Social Anxiety Disorder in Teens
It is normal for teens to feel awkward and nervous from time to time. Adolescence years can be full of change and growth. Most importantly, there are new people, new situations, new experiences. Sometimes all of this can be overwhelming, and that’s okay. However, if these feelings become frequent, intense, or interfere with everyday activities, social anxiety disorder might be present.
What is social anxiety disorder (SAD)?
Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is defined as being fearful or anxious about social situations, where they are vulnerable to possible judgment. The fear is experiencing humiliation, embarrassment or rejection from others. SAD generally first emerges in early adolescence. However, this is not always the case.
Examples of social situations include:
Performing in front of others
Common examples include
Talking/meeting with new people
Eating or drinking in front of others
Engaging with classmates or friends
Class participation (asking questions, giving presentations)
Emails, texting and calling
Signs and Symptoms
Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) can have a tremendous effect on our body, thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Here are some signs and symptoms related to SAD.
In social situations, teens with SAD may find themselves blushing, sweating or shaking. Additionally, they may experience stomach aches, tightness in the chest and overall restlessness.
Many of these thoughts have been reinforced over time and happen automatically. The more we tell ourselves something, the more likely we are to believe it. These thoughts are usually related to being judged or criticized.
“I’m not good enough”
“No one likes me”
“I’m going to fail”
“I don’t know how”
Common emotions of those with SAD include anxiety, embarrassment, fear, frustration and sadness. These emotions can be intense and frequent and be very overwhelming for a teen.
The most common behaviour with SAD is the avoidance of social situations. A teen may avoid meeting new people or general social settings. They may avoid going to new places or trying new activities. They may decline every invitation to any occasion or event. When forced to interact, they may be quiet, mumble, and unable to maintain eye contact.
Most notedly, teens with SAD can face difficulties at school. They may avoid asking teachers questions or speaking in front of the class. Those with SAD have a difficult time engaging with peers and forming friendships. Some teens will avoid going to school altogether to avoid the entire setting. This can significantly affect your teen’s school performance.
Remember that it is perfectly normal to experience all the above physical sensations, thoughts, emotions and behaviours from time to time. However, if these symptoms are so severe that they interfere with your teen’s daily life, you should consider seeking help from a mental health professional.
Treatment and Intervention
It is important to diagnose and address SAD early on. If left untreated, SAD symptoms can worsen and continue into adulthood. SAD is usually treated via psychotherapy (counselling), medication or a combination of both. Regardless of which treatment is applied, it can take some time before you’ll notice considerable changes. When diagnosed and treated, it is possible to manage and overcome symptoms of social anxiety.
A therapist can work with your teen to help them identify and challenge negative thoughts. They can help process emotions by teaching coping strategies. They can help set small goals to reach towards facing their fears. By speaking to the therapist yourself, it can also address your worries, concerns and frustrations. By working with the therapist, you are better able to support your teen.
Additionally, teens with SAD can benefit from joining a therapy group. Here, they are among their peers. It can be empowering to know that they are not alone, and others know what it feels like. With the direction of the facilitator(s), the teen can learn new strategies, tools and techniques. They then have the opportunity to practice with one another. By extended skills learned in the group into their everyday lives, they can face social situations more effectively. Overall, group therapy can be a great way to improve your teen’s confidence and self-esteem.
We run a connection and confidence group here at McAtee Psychology. If you are interested in learning more, you can click here.
References and Additional Resources
Social Anxiety Disorder | Mayo Clinic
Teenagers Can Manage Their Social Anxiety Disorder | Verywell Mind
Social Anxiety Disorder| Anxiety Canada