Teen social anxiety disorder is a condition in which teens have an extreme fear of being evaluated and judged by others, to the point where it becomes debilitating, and prevents them from being able to participate and engage in healthy social activities and relationships. Teens who struggle with social anxiety are extremely self-conscious, and often have a very low opinion of themselves physically, emotionally, and intellectually. In other cases, socially anxious teens may feel very uncomfortable with the idea of a social setting and may even develop adverse emotions towards social events bordering on phobia. Even average, every-day interactions such as friendly conversations, participating in a classroom conversation, or a polite interaction with a stranger can be too overwhelming at times.
There is no single clear cause for social anxiety disorder, and some people are much more likely to develop anxiety issues than others. Some common possible causes include:
Inherited causes – people with a family history of anxiety issues are more likely to struggle with social anxiety, and anxiety disorders in general. There is no specific number to indicate the genetic risk for anxiety disorders, but it is confirmed that it does matter.
Unique brain structure – some research points towards an overactive amygdala increasing the risk of anxiety disorders. The amygdala is also known as the lizard brain, and controls, among other things, our fear response.
Environmental causes – sometimes, insanely embarrassing situations and relentless bullying can cause children to develop intense anxieties as a defense mechanism to any social situation. Anxiety can be learned, especially when it is tied to something, such as being open with others. We learn to cope to our environments – so if that environment includes a traumatic experience or a set of traumatic experiences, it can lead to maladaptive coping mechanisms – such as the belief that the best way to avoid embarrassment is to never interact with people.
Encourage them to open up about their fears – a large portion of people silently struggle with anxiety issues before opening up about them. Be sure your teen trusts you and encourage them to speak about things that bother them. The earlier they can talk to you about their fears, the better. Treatment can be more effective closer to the onset of anxiety symptoms.
Help them continue seeking out resources – a residential program like Paradigm Malibu can kickstart the healing process, but it can be easy to slip back into old ways of thinking once the program has ended. Encourage your teen to keep going to therapy, keep making progress, and continue nurturing relationships with other people.
Coordinate with professionals to better understand – it can be very difficult to know when it’s appropriate to push a teen in the right direction, and when it’s more important to give them the space to progress on their own. It can help to take a few sessions of family therapy or communicate with their doctor and/or therapist to develop a special list of guidelines to adhere to specifically for your teen and the brand of anxiety they’re going through. Each case is different, and every person has their own unique challenges and boundaries. Taking time to better understand your teen both through trust and communication with them, and communication with their therapist, can help.
Therapy is the primary treatment for anxiety. There are several different forms of therapy that may help teens with their anxiety issues, and talk therapy is typically the most common form. CBT and DBT are used to help treat various anxiety disorders and may be used in conjunction with other forms of psychotherapy, such as group therapy, exposure therapy (through the form of simulated social experiences or real social interaction and roleplaying), music therapy, art therapy, and more.
The first medication usually prescribed to teens with severe symptoms of anxiety is an SSRI. There are many different brands, and it may take several different brands for a teen to find something that works. Other medication that may be prescribed for anxiety includes anti-anxiety medication and beta blockers, which help regulate heart rate and physical anxiety symptoms.
These are generally undervalued but can have a serious impact on a teen’s confidence, self-esteem, and general wellbeing. Enjoying a healthy diet, exercising regularly, engaging in a hobby that is both active and fun to the teen, and exploring safe herbal supplements and home remedies to relax and relieve acute symptoms of anxiety can be incredibly helpful.
However, the most helpful thing to do is wait. Treatment can take a while to set in, whether it be therapy or medication or change. Give yourself and your mind time to adjust to your new changes and see if they truly make a difference – not over a week, or a month, but over a year or more. In some cases, it’s important to try many different treatment types – but it’s also important to give those treatments time to work at all. Consult your doctor before discontinuing or starting any given treatment.
Teen social anxiety disorder treatment is commonly very successful. One of the first things we do at Paradigm Malibu with all of our teens is a thorough, comprehensive diagnostic process, which provides us with as complete a picture of what they are going through. We believe this is extremely important, in order for us to understand all possible factors at work.
Helping Teens Tackle Fears
When working with teens that are suffering from social anxiety, we immediately want to help them identify, more specifically, what are the triggers and stressors that create this anxiety. What we find is that often, the more specific the teens can become in identifying their stressors, the more manageable they become as well.
Sometimes, during this process, teens realize that their overwhelming fears are connected to a more general anxiety disorder, to a specific person or relationship, or even to a past traumatic event they experienced. By helping teens to understand what’s causing their stress, they learn to overcome these triggers.
The Right Environment
Teens can engage in numerous other types of teen social anxiety disorder treatment with their therapeutic team, in order to practice ways in which they can overcome their social fears, one instance at a time, in order to gradually diminish the power that these fears have over their lives.
At the same time, another powerful and great resource at Paradigm Malibu is that teens have the incredible opportunity of interacting and engaging with their peers in a safe, controlled environment, free of judgment. This community experience can be tremendously powerful, especially for individuals who struggle with social anxiety.
The staff is amazing and all work together with you for mind, body and soul healing. They are very into natural means of healing and treating food disorders, depression, anxiety, etc. Highly recommend!
– Daniela S.
How does a person with social anxiety disorder participate in a residential program, with other teens?
Paradigm Malibu is an organization that specifically focuses on helping a manageable group of teens at a time. That means that each individual receives the level of care they need to make progress. This includes measures to help teens with social anxiety slowly and gradually adapt to communicating with others.
Teens are never forced into counterproductive or scary situations, and while the idea might seem intimidating at first, the truth is that residential programs – especially those with small groups involved – are the best way to help teens quickly and effectively learn to separate themselves from their anxieties and manage them better.
Is introversion a symptom of social anxiety disorder?
Many teens who struggle with social anxiety might first identify as introverted, even though they struggle with a disorder. And some parents who perceive introversion in their children might worry that they are in fact struggling with an anxiety. The two are separate, but it’s important to communicate with one another to avoid a misinterpretation of preference versus disorder.
Being introverted in and of itself is not so much a character trait, as it is a spectrum. Some teens exhibit extroverted and introverted behavior in different levels, according to different circumstances. This is healthy and normal. But anxiety is debilitating and produces feelings of embarrassment and paranoia.