Social Anxiety in Teens—What Is the Issue and How To Handle It?
Socializing when you are young is never easy, let alone in the age of social media. Detailed studies prove that social anxiety in high school students is a rising issue today. The fact that the number of students seeking help for suicidal thoughts doubled in the last decade is particularly troubling.
If you are an adolescent, you might be suffering from student anxiety yourself. One of the most common anxiety disorders is social anxiety disorder (SAD), which is also termed social phobia.
Social anxiety tests for teenagers are easily available on the internet. While these anxiety tests for teens make you analyze your behavior to determine whether you need professional help, they are often imperfect.
To battle social anxiety successfully, you need to get a full insight into this mental health disorder. Only then can you determine whether you suffer from the symptoms that the disorder causes. If so, you can make the first step towards healing.
Social Anxiety Disorder in Teenagers—The Overview
Credit: Paul Garaizar
In its most basic definition, social anxiety is the fear of socializing. This matter-of-fact view can result in oversimplifying the problem because nervousness at the prospect of socializing can but doesn’t have to mean you suffer from social anxiety.
Since anxiety is a psychological rather than physical issue, you cannot diagnose it by physical signs and symptoms.
You can experience social anxiety in various ways and degrees. This means that even though you experience anxiety, it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to be medicated or treated professionally.
You can experience anxiety in two distinct forms:
- Occasional anxiety
- Clinical anxiety
Social Anxiety That Is Rooted in Reality
No one can avoid feeling stressed and anxious from time to time. In social situations, many factors can contribute to these feelings.
You could be meeting someone for the first time, and you want to leave a favorable impression. Maybe you are being interviewed for a volunteer opportunity. Even standing in a room crowded with unfamiliar people could make you feel overwhelmed. In all such cases, the pressure to be liked or the feeling you are invisible can take over you, triggering social anxiety.
If you can attribute the unpleasant emotions to specific situations, like the ones mentioned, you probably don’t have anything to worry about. What you feel is perfectly normal and healthy, just like any other emotion.
You don’t have clinical social anxiety if you:
- Worry about having embarrassed yourself in a specific situation
- Feel nervous at the prospect of meeting someone you admire
- Are uneasy about being invited to a party where you don’t know anyone
- Have jitters when you need to address a crowd of people
Social Anxiety That Needs Attention
If you are feeling anxious at the prospect of any human interaction—and avoid it without a real cause—that is not a good sign. You don’t have to be face to face with someone for your social anxiety to act up. Maybe you are overanalyzing someone’s text messages, or you are thinking about the exchange you had with them days ago.
Another way to tell that you are suffering from clinical anxiety is if you base your self-worth on how others act toward you. This is harmful to your well-being because you assume how other people feel about you based on your own—unrealistic and imagined—sense of inadequacy.
To give you some examples, you might be suffering from clinical social anxiety if you:
- Feel stressed at the prospect of talking to anyone who isn’t your close friend or family member
- Cancel plans with your friends often because you feel too self-conscious
- Avoid opportunities that will put you in the center of attention
- Overanalyze every interaction
Social Anxiety Symptoms in Teenagers
Out of 15 million American adults who suffer from social anxiety, 75% started showing signs of the condition in their teen days. If you are in danger of developing a social anxiety disorder, you can certainly relate to some of its symptoms, such as:
- Experiencing severe stress almost daily
- Dreading the judgment of others
- Avoiding social gatherings
- Feeling sad, lonely, and inadequate
- Fearing others may see your anxiety
- Anticipating dreadful scenarios without a rational cause
- Overthinking every aspect of your relationships
Being Under Constant Stress
If you have social anxiety, you are stressed every single day of your life. Regular activities—like attending classes or going for a coffee with a friend—can bring about feelings of worry, dread, and nervousness.
Being Afraid of Other People’s Opinions of You
Social anxiety causes you to feel stressed all the time for fear of how other people will perceive you. For example, when you walk into a room full of people, you feel like all eyes are on you and like everyone is judging you instantly. You then feel like you want to disappear, which leads you to sit out the event hidden away in a corner, as quiet as possible, making yourself small. Even worse is entering a room where everyone is already at their seats, like being late for class.
