What you can do
- Talk about what you feel face-to-face with someone you trust
- Challenge your negative thoughts
- In the moment, focus on your senses—sight, sound, taste, smell, touch, or movement
- Learn how to control your breathing
- Move—short bursts of movement, several times a day, can reduce anxiety
- Get enough quality sleep at night
- Face your smallest anxieties and move your way up to bigger ones
What is Social Anxiety?
Social Anxiety is the phrase used to describe the overwhelming fear of being judged or embarrassed in public. This fear isn’t just tied to the fear of speaking in front of a large class or going to a big birthday party where you only know one other person; you can have Social Anxiety in very small groups, or just one-on-one with someone you’re unfamiliar with.
When you have Social Anxiety, some places or situations may be so scary to you that you get upset just thinking about them. You may find yourself going out of your way to avoid these situations all together, which ends up isolating you from others and making your life lonely and scary.
Signs and symptoms of Social Anxiety
Just because you sometimes get nervous at a party or in a crowded theater, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have Social Anxiety. Many kids feel shy or self-conscious at times, yet it doesn’t get in the way of their lives and their everyday routines. Social Anxiety, on the other hand, does interfere with your normal routines and can disrupt things and activities that make you happy.
How do you know if you have Social Anxiety? There are many different symptoms to help you figure it out.
|Symptoms of Social Anxiety
- Extreme shyness and anxiety in everyday social situations, like eating at the cafeteria table or working on a group project
- Intense worry for days, weeks, or even months before an upcoming party or event
- Extreme fear of being watched or judged by others, especially by people you don’t know
- Fear that you’ll act in ways that that will embarrass or humiliate yourself, like saying the wrong thing or falling down in front of others
- Fear that others will notice that you’re nervous
- Red face, or blushing
- Shortness of breath
- Upset stomach, nausea (i.e. butterflies)
- Trembling or shaking (including shaky voice)
- Fast-beating heart or tightness in chest
- Sweating or hot flashes
- Feeling dizzy
- Avoiding social situations so much that you can’t join in activities that normally make you happy
- Staying quiet or hiding in the background so that no one will notice you
- A need to always bring a friend along with you wherever you go
Social Anxiety and your body
While many of us have thoughts about our body that we’re not happy with—a nose that’s too big, for example, or legs that are too thin—our physical imperfections don’t get in the way of our daily lives. Some of us, however, may obsess over these real or imagined “flaws” to such a degree that we avoid other people and social situations. This isolation can sometimes lead to suicidal thoughts and behavior. There are plenty of things you can do to overcome the negative thoughts associated with your body and regain control of your life.
Common Social Anxiety triggers
Most kids experience some type of anxiety in social and performance situations, but for others, anxiety is connected with specific situations that trigger Social Anxiety, such as speaking to strangers or performing in front of an audience.
Social anxiety triggers
At school: Being called on in class, taking a test, being bullied or made fun of
In public: Using public bathrooms, eating or drinking in a restaurant, going to parties or other events, meeting new kids, performing on stage
In other situations: Making phone calls, being watched while doing something, being the center of attention, going on a date
Dealing with the feelings triggered by Social Anxiety
Feeling helpless in certain situations has always been part of life. Over time, our bodies have evolved to give us ways to quickly relieve the stress and anxiety generated by this feeling of helplessness.
|Dealing with social anxiety
|Talking face-to-face: a rapid anxiety reliever
The most effective way to calm your nerves is to talk to someone you trust, face-to-face. This can be your best friend, a parent, teacher, sibling, or coach. Talking to someone who is kind and supportive will help you get rid of your butterflies and insecurities quicker than anything else. Yes, you may not always have a friend to lean on the exact moment when your anxieties flare up, especially face-to-face, so if you can make a phone call, send a text, or get online to reach out to a supportive person, it will also help keep your stress and anxieties in check.
|Using your senses to relieve stress and anxiety
Another way to quickly lower your feelings of Social Anxiety is to focus on one or more of your senses—sight, sound, taste, smell, touch, or movement. By looking at a favorite photo, smelling a specific scent, listening to a favorite song, tasting a piece of gum, dancing alone in your room, or hugging a pet, for example, you can quickly relax.
|Controlling your breathing
Many times, when you are feeling anxious, you begin to breathe quickly. Rapid, shallow breathing can often lead to even worse feelings, so if you can take a moment to control your breathing, this can help you bring your anxiety back under control. Consider learning yoga and meditation to do this; you can find videos on both on YouTube or other places on the web.
A breathing exercise to help you stay calm in social situations
- Sit comfortably with your back straight and your shoulders relaxed. Put one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach.
- Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose for four seconds. The hand on your stomach should rise, while the hand on your chest should move very little.
- Hold the breath for two seconds, then exhale slowly through your mouth for six seconds, pushing out as much air as you can. The hand on your stomach should move in as you exhale, but your other hand should move very little.
- Continue to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Focus on keeping a slow and steady breathing pattern of 4-in, 2-hold, and 6-out.
Challenge negative thoughts
Negative thoughts about yourself are a main source of your Social Anxiety. These can include thoughts such as:
"I know I'll just end up looking like an idiot."
"As soon as I start singing, my voice is going to start shaking and everyone is going to laugh."
"She’ll say hi and I won’t have anything to say back. She’s going to think I'm so boring."
Challenging these negative thoughts is a great way to reduce your anxiety.
