Social anxiety is a silent force that builds without anyone noticing and many times not recognized by others, because avoidance is a quick fix. This force is pervasive; it replaces our other feelings with fear at the thought of going into social settings and affects an estimated 12% of adolescent. In place of excitement or happiness, people with social anxiety experience:
• Difficulty breathing
• Ruminating on social interactions
These reactions and feelings come from worry about potential embarrassment or judgment in a social setting. There is constant apprehension that someone will feel offended by a comment you said, which can be partly true: overcome with anxiety in the social setting, our words can fail us, and an awkward comment comes out. These emotions are terrifying, and can cause individuals to withdraw, especially in adolescents, progressing into adulthood.
According to a 2012 study, adolescents with anxiety are diagnosed less than 20% of the time and are largely overlooked during development. These adolescents go unnoticed compared to those with ADHD and other disorders because socially anxious students appear quiet in class, not problematic. Most believe that these kids will “grow out” of this. But many of these feelings continue can become stronger with age as pressure builds and can lead to profound impacts in one’s life. (A) There are many different everyday occurrences that can activate social anxiety symptoms in people. Some common ones include:
• Making eye contact
• Going to school or work
• Going to parties
• Talking to strangers
Throughout my childhood and into adulthood, I was branded the “shy kid” in the family. In fact, I believed until my senior year of undergraduate school that I had overcome my “shyness” at the end of middle school. I was developing my own coping mechanisms and more able to be vulnerable with friends during this transition.
Through my training in psychology, I realized I had been living with social anxiety almost my entire life, and still experience it from time to time. I was the tallest person in my elementary school; this is when the feelings of being judged for being different started. This only got better once others started to grow taller and when I slowly started to make friends who didn’t focus on my height.
Presenting and talking in class is still is a challenge for me. I use deep breathing exercises and remind myself that no one cares as much as I do about my presentation, both which help me to lessen the anxiety. These are common mechanisms used in social anxiety treatment, using mindfulness and cognitive reconstructing, which help me to stop anticipating criticism and attempting to guess other’s thoughts to make these situations less frightening. I was then able to hear from people in my life who do matter and focus on my reality.
Social anxiety treatment includes working to counteract the feelings of not being able to do anything good enough, comparing ourselves to others and seeing that we are not adding up to where we believe we should be. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy can be beneficial to help us feel these emotions and then let them go, thereby lessening the impact. This can help one grow a stronger sense of self. Cognitive Reconstructing is process of rebuilding confidence through changing thoughts of oneself.
We are our own biggest critics. Mindfulness and focusing on the here and now can be a great compliment to any treatment for anxiety. Grounding exercises can help you stay present in daily life and not get lost in ruminating thoughts. Making this shift takes time but being consistent and active with this process while around people will give you a chance to really note the changes that you are creating.
Written by Lynsi Klimek.
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