It’s probably a safe bet that most of us look back on our teenage years and have a few “cringe-worthy” social moments we’d probably rather forget. We may wish we had avoided those experiences altogether. Still, overcoming those experiences makes us who we are. In some ways, awkwardness is a rite of passage. What do we do, though, when our own teenager consistently tries to avoid any type of awkward situation? The first step is to determine if it is simply standard teenage behavior or something more complex like social anxiety disorder.
What Exactly Is Social Anxiety Disorder?
While there are many types of anxiety disorders, social anxiety disorder is one of the most common. What exactly is social anxiety disorder?
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), social anxiety disorder is much more than just being shy. The NIMH defines social anxiety disorder as “an intense, persistent fear of being watched and judged by others. This fear can affect work, school, and other daily activities. It can even make it hard to make and keep friends.”
Based on that official description, it is not surprising that social anxiety disorder can often be misinterpreted as simple shyness, especially in teenagers. The key to differentiating social anxiety disorder from something more benign is its “persistent” nature. Individuals who struggle with social anxiety disorder do not just feel anxiety while in social situations. They feel it before and after those situations as well.
The Warning Signs of Social Anxiety Disorder
Perhaps the best way to differentiate social anxiety from typical teenage behaviors is through the specific warning signs that accompany untreated social anxiety disorder. Being able to detect these warning signs is important for getting a teen help before long-term side effects and consequences can manifest.
The following are just a few of the warning signs to watch for if you feel that your daughter may be struggling with social anxiety disorder:
- Your daughter may start to sweat, blush, or excessively tremble at the thought of social situations or social interactions.
- An individual with a social anxiety disorder may experience a rapid heart rate when faced with social situations.
- They may “shut down” around other people, become timid, and lose their ability to speak with confidence.
- Individuals have reported feeling sick to their stomachs at the thought of being judged in public places.
- They may “go blank” when trying to communicate with people that they are unfamiliar with.
- Individuals with social anxiety disorder will often have trouble making eye contact.
- They may continue to make excuses to avoid social situations.
- Individuals with social anxiety disorder often struggle with sleep issues due to stress and the fear of judgment from others.
You can see that based on these warning signs, living with social anxiety disorder can be extremely debilitating. This is especially true for a teenager who is trying to develop confidence and establish successful social skills. If any of these warning signs come to light, it is probably a good idea to reach out to a mental health professional as soon as possible.
Treatment Options for Social Anxiety Disorder
The good news is that there are plenty of evidence-based effective treatments available for those struggling with social anxiety disorder. While there are many options for treatment, there are three modalities that are most commonly discussed. These options are individual psychotherapy, medication, and group therapy (including community support groups).
Regarding psychotherapy, a highly effective and highly regarded option for social anxiety disorder is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT can help get to the underlying issues associated with socially anxious and disordered behaviors. Once these issues are brought to the surface, further steps can be taken to modify and adjust those negative behaviors.
Medication can be highly effective in reducing the levels of anxiety so an individual can feel more comfortable in social settings. However, with medication and teenagers, it is important to take into account developmental issues. It is also key to maintain a regular schedule with a mental health care professional. Lastly, group therapy can be effective because it allows for “shared experience.” However, group therapy may prove too uncomfortable for an individual to participate in too early in their recovery.
The Importance of Individualized Care at Clearview Girls Academy
Here at Clearview Girls Academy, we understand how difficult being a teenager can be. We also understand how that difficulty can be compounded when a mental health issue like social anxiety disorder is present.
Our goal is to address each of our students in an individualized and empathetic way. Again, we know what it’s like to be a teen. We’ve been there. However, we also know that we have the tools, treatments, and techniques to help light our students’ path to recovery and help them get back out into the world. Our goal is to help our students experience those same “moments” that we all now look back on and be able to laugh about them – at least most of the time!
Sometimes it’s easy to forget how confusing and frustrating it often is to be a teenager. When we forget these truths, it can sometimes get in the way of our better judgment when we are assessing how our children are behaving. When it comes to shyness in our teenagers, it is important to remember that it can be normal to a degree. However, when this behavior begins negatively impacting their lives, it can be something more concerning. It could be social anxiety disorder. If you feel like your daughter may be struggling with social anxiety disorder, we can help. For more information on differentiating social anxiety disorder from typical teenage behaviors, please call Clearview Girls Academy at (888) 796-5484.