How to challenge negative thoughts
First, you need to identify the main and underlying negative thoughts you have about yourself that make you so afraid of being in a social situation. Are you always worried about looking stupid in front of other people? For example, if there is a speech coming up that you have to give at school, your underlying negative thought might be: “I’m going to forget what I’m supposed to say and everyone is going to think I’m so stupid.”
The next step is to think hard about these main, underlying negative thoughts, and then challenge them head on! Here’s a tip: Ask yourself questions about the negative thoughts: “Do I know for sure that I’m going to forget what I’m supposed to say?” or “Even if I need to look at my notes or if I skip around a bit, will everyone really think that I’m stupid?” By thinking hard about these negative thoughts, you can gradually replace them with better ways of looking at this situation—and other social situations—that trigger your anxiety.
Unhelpful thinking styles
Ask yourself if you’re participating in any of the following unhelpful thinking styles:
Mind reading – Assuming you know what other people are thinking, and that they see you in the same negative way that you see yourself.
Fortune telling – Predicting the future, usually while assuming the worst will happen. You just "know" that things will go horribly, so you're already anxious before you're even in the situation.
Catastrophizing – Blowing things out of proportion. For example, if people notice that you’re nervous, it will be "awful," "terrible," or "the worst thing ever."
Personalizing – Assuming that people are focusing on you in a negative way or what’s going on with other people actually has to do with you.
Things you can do to help you feel more confident
The mind and the body are naturally linked, so if you treat your body well, then your ability to treat your anxiety in a positive way goes up, too, along with your self-confidence.
|Changes that boost your confidence
Movement makes you feel surer of yourself. Exercise, run, walk, dance, or move several times during the day every day. If you hate to exercise, try pairing it with something you do enjoy—play an interactive video game that involves physical activity, or bike to your favorite bookstore instead of driving. Drumming and playing an instrument are other good ways to get moving.
|Avoid or limit caffeine and sugary foods
Soda, energy drinks, and sugary foods increase anxiety symptoms. Reduce caffeine and sugar from your diet as much as possible. Your mind and body will thank you.
|Do not smoke, drink alcohol, or take drugs
There are countless reasons why kids and teens (and adults) should stay away from cigarettes, alcohol, and illegal drugs, but what you may not know is that they increase your risk of having an anxiety attack.
|Get enough quality sleep
When you’re not getting enough sleep, it’s harder to stay calm in social situations. Here are some tips to help you sleep better:
- Make sure your bedroom is dark, cool, and quiet. Curtains, white noise machines, and fans can help.
- To wind down, calm the mind, and prepare for sleep, try taking a warm bath, reading by a soft light, listening to soothing music, or practicing a relaxation technique before bed.
Put fears in the background by focusing on others
While you’re doing your best to ward off bad feelings in a social situation, it’s hard not to feel uncomfortable if you think that the people around you see your upset and judge it.
How can I stop thinking that everyone is looking at me?
The more you can focus on what’s happening around you, and less on the nervousness going on in your head that people are judging you, the less you’ll be affected by anxiety.
Don’t worry about yourself. Instead, focus on being interested, genuine and thoughtful—qualities that make others feel good and want to be with you. People are drawn to other people who seem interested in them. This focus on others draws people to us and helps us get out of the negative self -talk in our head.
Remember that nervousness isn’t as noticeable as you think. And even if someone notices that you’re uncomfortable, that doesn’t mean they’ll think badly of you.
Really listen to what is being said—be prepared to repeat or paraphrase what the other person says. Also take notice of what it is you think the feeling.
Focus on the present moment rather than worrying about what you’re going to say next, or beating yourself up for saying something slightly weird a few minutes ago. Remember that the most important thing to the other person is the interest that you show in them.
Face your fears
While avoiding nerve-wracking situations may help you feel better in the short term, it prevents you from becoming more comfortable in social situations and learning how to deal with them in the long term. In fact, the more you avoid a feared social situation, the more frightening it becomes.
Avoiding fears may also prevent you from doing things you’d like to do, or keep you from reaching certain goals. For example, a fear of speaking up may prevent you from sharing your perfectly drawn-up play that helps you win the basketball game.
Challenging Social Anxiety one step at a time
The key is to start with a situation that you think you can handle and gradually work your way up to more challenging situations. If socializing in the hallway in between classes makes you anxious, you might start by asking the kid who has a locker next to yours about homework, or by starting a conversation with someone in the classroom that can spill out into the hallway. Once you’re comfortable with that step, you might try approaching a group of kids nearby talking about something that excites you.
Working your way up the “anxiety ladder”
Don’t try to face your biggest fear right away. It’s never a good idea to move too fast, take on too much, or force things. This can be a mistake.
Be patient. Overcoming Social Anxiety takes time and practice. It’s a gradual step-by-step progress.
Use the skills you’ve learned to stay calm, such as focusing on your breathing and challenging negative thoughts and assumptions.
Build better relationships
Another way to challenge your fears and overcoming your Social Anxiety is to find social situations that actually make you feel supported and comfortable.
Join or start a club. If you love math, join the math team at school. If you enjoy playing chess and there isn’t a chess club, start one. Even if you meet just one new person, it’s a victory.
Volunteer doing something you enjoy, such as walking dogs in a shelter or tutoring another student in a subject you excel at—anything that will give you an activity to focus on while you are also getting to know someone with similar interests.
Article source: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/anxiety/social-anxiety-in-teens.htm