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Social Anxiety Disorder in Teens

What Is Social Anxiety?

Social anxiety in teens is a common anxiety disorder involving a constant and excessive fear of social interaction.

It frequently affects how individuals perceive and approach different social situations. Symptoms of the social anxiety may manifest in the form of self-consciousness, distress, and a deep-seated fear of judgment by others. Social anxiety becomes a concern when it starts to significantly impact a teen’s daily life, well-being, and ability to function in social settings.

Social anxiety disorder often causes excessive worry about being judged by others which can lead to avoidance of social situations. Each avoidance of a situation makes it more difficult to face the next social situation. Symptoms of social anxiety may vary among individuals, with some fears being specific to certain situations while other fears generalize across multiple situations. It is often activated by varying triggers which may or may not be known to the parent.

Here are the ‘need to knows’ about social anxiety in teens

Teenagers with social anxiety may worry intensely, much more so than their peers.

Their negative anticipation, or fear of what might happen at a social occasion, can cause them to dwell on potential problems or unfavorable circumstances that may occur. Negative anticipation leads to increased anxiety, stress, and fear, often compounding their existing anxiety.

A teen’s fear of what might happen during a social encounter often overshadows the reality of what likely will happen, causing them to opt out of important social events such as school concerts, peer get-togethers, or even larger events, such as graduations.

Further, these worries often lead to avoidance of important social occasions and milestones. Since a teen may face extreme discomfort with social encounters, they may choose to stay home. Each avoidance of a situation makes it more difficult to face the next social situation. This may hinder an adolescent’s ability to form and maintain relationships, participate in important school or extracurricular activities, and develop a healthy sense of self-esteem. Once the cycle of avoidance begins, it is difficult to break.

Breaking the cycle of avoidance often requires discovering the triggers and patterns, and seeking appropriate support or professional help, such as therapy or counseling. With professional help, parents can help teens gradually confront and cope with the avoided situations, emotions, and responsibilities, thus leading to personal growth, increased self-confidence, and improved overall well-being.

Why Is Social Anxiety Disorder Common in Teens?

Why Is Social Anxiety Disorder Common in Teens?

Teenagers are especially susceptible to social anxiety because they are already in a phase of intense self-consciousness in which they have heightened awareness of their own appearance and behavior. This self-awareness and introspection can make teenagers feel vulnerable and worried about the judgment of their peers.

Teenagers are also going through a stage of identity formation as they try to figure out their place in society. The fear of rejection or not fitting in can be overwhelming and contribute to social anxiety.

During adolescence, peer relationships seem vitally important. Teens often face new social situations in and out of school that trigger feelings of anxiety. Simultaneously, teens are experiencing pubescent hormonal changes that impact their mood and emotions and make them vulnerable to social anxiety.

Contributors

What Are Contributors of Social Anxiety to Teens?

There are many possible causes of social anxiety. Genetics, peer pressure, and bullying are just some of the contributing factors to social anxiety. Teenagers with a family history of anxiety disorders are more likely to have social anxiety. Peer pressure, as noted, is another influential factor, as teens may feel pressured to conform to social norms. The fear of missing that mark intensifies the fear of being judged or rejected by their peers. If for any reason you feel that your teen may have social anxiety, you should seek professional help immediately.

What Are the Symptoms of Social Anxiety in Teens?

What Are the Symptoms of Social Anxiety in Teens?

A common symptom of social anxiety in teens is excessive self-consciousness. Teens with social anxiety often worry about how other people perceive them. For example, they may worry if they are dressed right, look right, or saying the right thing. This constant preoccupation may lead to self-doubt and a heightened awareness of their every move and word.

Teens with social anxiety may also go to great lengths to avoid situations that cause anxiety. For instance, teenagers will worry about parties, presentations, or even everyday conversations. This avoidance can lead to a sense of isolation and hinder their social development.

Teens with social anxiety may also struggle with initiating or maintaining conversations. The teens may not speak up, avoid contributing to class or group discussions, or express their opinions due to the fear of judgment or embarrassment. The anxiety may begin to interfere with their schoolwork. If a teen’s anxiety is impacting their schoolwork, it is important to seek professional help.

Finally, physical symptoms like blushing, trembling, sweating, or a rapid heart rate can appear during social interactions. These physiological responses often intensify the anxiety and make the teen even more self-conscious.

Treatment

What Is the Treatment for Social Anxiety Disorder in Teens?

Psychotherapy approaches such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy are effective methods to treat teen social anxiety. In CBT, teenagers work with a therapist to identify and challenge negative thoughts. The teenagers also learn healthier coping strategies and develop skills to manage anxious thoughts and behaviors. This therapy focuses on active participation and teaches teens to reframe their thinking patterns.

ERP involves gradually exposing teens to anxiety-provoking social situations in a controlled and supportive environment. This gradual exposure helps them confront their fears and reduces anxiety over time. Through repeated exposure, teenagers learn that their fears are unfounded and that they can cope with social situations effectively. This type of therapy also incorporates skills training and relaxation techniques to manage anxiety during exposure.

The Anxiety Institute focuses solely on treating clients with anxiety and OCD-related disorders. We employ evidence-based techniques informed by clinical research. Our program is individualized for each patient giving them the tools they need to recover. Contact us now for more information.

About the Author

Headshot: Blaise Amendolace, PsyD
Blaise joins Anxiety Institute with over 15 years of experience serving in the roles of Clinical Director, Assessment Coordinator, and Training Coordinator, with expertise in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, a highly specialized subcategory of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.