The overwhelming fear of criticism is heightened when you have to interact with others. For instance, your teacher might be doing a classroom discussion for your lesson. They will ask you a question, and you will feel even worse about everyone looking at you and anticipating your answer.
Another example is oral exams. Even when you are 100% prepared in terms of the subject matter, your anxiety can act up and affect your final grade. Out of nervousness and fear for what your professors think of you, you can stutter, forget what you learned, and come off as unprepared for the exam.
Avoidance and Overthinking
Credit: Harry cao
Social anxiety disorder is different for everyone. Your individual experience and personality traits determine the degree to which you display the symptoms. Even though you may have social anxiety, it doesn’t mean you never leave your house. Still, if you interact with people only when it’s necessary, it is a sign you need to check in with yourself.
Socially anxious people avoid situations that require social interaction. These can be large parties, but it can also be something as simple as a coffee date. When they do plan to get together with someone, people with social anxiety will ‘prepare’ for the event by overthinking it and anticipating how the interaction may go.
Battling Sadness and Loneliness
Not going to social events can leave you isolated from the people around you. If you have social anxiety, you are bound to feel sad and lonely as a result of it. This is a huge issue on many levels because you:
- Are alone as a result of your social anxiety in the first place
- Would rather not make a friend than risk getting embarrassed in front of new people
- Have more free time to spend engaged in your thoughts, which is often the problem
- Can start experiencing other mental health issues, like depression
Dreading That Your Anxiety Shows
As if trying to suppress the negative thoughts that ensue when you interact with people isn’t enough, you also worry that your behavior will give your anxiety away.
You exhibit physical symptoms of social anxiety when you have a conversation with someone. These symptoms are:
- Talking rapidly
- Repeating yourself
- Finding it hard to get to the point
- Losing breath
- Experiencing a fast heart rate
- Losing your train of thought
All these symptoms are hard to hide, which makes it that much more difficult for you to have a casual interaction.
Making Up Unlikely Nightmare Scenarios in Your Head
If you are suffering from social anxiety, there is probably a lot of hypothesizing going on in your mind. You tend to overanalyze present situations and envision the worst outcomes imaginable. You also believe that those outcomes are possible, which makes it hard to dispel your negative thinking patterns.
This kind of overthinking leaves you unable to prepare adequately for certain situations. For example, you have to do a presentation for school. You are working on the assignment in pairs with your classmates. Let’s see how your train of thought can look like:
- I will have to make a speech
- I will have to prepare this presentation with my partner
- Maybe we can prepare this individually
- I can’t do anything
- All my classmates and the teacher will listen to my presentation
- They will all see I can’t communicate like a regular human being
- I will get a bad grade
- My partner will get a bad grade because of me
- My inadequacy will be apparent to all my classmates who see me every day
- They will think even worse of me when they see my anxiety
- Maybe I can find a way out of this assignment
- My partner will hate me
- I ruin everything
- Whatever alibi I invent, my teacher will know I’m not doing the assignment because of my anxiety because I can’t lie, and he/she knows me
These are only an example of a negative thought pattern that can paralyze you in this kind of situation.
Overthinking Your Relationships
Overthinking your relationships is another common symptom of social anxiety. This includes your friendships, family, romantic, and professional relationships. Even if someone has been a great friend to you for years, you will find yourself questioning whether they think well of you and if they are only your friend out of pity or habit.
This overthinking prevents you from forming new relationships. Even when you hit it off with someone, and they ask you to get together, you would rather not meet them than face potential judgment.
Social Anxiety Disorder Influences Other Disorders in Teens
Unfortunately, mental health disorders work together. You may not necessarily be suffering from multiple anxiety disorders at the same time, but having one often involves displaying the symptoms of others.
