiety?
Social anxiety disorder, also called social phobia, is an intense and irrational fear of social situations. In this regard, the teen who suffers from it is scared of exposing themselves to others out of fear of being judged, rejected, or humiliating themselves.
Social situations cause them great anxiety, which is why they tend to avoid them much as possible. If they don’t or can’t, they can cause them a lot of discomfort.
The individual tends to be aware that their fear is disproportionate. However, they still can’t avoid getting paralyzed by it, which greatly impacts many areas of their life.
Also, the disorder is often accompanied by physiological symptoms, such as palpitations, difficulty breathing, upset stomach, or facial flushing.
Social anxiety disorder typically manifests at the start of adolescence, approximately at age 13. While it’s possible for teens who suffer from it to show signs of social discomfort as children, the change and interference this disorder causes in their lives when it manifests is significant.
Why does social anxiety occur in adolescence?
Several factors are involved in the onset of this condition. While it has a hereditary component, it isn’t as decisive as the components we’ll explain below.
- Low self-esteem. A poor self-concept is the root cause of many social phobia cases. A teenager with a negative self-image and self-concept is more exposed to the need for external approval. Therefore, they’re more susceptible to the fear of rejection.
- Lack of social skills. In many cases, lacking the skills to properly interact with others can lead to inadequate and unpleasant social interactions. Thus, shame and fear of having to socialize are likely to manifest.
- Excessive anxiety. There’s also the case of teenagers who do have adequate social skills. However, the level of anxiety they experience when they relate to others is so high that it paralyzes their ability to use them.
- High self-awareness. One of the fundamental problems of this disorder is that those who suffer from it are overly aware of their own gestures, movements, and actions. They focus all their attention on themselves to try to avoid ridicule. Therefore, they don’t pay attention to their conversational partners. So consequently, the interactions aren’t fluid and anxiety worsens.
- Avoidance and safety behaviors. This is the key factor that perpetuates the disorder. A teenager with social phobia may tend to avoid social interactions or use certain escape behaviors, such as looking away or going unnoticed. In the short term, these actions reduce or eliminate their anxiety. However, in the long-term, they promote the idea that interaction is dangerous in their minds.
Keys to overcoming social anxiety
- Firstly, curb your anticipatory anxiety. Don’t let ruminating thoughts about everything that can go wrong in a social interaction get the best of you.
- Also, stop being your own worst critic. After facing a social situation, don’t beat yourself up for hours regarding what you did wrong. Instead, congratulate yourself because you did it.
- In addition, when you talk to someone, focus your attention on the conversation per se and not on your own actions.
- Likewise, don’t avoid social situations nor use escape behaviors because they feed your fear. Dare to gradually expose yourself.
- Use breathing techniques to reduce your anxiety so it doesn’t paralyze your skills.
- Finally, seek professional help. Psychological therapy can really help improve social anxiety.