Has the pandemic amplified your teen’s fears of being in social settings? Are they experiencing an increased fear of being at school and avoiding certain situations? You are not alone, and they are not alone. Social anxiety has increased greatly amongst all ages and groups since the world went into lockdown, and potentially way before that. The thing about Social Anxiety is that it likes to creep up on us and try to take away what we may have loved and enjoyed at one point.
Social anxiety can show up differently for everyone. We may experience a variety of emotions and also physical responses such as heart racing, sweaty palms, dizziness and even nausea. It can prevent us from attending events, going to school or work, making friends and talking to people. Social anxiety can create intense thoughts and have us fall into not-so-fun thinking traps. However, there are ways to manage it and help you live the life you want. ALSO, there are ways that YOU can support your teen through this challenging and uncomfortable time.
I highly recommend you visit the blog post Child Anxiety Part 1. That post talks about how anxiety is actually protecting us and what exactly our incredible brain is doing.
In this post specifically, I will identify 5 key points you may want to consider when navigating Social Anxiety with your teen.
1. You are NOT alone. Your teen is NOT alone.
I know, very therapist-like of me to say. But honestly, you are NOT alone, and your teen is NOT alone. It can feel as though everyone in your world is judging you or they do not understand. Social anxiety is one of the most common mental health concerns in Canada. Think about all the people you know in your life; would you believe that a good chunk of them may have or currently experiencing this? It is essential to remind your teen that this is a common experience, and they do not have to walk this path alone.
2. Validation & compassion for you and your teen.
Human beings need to be heard. We need to have our needs met. Does your teen feel comfortable sharing how they feel? If not, can compassion be provided? Can validating their thoughts and feelings take place? When people feel heard, they tend to feel cared about. One way to support you and your teen is to offer up some compassion. Here are some examples of compassionate and validating statements:
- I hear you. It sounds like you are feeling a lot of different emotions.
- I understand that you’re having a difficult day. That must be so tough for you.
- How can I support you?
A tip to remember about validating statements is to include the language the teen is using and validate the feelings, thoughts, and behaviour of your child.
Let’s also talk about how many thoughts pop into our minds- we have roughly 6,000 thoughts a day! Some of these thoughts can be helpful, and others may not be helpful. Your teen may be thinking:
- Are they judging me?
- What if I make a fool of myself?
- What will I say?
- I’m not going to school if my best friend isn’t there.
- I don’t want to leave the house!
- No one understands me. I don’t want to talk to anyone.
This list is not exhaustive, but potentially what is going through their mind.
3. What’s in your toolbox?
We all have that handy toolbox in the garage or under the sink. It is essential to have a toolbox for ourselves that includes various coping strategies that we know work. Everyone is different, and coping may look different for all. I encourage you to explore this with your teen.
Here is a list of common coping strategies:
- Listening to music. Creating a playlist.
- Watching a candle flame (attended)
- Fidget toys
- 5-4-3-2-1 Sensory Exploration
- Deep breathing
- Hand over the heart (feel your heartbeat)
- Painting, colouring, drawing
- ASMR / Oddly Satisfying Videos
- Self-affirming statements (Ex. I am loved. I am enough)
Having a toolbox of known strategies that work for your teen is essential when those big emotions are showing up. It may be a trial and error, but remember, everyone is unique. If one of the above is not helpful to you, that is okay.
Coping strategies aren’t a fix all, but it can be useful and very effective in self-regulating.
4. Practice makes progress, NOT perfection.
Have you heard the saying practice makes perfect? Well, what if we swapped perfection for progress? This is a journey, and perfection is a slippery slope to achieve. Can compassion be applied to your teen’s journey in navigating their fears?
Did you know that when we lean into our fears or unhelpful thoughts, we actually can reduce the level of control they have over us? What happens is that instead of turning away, we expose ourselves a little bit each and every time (more than once). We name the discomfort and validate that, yes, this is uncomfortable. In practicing exposing ourselves, we learn how to take back our control and be in choice.
In your role, helping your teen name what is triggering them can help learn how to manage current and future stressors. To put into perspective, imagine a swimming pool and imagine having a fear of swimming in that pool with other people. Now, the first step may be to dip your toe into the water. Practicing this first step multiple times until you feel comfortable moving on to the next step may be putting both feet in the water. The efforts continue until you reach the top fear- swimming in a pool.
Helping your teen identify the fear and breaking the fear down into steps can be less intimidating and easier to move through and overcome.
It is always helpful to be surrounded by people who get it. Seeking groups for teens with social anxiety can limit the feeling of being alone. Group settings can be challenging at first for teens who experience social anxiety. However, the feedback that facilitators at Acorn Counselling received from group participants was that it’s helpful to see others feel the same.
Individual counselling with a therapist can be beneficial as well. Ultimately, building spaces that are non-judgemental and safe to freely express selves can support your teen’s journey in navigating social anxiety.
Seeking support also includes you, the parents and guardians. There are parent support workers and groups geared towards helping the people who are in the teens’ lives.
Social Anxiety is very common amongst people, and even more present with the big shift our world has taken. We, at Acorn Counselling can definitely support your teen and yourself in navigating it. There is hope for your teen to understand what may be happening beneath the surface and breakaway from the constraints anxiety likes to put on us.
Social Anxiety – https://www.anxietycanada.com/disorders/social-anxiety-disorder/
24 Hour Crisis Line Barrett Centre – 905-529-7878
Good 2 Talk (Ontario College/University students) – 1-866-5454 OR Text GOOD2TALKON to 686868
By Erica Genova, BSW RSW
Erica completed her final placement in her MSW studies this week, and will be joining the Acorn Counselling team as a Child & Family Therapist. She has a keen interest in working with teens and young adults, and will continue facilitating groups for teens (Social Anxiety group, or Coping & Confident group).