Let’s take a look at how similar social anxiety is to other anxiety disorders:
|Anxiety Disorder||Definition||Similarity to Social Anxiety|
|Generalized anxiety||Constant anxiety about every situation||Fretting about everything all the time|
|Performance anxiety||Acute distress at having to address a group of people||Not being able to stomach the attention|
|Test anxiety||Worry about doing a test to the point that you skip it||Fearing the potential failure, which leads to procrastination|
|Specific phobia||Fear of concrete phenomena, like animals or bad weather||Avoiding the situations that bring you face to face with your fear|
|Panic disorder||Random, unexplained panic attacks||Experiencing tremor, nausea, and rapid heartbeats in social situations|
Teen Social Anxiety—What Causes the Issue?
Anxiety disorders are found to affect approximately 31% of youth, making these disorders the prevalent mental health issue in teens. The number makes you think about what causes so many adolescents to develop social anxiety. Plenty of research was done to find the answer to that question.
Here are some of the most common risk factors that influence the development of social anxiety:
|Risk Factor||How It Relates to Social Anxiety Disorder|
Children who are shy, introverted, and fearful of unknown situations are at a greater risk of developing social anxiety.
Girls are found to be more likely to suffer from social anxiety than boys.
Parents can trigger social anxiety in their children with negative parenting and inadequate upbringing ridden with anxiety-related behavior, such as neglect, over-criticism, and mental or physical abuse.
Children who have experienced traumas, like abuse, bullying, or death in the family, are at greater risk of suffering from social anxiety.
Teens who spend most of their time on social media are at risk of developing social anxiety. The overuse of social media platforms is also one of the coping mechanisms for anxiety and one of the factors that hinder the healing process.
Social Anxiety Treatment for Teens
Credit: Luis Villasmil
Social anxiety can be treated using various methods, depending on your diagnosis. If your doctor determines you need treatment, they can advise:
- Psychotherapy—if your social anxiety doesn’t affect your daily habits to a dangerous degree, like causing insomnia or eating disorders, you may only require psychotherapy. Talking to an expert helps you determine the cause of your anxiety, track your negative thought-processes, and learn to change your attitude towards yourself
- Medication—if needed, your doctor can prescribe you medication to help you overcome your social anxiety. Usually, the treatment takes weeks or months to work. Common medication for social anxiety disorder are serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRI)
- The combination of the two—therapy along with medication might work best if you want to treat your social anxiety disorder. Regular meetings with an expert combined with the prescribed medication will help you relieve both the emotional and physical impacts of social anxiety
Tips To Deal With Teen Social Anxiety Disorder
Here are some points to keep in mind and practical steps for overcoming your social anxiety disorder:
- Realize you’re not the center of the universe—being a socially anxious teen, you believe that everyone is judging you all the time. You sit at home and analyze your close and distant relationships to the tiniest details. The liberating truth is that the people in your life have their individual concerns. When you realize no one thinks about you as much as you believe they do, you can slowly build the attitude of not caring how anyone feels towards you, which is the goal in healing from social anxiety
- Show up early—to be two steps ahead of your social anxiety, you should arrive early at events, whether it’s a school day or a birthday party. Greeting everyone one at a time will help you avoid the self-consciousness that attacks you when you show up after others
- Don’t apologize for your anxiety—to yourself or anyone else. Realize that even when people notice your anxiety, they aren’t weirded by it as your anxiety wants you to think they are. Never criticize yourself for feeling down or suffering from a mental health disorder
- See a doctor—if you haven’t already sought professional help for your social anxiety, do it sooner rather than later
- Don’t skip your therapy appointments—and the same goes for medication. If you feel like your treatment isn’t working, you need to give it more time. Alternatively, if it feels like you are all better, you still have to show up for appointments and continue with the treatment of your choice until your doctor advises you to stop
How To Help Another Teenager With Social Anxiety?
If you learned anything from this text, it is that you are not the only teenager battling social anxiety. One way you can help others and yourself is by talking about and normalizing the issue.
To help us address social anxiety disorder meaningfully, share your personal experience with it. We care about your story and want to publish it on our blog. Let’s talk!