A teen with social anxiety disorder is more than just shy or easily embarrassed. Social anxiety disorder is a serious form of anxiety from social situations that typically begins around 13 years of age. The repercussions can be very debilitating if left untreated, making it that much more important to be able to recognize and find the right treatment for social anxiety disorder.
Causes of Social Anxiety Disorder
There is no one reason why teens develop social anxiety disorder, but rather there are a multitude of causes of social anxiety disorder. There are genetic links, so if there is a history of any type of anxiety disorder in the family, a teen is more likely to develop social anxiety. Environmental causes could include teasing, bullying, or abuse. If a teen is already prone to anxiety, these causes can certainly exacerbate the problem.
At the heart of social anxiety disorder is fear—primarily fear of judgment. The fear that they are being watched and judged for everything they do can paralyze a teen in any situation that involves other people. This includes talking to others, being in public places, participating in group activities, or even texting or talking to someone on the phone.
Because this fear of being judged significantly impacts their ability to function outside the home, a teen with social anxiety disorder is more likely to withdraw from any activities that take place outside the home—especially those which could potentially put them in the spotlight, such as taking a test or giving a presentation in school. Therefore, it is critical to seek treatment before the stress and physical symptoms of social anxiety disorder become so debilitating that the teen’s daily life, relationships, and education are impacted.
Best Treatment for Social Anxiety Disorder
Research shows that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the most effective therapeutic treatment for social anxiety disorder. CBT is a short-term treatment process, with usually 16 to 20 sessions in total. Whenever possible, therapy in a group setting for teens is ideal, as their outcomes are typically better in a group setting. The idea is to teach them about their negative thought processes and then help them learn new ways of thinking that remove those negative thoughts—which removes anxiety from the equation as well.
The CBT process involves:
- Identifying a social situation
- Noticing the negative thoughts
- Discussing the perceived social threat.
Consequently, teens learn to notice the symptoms of social anxiety disorder that arise both physically and mentally. Also, they can notice the avoidance and other behaviors they have been using to protect themselves from a perceived social threat. These steps are repeated, and the teen learns to form new thought processes around challenging situations.
Facing Their Fears
Following CBT, teens can face their fears of being judged with greater confidence. When they feel the physical symptoms arise or sense the negative thought patterns unfolding, they can guide themselves through the processes learned in CBT to remember the new patterns of thinking. These new patterns allow them to process perceived threats and recognize them for what they are.
When teens have re-routed their thought processes, their fear of judgment has less weight. Therefore, anxiety does not build up. Because anxiety is a result of that fear of judgment, removing that fear also removes the anxiety. This allows teens to be free of the emotional weight they have been carrying, and free of the physical symptoms of social anxiety disorder that can be so disabling.
Making Lifestyle Changes
Within this process, teens can also identify the positive behaviors and changes they can make to help them be more confident in their social abilities. For example, if teasing, bullying, or abuse contributed to their social anxiety before, they feel more able to take the necessary steps to report the problem or otherwise remove them as obstacles.
Taking back control of their thought processes allows teens to take control of their lives. By doing so, they are empowered to seek out positive social situations and relationships with others that are rewarding rather than disabling.
Participating in a team sport, taking an art class, or joining a service organization is another positive lifestyle change that teens with social anxiety disorder can make. Teens may be surprised by the connections they are able to make within a group of peers who share a common interest. Hence, they slowly become more comfortable building a community. There are other simple, natural ways to cope with anxiety as it arises.
A Newfound Sense of Well-Being
After treatment for social anxiety disorder., teens are more able to focus on their own well-being. They go from experiencing excessive distress surrounding social situations to learning new ways to exist in—and even enjoy—social situations. Additionally, they are able to function better overall, and to achieve more at home, school, and work.
This newfound well-being often includes:
- Having positive relationships
- Performing well at school
- Managing their emotions better
- Participating in activities and hobbies
- Being more optimistic about their future.
As teens relearn how to connect with others, parents and caregivers can support them with additional therapy or any other treatment they need. If you think your teen is experiencing social anxiety disorder, please reach out to Teen Rehab and we will help you find the help your teen needs.