To The Kid In High School With Social Anxiety
When I was in high school, I was so shy that it took effort to look someone in the eye. There were lunch periods I spent by the lockers or in a bathroom stall because, in the cafeteria, it felt like there were so many eyes on me. With close friends and family, I was actually funny, but I could barely muster a smile when I passed acquaintances in the hall. Some called me shy. Some called me a snob. But what I remember most is how suffocating high school felt. I felt squeezed with the expectations of others some real, some in my own mind. But the pressure around me was so suffocating that I could barely be in my own skin, let alone figure out who I really was. I felt like one person at home brave, funny, genuine and a shell of a person at school.
At the end of my sophomore year, I learned from a psychologist that what I had was called social anxiety. In some ways, the label made it easier to cope. But, in many ways, I didnt gain the perspective and confidence I needed to live confidently with the condition until I was in my late 20s.
You will have your own story. Your condition might not look exactly like mine. But my heart is full of so many truths I wish Id known during the long days of high school. Can I share them with you?
1. Muster a smile and eye contact.
2. You dont need to do what everyone else is doing.
3. Its quite possible youre an introvert.
4. Express yourself in other ways.
5. Enjoy your people.
6. Youre not broken.
Make Time For Relaxation
No matter what kind of anxiety youre dealing with, self-care is important. Sure, relaxation cant solve everything, but students and professionals alike suggest that activities such as exercise, yoga, deep breathing and listening to calming music can do wonders to help you manage feelings of anxiety. Adopting coping mechanisms helps you feel in control and gives you a much-needed step back from stressful situations.
I was skeptical at first, but I cant emphasize enough how 10 minutes of deep breathing and calming music can really change your mindset and calm your nerves at the same time, Katie says. Along with meditation, exercise and yoga are both great ways to refocus your energy and pump up your feel-good endorphins.
Similarly, you might want to consider cutting caffeine out of your diet, according to Dr. Schwartz. We knowthat sounds impossible as a college student, but as a stimulant, caffeine can exacerbate feelings of anxiety and make you feel even more overwhelmed.
Tip : Learn To Control Your Breathing
Many changes happen in your body when you become anxious. One of the first changes is that you begin to breathe quickly. Overbreathing throws off the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your bodyleading to more physical symptoms of anxiety, such as dizziness, a feeling of suffocation, increased heart rate, and muscle tension.
Learning to slow your breathing down can help bring your physical symptoms of anxiety back under control. Practicing the following breathing exercise will help you stay calm:
- 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 4 seconds. The hand on your stomach should rise, while the hand on your chest should move very little.
- Hold the breath for 2 seconds.
- Exhale slowly through your mouth for 6 seconds, pushing out at 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.
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Simple Steps To Feeling More Socially Confident
Social anxiety disorder is often misunderstood, and many people could be suffering in silence. Its much more than feeling shy and not wanting to speak up in big groups. It can really take control and impede your everyday life. Anxiety Care UK states that social anxiety is a common and distressing condition, with as many as 40 percent of the population suffering from it.
Young People With Social Anxiety
Experiencing social anxiety and fear of social interactions can make simple responsibilities almost impossible to overcome. An estimated 15 million American adults have social anxiety, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, with young adolescents who are transitioning to secondary school or college being particularly vulnerable. Its suggested that social anxiety disorder symptoms usually begin around the age of 13.
The good news is that there are ways to develop new habits to help ease and overcome your social anxiety.
1. Challenge your negative and anxious thoughts. At times it may feel like theres nothing you can do about the way you feel and how you think. In reality, though, there are a number of things that can help.
4. Create an exposure hierarchy. Identify and rate how each social situation makes you feel in terms of anxiousness. For example, 0 would mean no anxiety, and 10 would be a full-blown panic attack.
Connect With Your Child
You can use the PACE model to engage with your children and help them feel safe. The PACE method stands for Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity, and Empathy. These four reactions or methods of interaction help to release some of the anxiety associated with a situation by letting the child know that you are calm, relaxed, and able to understand and help them.
