Adolescence is filled with new experiences and challenges. Teen girls are going through physical and emotional changes and puberty starts and social dynamics begin to shift. With all these changes, it is easy to see how young women may feel uncomfortable or shy in these new situations. Friend groups may start to expand or contract, and your daughter will have to begin to learn how to create new friendships and relationships. This can be challenging for any teen girl, but for girls struggling with social anxiety, this can be even more difficult.
Struggling to fit in with people your own age as a teen girl or child-assigned female at birth is terrible. Most teen girls and assigned female at birth base their entire lives around their social life. They make it a higher priority than spending time with their family and/or even doing well academically. For some teen girls, this social life is not an option. Social anxiety in teens can be absolutely crippling in many aspects of a teen’s life. Unlike the self-consciousness most people feel from time to time, social anxiety in teens creates a fear of social situations that is so intense people avoid all situations that might trigger the fear response.
What is social anxiety?
Feelings of shyness or discomfort in certain situations aren’t necessarily signs of social anxiety disorder, particularly in children. Their comfort levels in social situations will vary, depending on their personality traits and life experiences. Some teens are naturally reserved and others are more outgoing.
In contrast to everyday nervousness, social anxiety disorder includes fear, anxiety and avoidance that interfere with daily routine, work, school or other activities. Social anxiety disorder typically begins in the early to mid-teens, though it can sometimes start in younger children or in adults.
Many people experience some form of anxiety in their lives, but social anxiety is a type of anxiety disorder that causes extreme fear in social settings. Teens with this disorder have trouble talking to peers, meeting new people, and attending social gatherings. They fear being judged or scrutinized by others. They may understand that their fears are irrational or unreasonable, but feel powerless to overcome them.
There is no one cause of social anxiety, but current research shows that it can be caused by a combination of environmental factors and genetics. Some negative experiences that could contribute to social anxiety are bullying, family conflict, and abuse. Physical abnormalities such as a serotonin imbalance may contribute to this condition. Serotonin is a chemical in the brain that helps regulate mood. An overactive amygdala (the part of the brain that controls fear responses and feelings or thoughts of anxiety) may also cause these disorders.
Anxiety disorders can run in families, but it is currently unclear if there are genetic factors involved. A teen may develop an anxiety disorder by learning the behavior of a parent or family member who has an anxiety disorder. They learn to internalize these behaviors which can trigger a disorder of their own. Teens can also develop anxiety disorders as a result of being raised in controlling or overprotective environments.
Social anxiety in teens is actually fairly common. However, the social situations that trigger social anxiety can be very different. Some of these triggers include:
- being the center of attention
- meeting new people
- making small talk
- being criticized or teased
- speaking with authority figures
- public speaking
- navigating new spaces
How can you tell if your teen has social anxiety?
Just because your teen occasionally gets nervous when she’s in social situations doesn’t mean they necessarily have social anxiety. Many people are shy or self-conscious—at least from time to time—but it doesn’t get in the way of their everyday functioning. Social anxiety in teens, on the other hand, does get in the way of a teen’s normal routine and can cause tremendous distress. That’s why it’s important to note symptoms of social anxiety in teens:
- Fear that others will notice nervousness
- Fear of humiliation and being watched by others
- Feeling dizzy
- Reddened face
- Fast heartbeat
- Upset stomach or nausea
- Trouble catching your breath
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Feeling that your mind has gone blank
- Muscle tension
Teens with social anxiety may avoid situations that they used to enjoy such as social gatherings or school events. They may begin to withdraw and isolate as a way to deal with their anxiety. And while avoiding situations that cause anxiety may help them feel better in the moment, their anxiety is likely to continue if they do not receive treatment.
If you notice that your teen is exhibiting signs or symptoms of a social anxiety disorder, it may be time to seek out professional help for a diagnosis. According to the ADAA, about 36 percent of people with social anxiety don’t speak to a healthcare provider until they have had symptoms for at least 10 years. The symptoms of social anxiety may themselves be a deterrent to reaching out for help. A mental health professional will diagnose social phobia from a description of your teen’s symptoms. They can also diagnose social phobia after examining certain behavioral patterns.
Treating Social Anxiety
There are several types of treatment available for social anxiety disorder, and different types of treatment make work for different people. For some, one type of treatment is beneficial, for others, a combination of treatments may be helpful.
Treatment options for social anxiety disorder include:
Cognitive behavioral therapy: This therapy helps teens learn how to control anxiety through relaxation and breathing, and how to replace negative thoughts with positive ones. CBT helps teens recognize their behavior patterns and how to address negative patterns to create positive one.
Exposure therapy: This type of therapy helps teens gradually face social situations, rather than avoiding them. They can practice coping skills in challenging environments so that they can start to become more comfortable in these situations.
Group therapy: This therapy helps teens learn social skills and techniques to interact with peers in social settings. Participating in group therapy with others who have the same fears may make them feel less alone. It will give them a chance to practice their new skills through role-playing.
There are also lifestyle changes you and your teen can take into consideration. Paying attention to their sleep habits and making sure they are getting enough rest can be a good first step, as well as avoiding stimulants like caffeine that can make them feel jittery or exacerbate anxiety symptoms. Some teens may also benefit from medications that manage anxiety symptoms. Antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications can play a part in a treatment plan.
The most important thing to understand when dealing with an anxiety disorder is that it will likely take time for your teen to get under control. Encourage your teen to have patience and take pride in the steps they are taking to improve their mental health.
Residential Treatment for Social Anxiety
For some teens, making changes at home and participating in outpatient therapy can be helpful. Other teens may benefit from the structure and support of a residential treatment center. A residential treatment center like Solstice West combines therapy practices such as individual, family, adventure, and group therapy for a holistic treatment approach.
Milieu therapy is an experiential therapeutic approach that utilizes the residential environment of our program to better understand how to help your child approach and overcome their challenges. At Solstice West, milieu therapy is carried out by observing your child’s behaviors and emotions throughout the day, within a variety of different settings. Milieu therapy provides an invaluable “in the moment” understanding of your child’s challenges, unique from traditional talk therapy. Milieu experiential therapy utilizes the social culture of a residential treatment environment to create positive changes in your child’s behavior. These changes are achieved through the therapeutic use of our campus’s “community”, which includes their peers, staff, community roles, and responsibilities, groups, and meetings. The positive influence of peers can promote a powerful and sustainable change when combined with the intentional application of other therapeutic interventions.
Volunteering and community service is a significant component of our adventure therapy program. Our students participate in community service regularly, volunteering at a variety of local and regional organizations. Our students learn how to build and maintain a sense of community by repeatedly volunteering with a select group of organizations in our area. As they gain stronger relationships with the people and organizations we work with, they begin to feel more connected to the community and the work they do.
Solstice West Can Help
Solstice West, a residential treatment center for teen girls and assigned females at birth ages 14-18, can help your child struggling with social anxiety. We help girls and assigned female at birth struggling with emotional and behavioral difficulties such as depression, anxiety, and eating issues.
Our relationship-based philosophy is based on the significant body of research that supports the idea that the “therapeutic alliance” is the factor that contributes most to positive change in the therapeutic process. This “alliance” is referring to healthy, trusting relationships. At Solstice, we ensure that your child has the ability to develop many safe, secure, and authentic relationships. This begins with employing the right people. Also training them effectively in the process of building and maintaining these relationships with our clients and families. For more information about Solstice, please call (801) 406-7256.