What is social anxiety or social phobia- it is the most common anxiety disorder and is thought to affect 1 in 10 people at some time in their lives. Social phobia tends to begin in childhood and of the 43 per cent of children with social anxiety it is believed that up to 30 per cent will have some form of school refusal.
Social phobia is an anxiety disorder where the sufferer fears being negatively judged or evaluated by others.
People who struggle with social anxiety usually experience significant distress in the following situations:
- Meeting other children/people or joining in groups
- Social situations where they might be the focus of attention
- Being teased or criticized
- Giving a talk in front of their class/colleagues
- Going to a party with people they don’t know
- Going to a public place (e.g. a shopping centre)
- Being the centre of attention (e.g. getting an award or celebrating their birthday)
- Talking to someone in authority (e.g. teacher/boss)
- Performing on stage
- Using public toilets
- Taking an exam
In addition to this they often also:
- Find it hard to concentrate
- Experience the mind going blank and not knowing what to say
- Get a strong urge to get out of the situation that is uncomfortable
- Have a limited number of friends
Some children/adults may only have one or two fears whilst other may be concerned about a number of social or performance situations.
Some of the physical symptoms children/adults may experience are:
- Racing heart beat
- Muscle tension
- Sweating palms
- Stomach pains
- Heart palpitations
- Dry mouth
Some people do not experience physical symptoms of anxiety but will feel very self-conscious and afraid and may avoid the feared social situations and can become very socially isolated.
How to Help – Children
Children and teens often don’t recognize their anxiety for what it is, instead, they may think there is something “wrong” with them. Children may focus on the physical symptoms of anxiety (e.g. stomach-aches) rather than on the anxiety itself Teens may think they are weird, weak, out of control, or even going crazy! These thoughts might make them feel even more anxious and self-conscious. Therefore, the first step is to teaching your child about anxiety and how to recognize it. Having an understanding of how it manifests for them is really important.
If you feel your child has any form of anxiety it is important to see your doctor and get a referral to a mental health professional who works with children.
In addition having a conversation with your child about what anxiety is in general and specifically what social anxiety is will be very helpful.
Step 1: Encourage your child to open up about any fears and worries
Step 2: Teach your child about what anxiety is
Step 3: Help your child recognize how they experience anxiety
Step 4: Find techniques to manage anxiety (work with a therapist)
Practice relaxation techniques:
- Calm breathing
- Muscle relaxation
- Imagine yourself in a special place
- Think positively using affirmations
Engage in distracting activities:
- Participate in a physical activity or sport
- Find something funny that will make you laugh
- Write a worry journal
Also encourage positive self-talk like:
- “its okay I can do this”
- “it feels uncomfortable but I know I will be okay”
Some helpful tips for your kids:
- Practice – plan what might happen and practice it at home with your child
- Do NOT avoid social situations as this will make the problem worse
- Encourage your child to participate in social situations and start new activities.
- Encourage your child to make eye contact, to smile and face people when talking to them.
A final word:
Model: show your child how to interact with others (e.g. say hello to a stranger or start a conversation with person at the supermarket checkout).
Encourage your child to speak: Don’t speak for your child instead encourage them to answer questions for themselves. This can be done at the supermarket, a restaurant or social function.
Praise! Don’t forget to praise your child for every attempt they make in social situations.
Finally please seek professional help if you feel that your child has any form of anxiety. Early intervention can really make a huge difference to a child or adults life.
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