Social anxiety (also known as ‘social phobia’) is the fear of social situations and being judged negatively by others. Of course, it is completely normal to have some fear in social situations. We are social creatures after all who have thrived in evolutionary terms because of our ability to collaborate and work in groups. As a teenager or pre-teen it is very important to find our tribe/feel accepted by peers.
Social anxiety only becomes a problem when the fear is intense and debilitating. For example, the child may have trouble interacting with people and attending social gatherings. It may be difficult to perform everyday activities – ordering food in-person or over the phone, doing a presentation, talking in social gatherings all become dreaded. As psychologists, we worry most, when the young person is avoiding doing things that they care about or enjoy such as hobbies and seeing their friends because of their fears.
In this blog, we will explain what social anxiety is to help you recognise and understand it better for your child.
“What does social anxiety look like?”
Physical symptoms of social anxiety in a novel social situation are:
- Intense blushing, sweating, rapid heartbeat
- Trembling or shaking when talking
- Dizziness, nausea
- Mind ‘goes blank’ (which creates difficulty in speaking)
For school-aged children and teenagers with social anxiety, they could exhibit similar symptoms:
This overwhelming self-consciousness can impact far and wide on life. Relationships, self-esteem, school or work achievement and quality of life is impacted. Gradually, life can shrink and lots of opportunities are missed. This can lead to low mood in the longer term.
What to do about it
For young people in school it is important to do something as soon as possible to interrupt the avoidance. At this crucial stage in development, young people need to be able to socialise to develop their personality, self-esteem and social skills.
Understanding social anxiety and how they manifest in behaviours is the first step. Therapy such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) can help give the young person the skills they need to manage the anxious thoughts.
There are lots of good books available to help get started with this – we like this one in particular.
In our next blog, we’ll explore deeper on the topic of social anxiety. Sign up to our hints and tips email for news on our upcoming webinar on social anxiety and to get all our latest hints and tips from the therapy room.
Pocket Family Psychologist