An interaction between a parent and a child with social anxiety could sound like this:
“It seems like you’re worried about your game tomorrow. You’re not scared you’ll have too much fun, are you?”
Using playfulness shows your child that you, as the person who keeps them safe, are feeling relaxed and open, allowing them to begin to feel more relaxed.
“No, I just don’t want to play soccer anymore. I’d rather play with you.”
“I hear ya. I love playing with you too.”
Showing acceptance of your childs feelings is especially important when your child has anxiety, because so often anxiety can be brushed off as irrational. If your child learns that they can come to you with their anxiety and feel heard, they feel safer now and with future anxieties.
“Maybe you’re worried about missing a goal tomorrow. I know when I focus on scoring in sports, I feel really anxious and pressured to do well. I wonder if you’re feeling nervous because youre not sure if youll make goals?”
“Well, I did miss a goal at the last game, and Jordan was mean to me because I let down the WHOLE team.”
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Signs And Symptoms Of Social Anxiety Disorder
Just because you occasionally get nervous in social situations doesnt mean you have social anxiety disorder or social phobia. Many people feel shy or self-conscious on occasion, yet it doesnt get in the way of their everyday functioning. Social anxiety disorder, on the other hand, does interfere with your normal routine and causes tremendous distress.
For example, its perfectly normal to get the jitters before giving a speech. But if you have social anxiety, you might worry for weeks ahead of time, call in sick to get out of it, or start shaking so bad during the speech that you can hardly speak.
Emotional signs and symptoms of social anxiety disorder:
- Excessive self-consciousness and anxiety in everyday social situations
- Intense worry for days, weeks, or even months before an upcoming social situation
- Extreme fear of being watched or judged by others, especially people you dont know
- Fear that youll act in ways that will embarrass or humiliate yourself
- Fear that others will notice that youre nervous
Physical signs and symptoms:
- Avoiding social situations to a degree that limits your activities or disrupts your life
- Staying quiet or hiding in the background in order to escape notice and embarrassment
- A need to always bring a buddy along with you wherever you go
- Drinking before social situations in order to soothe your nerves
Anxiety Can Affect Education
The educational cost for students with anxiety is considerable.
The research shows students with poor mental health can be between seven to 11 months behind in year 3, and 1.5 2.8 years behind by year 9.
Thats because these students experience more absences from school, poorer connection to school, lower levels of belonging and less engagement with schoolwork.
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Tips For Dealing With Social Anxiety In School
While picking out new clothes and school supplies can be fun, some children may dread the back-to-school season. These students struggle with fears of being judged by their teachers or not being accepted by their peers. The good news is that, with the right coping strategies, social anxiety is manageable. Here are 5 tips for overcoming social anxiety during back to school 2019.
Adopt Healthy Mental Health Habits And Routines
Poor diet and lack of sleep can make signs of social anxiety worse. If your child has been staying up late and sleeping in all summer, help them get on a back-to-school schedule by having them go to bed and wake up a little earlier each day, beginning about two weeks before classes start. Provide healthy meals and encourage regular exercise as well to help stimulate them both physically and emotionally.
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The Varied Symptoms Of Social Anxiety
Social anxiety manifests in many ways. You can track the symptoms of SAD in your thoughts, emotions, and behavioral patterns. There are also physical symptoms that develop as a consequence of severe negative emotions.
Check out which social anxiety signs and symptoms you can relate to:
- Being the center of attention
- Placing orders in bars or restaurants
- Receiving visitors
Teach Your Child Relaxation Techniques
Relaxation techniques can go a long way toward alleviating social anxiety. Deep-breathing and relaxing tense muscles, beginning with the neck and shoulders, can help your child calm down. Your child can also learn to direct their thoughts away from anxiety triggers.
If signs of social anxiety persist or are severe enough to interfere with your childs ability to function, seeking professional help may be in order. Ridgeview Institute offers comprehensive services to promote mental health in schools. Contact us to learn more about how we can help.
