Excessive Social Anxiety is Not Merely A Part of Personality: 7 Characteristics of Anxiety Disorders in Teenagers

A common misconception in society is that the feeling of social nervousness is common; many people feel that social anxiety is no big deal and that it’s just a part of one’s personality that isn’t exactly changeable. Many parents also believe that their children’s social anxiety will dissipate on its own, over time, due to the temporary nature of this “phase”.  In reality, this notion isn’t completely false; in some people, shyness and social hesitance are a temporary or once-in-a-while occurrence that goes away as time goes on. However, some people suffer from excessive anxiety that is completely different from the temporary nervousness that most people occasionally go through, and this phenomenon is worth paying attention to.

According to studies, many people do not realize that they experience excessive anxiety, which is a condition that is more commonly known as anxiety disorders; likewise, many cases of anxiety disorder go undiagnosed due to the lack of expertise on the part of many healthcare providers. Additionally, similar to the situation regarding other mental disorders, the lack of information on effective therapies to treat anxiety disorder has contributed to the substantial statistics of individuals suffering from anxiety without the aid of any treatments whatsoever.

How Can We Differentiate Shyness or Nervousness from Excessive Anxiety?

Everyone has felt nervous or shy before; this is normal. This feeling is, in fact, a characteristic of a well-functioning personality. Shyness often presents itself in social situations, but it does not lead to the inability to socialize or cause disturbances to other aspects of an individual’s life; this is where these feelings differ from anxiety disorder, which often causes significant disruptions to one’s day-to-day existence.

Interestingly, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition (DSM-5), individuals over 18 years of age should not feel that their anxiety is excessive or uncommonly diagnosed; more accurately, for this disorder to be present, the feeling of anxiety must be excessively disproportionate to the threat or harm  that one is facing (both mental or physical).

Are There Further Classifications on Anxiety Disorders? 

Yes. Based on what triggers one’s anxiety, this disorder can be classified by whether one is fearful of a certain circumstance or if one is worried about the results of a certain action or process. Another criterion is whether anxiety occurs in all sorts of social interactions or if it only presents itself during instances of public engagements such as public speaking or performing in front of a crowd.

7 Characteristics of Anxiety Disorders in Teenagers
  1. Constant alertness or vigilance
    In social situations, teenagers with anxiety disorders will usually become overly vigilant and tense. They will carefully and thoroughly inspect their surroundings for signs of social “danger”, going over every possibility of everything that could go wrong. They have the tendency to selectively pay close attention to factors that might pose a threat, and they often perceive otherwise mundane situations as a possibility of a hazard. This vigilance significantly increases in social situations, where they feel like everyone around them is able (and inclined) to ostracize their every move. In these circumstances, they tend to be very sensitive to interactions, gestures, or words that may indicate disapproval (even in the slightest), which, in turn, inspires an irrational fear of rejection and humiliation.
  2. Reactivity to new situations or changes in external stimuli
  3. Increased sensitivity to threats or threatening situations
  4. Using avoidance as a coping mechanism
    One of the main coping mechanisms found in teenagers with anxiety is avoidance, where such an individual would try to avoid situations that might trigger their sense of fear or anxiety. To cope, many employ tactics such as negotiating, whining, walking slowly and dragging their feet to delay facing an anxiety-inducing situation, or even crying.
  5. Somatic complaints
    In individuals with anxiety disorder, exposure to social situations could lead to a severe feeling of anxiousness that may trigger a panic attack, with symptoms ranging from profuse sweating, shaking, incoherent speech, flushing of the face, and irregular breathing to disturbances in the digestive system. Often, these physical symptoms are used as an excuse to withdraw oneself from social or possibly anxiety-inducing situations.
  6. Extreme reactions
    When attempts at avoidance fail, teenagers with anxiety disorders may resort to extreme reactions which are often disproportionate to the situation itself. These reactions include emotional or physical outbursts, unhealthy attachment, negotiation, whining, freezing, repeating questions over and over, screaming, a refusal to participate in situations that may trigger their anxiety, and an excessive need for reassurance.
  7. Parental accommodation
    When teenagers with anxiety are at their breaking point, most parents would naturally try to protect their children by attempting to help alleviate their suffering in ways like ordering food for their child at a restaurant when they see that their child is experiencing anxiety symptoms (such as freezing) when attempting to place an order; this phenomenon is called parental accommodation, which is defined as actions done by parents that allow individuals with anxiety to continue engaging in their avoidant behaviors. In doing so, parents inadvertently accommodate the worsening of their child’s anxiety by taking away their opportunity to face what makes them anxious and their ability to develop a healthy sense of autonomy. Without being given a chance to personally find out a way to overcome those anxious situations, teenagers may develop the idea that they do not have the ability to manage such situations successfully on their own. 

Don’t Misunderstand Anxiety Disorders!

Social anxiety disorders can induce symptoms that can be severe enough to provoke a panic attack (which is associated with panic disorder- a type of anxiety disorder). Both anxiety disorder and panic disorder are similar, but not completely the same; social anxiety is consistently linked with social situations while it’s not necessarily the case with panic disorder.

Factors Causing Social Anxiety: Why Does it Appear So Much in Teenagehood?

The abundance of anxiety disorder cases in teenagers is not surprising at all. The teenage years are a part of a transitional phase in which children move from total dependence on family or parental figures to more independent interactions with peers; in other words, in this phase, teenagers become more independent from their parents and more dependent on people of their age group.  The way that teenagers interact with others during these years will influence the way they interact interpersonally for the rest of their lives.

Moreover, the teenage years is a phase where self-awareness begins to develop more deeply; therefore, individuals of this age often start to direct more attention to their own selves. Self- consciousness can be divided into two categories: personal and public. Personal self-consciousness is one’s awareness of their own thoughts and feelings while public self-consciousness is an individual’s awareness of their place in society or in a societal situation.

Public self-consciousness often contributes to the development of social anxiety in teenagers. The increase in self-awareness of one’s status as a social entity in teenagehood intensifies an individual’s sensitivity to how people perceive them. Like a double-edged sword, this phenomenon could, on the one hand, help teenagers engage in mature behaviors and build lasting relationships with those around them; on the other hand, however, intensified self-consciousness (especially public self-consciousness) can push an individual to feel fragile and further heighten their anxiety. Worse yet, instances of social rejection (especially among peers) could aggravate one’s levels of anxiousness. 

How to be Calm: Progressive Relaxation Muscle

To those of you with anxiety, there’s an easy relaxation method you could try at home to help relieve tension and calm your anxiousness; this method is called Progressive Relaxation Muscle. For more information, research Progressive Relaxation Muscle on reliable sites on the internet or visit your trusted healthcare provider.

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