Tips for Teenagers With Social Anxiety Disorder

Teens my suffer silently with social anxiety.
The teen years is often a time when social anxiety emerges. martin-dm / Getty Images

In addition to obtaining a professional diagnosis and treatment, there are a number of self-help strategies that teenagers with social anxiety disorder (SAD) can use to help manage day-to-day social anxiety. Below are some tips to help teens cope with SAD.

Managing Negative Self-Talk

Most teens who experience social anxiety have automatic negative thoughts. Imagine that you are planning to attend a school dance.

What thoughts start to run through your mind? "What if everyone stares at me when I walk in?" "What if no one will dance with me?" "What if I start shaking while on the dance floor?"

As these thoughts run through your mind, they increase your anxiety and lead to even more negative thoughts and, quite often, eventual avoidance of the feared event. Before you know it, you have talked yourself out of going to the dance.

Is there a better way? One way to combat automatic negative thoughts is to ask yourself a couple of key questions:

  • First, how likely is it that what you fear will happen? Is everyone really staring at you when you walk in the room, or is that just your imagination? What are the chances that absolutely no one will want to dance with you?
     
  • Second, ask yourself whether it would be the end of the world if what you fear did happen. Imagine that it was a friend who started shaking on the dance floor, or whom no one wanted to dance with. Would you think poorly of your friend?

    People with SAD are generally kinder with their thoughts about others than themselves, so it may help to treat yourself as you would treat others. Above all else, refuse to accept negative thoughts about yourself, and eventually you will find that you are thinking more positively.

    Practice Makes Perfect

    How else can you cope with SAD?

    Practice, practice, and practice some more. As difficult as it may be, participate in as many social and performance situations that you can comfortably. Over time, your confidence will grow.

    • If you are feeling overwhelmed, take the smallest step possible in the right direction. Instead of attending a large party, spend 20 minutes eating lunch with one other quiet classmate.
       
    • If you find it difficult to get to know others, try volunteering or becoming involved in an activity that you really enjoy. Companionship will be secondary but should come more easily because you are talking with others about something that really interests you.
       
    • In addition to the above coping strategies, it is important to pay attention to your non-verbal behavior. Try as hard as you can to speak clearly, stand with good posture, and avoid crossing your arms in front of you. Relaxed body language signals to others that you are friendly and open.

    These strategies should be used in conjunction with professional treatment such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or medication.

    In addition, if you are experiencing severe social anxiety or are feeling suicidal, it is important to reach out to someone right away.

    Most teenagers experience some social anxiety and awkwardness during adolescence. If you have SAD, your social anxiety impairs your daily functioning to a greater degree than other teenagers. Although it may seem unlikely now, it is possible to learn how to manage your anxiety and enjoy social and performance situations.

    Sources:

    Akron Children's Hospital. Social phobia

    Anxiety Disorders Association of America. More than just shy: Social anxiety disorder in teenagers. 

    Pruitt, D. Your Adolescent: Emotional, Behavioral, and Cognitive Development from Early Adolescence Through the Teen Years. New York: Harper; 2000.

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