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Problems Associated With School Anxiety
Social anxiety disorder at school can be a serious problem. It is also one that is self-sustaining. Below, we’ll take a look at some of the reasons that people experience social anxiety at school.
The following are some examples of both ways the ways that children experience school anxiety and what happens if it goes untreated:
What Causes Social Anxiety
Although it may feel like youre the only one with this problem, social anxiety is actually quite common. Many people struggle with these fears. But the situations that trigger the symptoms of social anxiety disorder can be different.
Some people experience anxiety in most social situations. For others, anxiety is connected to specific social situations, such as speaking to strangers, mingling at parties, or performing in front of an audience. Common social anxiety triggers include:
- Meeting new people
- Being the center of attention
- Being watched while doing something
- Being teased or criticized
- Talking with important people or authority figures
- Being called on in class
- Going on a date
- Speaking up in a meeting
- Using public restrooms
- Eating or drinking in public
- Making phone calls
- Attending parties or other social gatherings
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Helping Students Overcome Social Anxiety In School
Anxiety disorders are among some of the most common mental health disorders in the United States and it isnt just adults who are affected. In addition to an estimated 40 million U.S. adults, anxiety has also been diagnosed in more than 7 percent of U.S. children and teenagers aged 3 to 17, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention . That figure translates to approximately 4.4 million children and adolescents who are living with some form of anxiety, over a third of whom nearly 37 percent also exhibit behavior problems. Under the pressure of COVID-19, rates of anxiety in adolescents are climbing to new heights, causing more and more families to be affected.
One of the most prevalent forms of anxiety is social anxiety disorder, or SAD, which affects more than 9 percent of adolescents, according to the National Institute of Mental Health . This estimate is higher than the approximate 7.1 percent of the overall U.S. population affected by SAD in the past year.
Adopting A Positive Attitude Increases Mental Health
Encourage your child to reframe negative thoughts in a more positive light. For instance, he might say, None of the kids in class will like me because they already know each other, and Im new. Help them adopt a more optimistic mindset by substituting that thought with, I may not be the only new kid at school, and I can be a good friend.
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Allow Your Child To Worry
Allow your child a “worry time” wherein you help them explore possible negative outcomes. Set a timer for ten minutes, and let the worrying commence. At the end of “worrying time,” work to find a solution or coping technique to help your child through the scary experience they’re anticipating.
While worry time is happening, a child can imagine every awful thing that could happen and fully experience them. Stay with your child during this time to reinforce feelings of safety, and talk through the possible outcomes and any feelings that come up. Acknowledge that even the most outrageous of possible outcomes feel possible and scary.
As youre helping your child through worry time, you can also try the worst-case scenario exercise that we described in our article about overcoming the fear of failure.
In this exercise, your child would imagine the worst possible outcome to a situation and brainstorm ways to lessen the possibility of those happening. At the end of this exercise, you and your child would also talk about how to recover from those worst-case circumstances.
Explore Specific Situations That Trigger Anxiety
Social anxiety doesnt show up in the same way for everyone.
You might feel anxious about any situation where you worry about others judging you, from ordering food at a restaurant to leaving for the restroom during a class lecture. On the other hand, you could feel mostly fine simply being around others as long as they dont expect you to share your thoughts or speak up.
Pinpointing why and when you feel most anxious can help you take the first steps toward finding solutions to power through those feelings.
Tip: Start by listing situations that cause the most discomfort, the ones you feel utterly unable to face. These might include:
- interviewing for a new job
- meeting with a professor to ask for help
- introducing yourself to someone youre attracted to
Chances are, you spend a lot of time thinking about the potential negative outcomes of those social situations you just listed.
You might worry about:
- accidentally saying something rude or offensive
- tripping or spilling something on yourself
- laughing, sneezing, or coughing at the wrong time
- getting sick in front of other people
These things do happen on occasion, and they certainly can cause some short-term discomfort. It can feel frightening to imagine yourself in a similarly awkward situation, but try to keep things in perspective.
Understanding the spotlight effect the tendency to think others notice your mistakes more than they actually do can also go a long way toward easing feelings of social anxiety.
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