Social anxiety disorder (SAD) refers to feelings of fear and anxiety that prevent individuals from experiencing everyday social interactions to the fullest. Social anxiety can occur during many stages of a person’s life, but prevalence rates are highest between the ages of 13 and 18. Social anxiety can be difficult to identify for many parents because it’s easy to mistake the recognizable symptoms for normal teenage behavior. Social anxiety symptoms do not equate to shyness or introversion, which refer instead to aspects of personality.
Understanding why social anxiety occurs in teenagers is often challenging for parents because there are many causes and associated risk factors. Social anxiety may develop due to negative social pressure or experiences, such as bullying or a particularly embarrassing event. Social anxiety often involves a negative expectation of how others will respond to one, leading to avoidance of social situations and interactions with others.
Many experts believe that social anxiety can also develop as a result of genetics or inherited traits. Anxiety disorders can carry over from parents to children, though the development of social anxiety may still occur in part due to social pressures. Children and teens with an outgoing temperament can develop social anxiety just as those with a shy temperament.
In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the most common symptoms of social anxiety in teens to help parents identify when it’s time to take action. Many of these symptoms are identifiable through conversations with your teen. If social anxiety has become an obstacle to the development of social relationships or is causing avoidance of complex social situations, it may be time to seek additional help.
Avoidance of Social Situations
Individuals with social anxiety may experience pressure in various social situations that makes them feel like avoiding these situations altogether. Meetings or get-togethers with new people can cause a feeling of unpredictable pressure, as can any interaction where there might be a potential embarrassment. Social anxiety often causes an expectation of the worst possible outcome so overwhelming that it causes avoidance of the situation.
Social anxiety does not only come up in new situations. For many teens experiencing social anxiety, something as simple as speaking out in class or answering the phone can cause a feeling of fear or danger. Many people with severe social anxiety have reported a feeling of dread when entering a room, asking for assistance, speaking in a group setting, or using a public restroom.
If your teen is avoiding social situations altogether, it may be time to discuss the causes of this avoidance. A lack of social interaction resulting from social anxiety disorder can increase feelings of loneliness, depression, and fear of missing out.
Visible Anxiety During Social Interactions
Blushing, difficulty speaking, and increased heart rate are physical responses that occur as a result of anxiety when interacting with others. Sometimes these physical responses are normal, particularly in high-pressure situations, and don’t necessarily indicate social anxiety. However, unfounded fear of judgment during various social encounters in conjunction with these symptoms may indicate an underlying anxiety condition.
In cases of severe social anxiety, straightforward conversations and interactions with others may cause increased heart rate or panic attacks. This anxiety or panic response may cause sweating, trembling, chest pain, or rapid breathing. A fight-or-flight feeling may also occur when severe anxiety is triggered through social interaction. Mastering the physical symptoms of anxiety presents a challenge that many children and teens may feel unequipped to handle. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or other psychotherapy is often the best option for reducing the physical responses associated with social anxiety.
Severe Fear of Embarrassment
Fear of embarrassment can keep anyone from experiencing life to the fullest and trying new things, but this fear can prove to be debilitating for individuals with social anxiety. Not all embarrassment is bad, but it’s important to identify whether the feeling is pre-emptive or imagined. Social anxiety can blur the lines between anticipated embarrassment and actual embarrassment until the two are indistinguishable from one another. This fear is often a driving factor in the avoidance of social situations, as mentioned above.
Social anxiety can both cause and be caused by a negative self-image. A negative perception of self often leads to feelings of inferiority when comparing ourselves to others, making it difficult to interact with people we feel are better than ourselves. And unfortunately, with the advent of social media, comparing ourselves to others has never been easier. Identifying a negative self-perception is often a challenge. Sometimes, the best solution for identifying this symptom of social anxiety is simply to listen.
Shyness and Introversion Vs. Social Anxiety
It’s important to note that a shy or introverted personality does not equate to social anxiety. Introversion refers to individuals who gain energy from spending time alone or in smaller groups of people. Shyness is similar to social anxiety but does not involve an impairment to social interaction when it’s necessary. Avoidance of social situations is much higher for those experiencing social anxiety. For more information on the difference between social anxiety and shyness, read this article.
Social anxiety occurs in many teens but is often left untreated. Leaving anxiety untreated can result in teens missing out on many essential social experiences, avoiding interactions with others, and feeling lonely as a result. These feelings can lead to depression or other severe symptoms that may need immediate treatment.
Everything from genetics to parenting style may cause social anxiety, which often makes identifying social anxiety in teens a challenge. The easiest way to understand a teenager’s social anxiety is simply to talk about it in an open and supportive environment. This can help you decide if it’s time to look into cognitive behavioral therapy or other treatment options.
If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.
About the Author: Zach Lundgren has a graduate degree in Rhetoric, Writing, and Professional Communication. He is an experienced SEO writer with an interest in scientific communication and technical writing. In his free time, he enjoys hiking, backpacking, and creative writing.
The opinions and views expressed in any guest blog post do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in the article or linked to therein. Guest Authors may have affiliations to products mentioned or linked to in their author bios.
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