Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Social Anxiety

Today I am pleased to turn my blog over to Jennifer Austin Leigh, PsyD. I hope that you will take the time to read what she has to say, especially if you are a teen or the mother of a teen.


Jennifer Austin Leigh, PsyD, known simply as, “Dr. Jenn,” is a leading expert on teen girls and the challenges they face, and an award-winning author and speaker. Her mission is to help the world learn to honor girls so that they will grow into competent, caring, compassionate, wonderful women. They are the future mothers and the mothers of the future. Her strategy is to help teen girls discover how precious they are and learn to treasure themselves – no small task in a “Girls Gone Wild!" culture.

Through her books, talks, coaching, workshops, Dr. Jenn PJ Parties™, and a soon to be released line of creative products, she works closely with teen girls, showing them how to grow up with self-respect and respect for others in an “anything goes” world. She also works with the mothers of teen girls to empower them to help their daughters and build loving relationships that last a lifetime. Dr. Jenn has brought her innovative programs to families, school groups, nonprofits and organizations working with teen girls.

Dr. Jenn is the author of Laid or Loved? The Secrets Guys Wish You Knew About Being a Dream Girl Instead of a Just-In-His-Jeans Girl (Ignite Reality Press, 2009), the forthcoming Diary of a Dream Girl: My Secrets to Love and Respect (Ignite Reality Press, 2009) and the co-author of A Little Book of Listening Skills (Paideia Press, 2005). She lives in San Francisco and has four young adult children. For more information, please visit her website at http://www.drjennforgirls.com.


School is out. You’re excited to hang out with friends, travel, look for a summer job, or maybe explore a summer crush! You can’t wait for the fun to begin. But what if the thought of hanging out with friends, working, going to new places or even falling in love makes you break out in a sweat, your heart racing in fear? What if those thoughts give you excruciating stomachaches, make you dizzy, or even cause you to burst into tears? The thought of summer’s fun becomes the thought of summer’s torture if you are one of the many teens who suffer from Social Anxiety, or SA for short.

Social Anxiety affects approximately 15 million people in the United States, making it the third largest psychological problem. If you don’t have SA, you probably know someone who does. However, you might think they are “just shy,” or “a loner,” or as some teens say, “socially retarded.”  Most don’t know how deeply teens with Social Anxiety suffer. Here’s a behind the scenes look at SA and how it can be overcome.

Mary can’t pick up the phone to order a pizza for delivery, or call and talk to customer service about her broken Iphone. Instead, she rummages through an empty fridge and accepts that she can’t text her friends. The thought of calling about a job interview is out of the question. Mary is terrified that anyone she speaks to on the phone will reject her. On the rare times Mary works up the courage to call, she hangs up and worries that she sounded stupid, or in some way made a mistake.

Pam hates to hang out with friends. She worries they will all be watching her, making judgments about her. If some of them laugh, and she didn’t hear the joke, she thinks they are making fun of her. She believes she will say the wrong thing and embarrass herself, so she doesn’t hang out often. When she does, her hands shake, and she often feels frozen, unable to move. It’s horrible!

Paul wants a girlfriend, but his heart races with fear whenever he is around a girl. He feels like he is choking, and is afraid his voice will crack if he speaks. He thinks she’ll probably turn him down for a date anyway because he knows he will say the wrong thing. Paul stays home most weekends, lonely.

Teens who who suffer from Social Anxiety have fears of being judged, or making a mistake. They assume they will be rejected by others. They know their fears are irrational, but that doesn’t stop them from feeling them. They cope with their anxiety by being alone, or using drugs or alcohol to mask their fears when they have to have contact with others.  It wasn’t until the 1990’s that the first book about Social Anxiety was published. There still isn’t much information about it in the media, so teens suffer without knowing what’s wrong with them. They think they are crazy, weak, or just terrible people.

Here are some of the warning signs of Social Anxiety:

  • Avoid hanging out in groups, or hanging back when you are in one. 
  • Not speaking up or talking clearly to others, or avoiding eye contact. 
  • Hate being called on in class to read, answer a question or stand in front of class.
  • Avoid conversations, or phone calls. 
  • Don’t like to order food in a restaurant or call for takeout. 
  • Eat lunch alone at school instead of with friends. 
  • Avoid making friends. 
  • Worry a lot about people making negative judgments about you. 
  • Need a lot of reassurance from friends that you’ll be OK around people
  • Can’t totally relax in public.

Social Anxiety has some traits that look like it is just shyness. But it is more than that. It can be totally debilitating. But there is hope for teens who suffer from it. One of the best treatments for SA is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT for short. CBT helps people learn to think differently so they feel differently. Certain medications used for depression or anxiety can help people with SA. Traditional counseling doesn’t help much as you can’t “counsel” your way out of your thoughts and fears.

If you think you might have some degree of Social Anxiety, please ask for help. You can Google social anxiety and find out more about it, but don’t try to self-diagnose or self-treat. Find a therapist who knows how to treat SA. You can have a full, fun, happy life and enjoy the warm summer days ahead without the debilitating symptoms of Social Anxiety.

Thank you, Dr. Jenn, for stopping by and sharing your thoughts with us today.  I hope you'll come back again!

Readers - what teen issue would you like Dr. Jenn to talk about when she returns?  Leave your thoughts in the comments.


bermudaonion said...

This is a great post! I think it would be helpful for teachers of teens, too.

Staci said...

Really interesting post. I think that this book would also be a great resource for school counselors!!

Kami Garcia said...

Great post. I think I have social anxiety, even if not as a disorder...

Unknown said...

I love this post and even though I am a grown-up woman with a ten-year-old girl I do suffer from Social Anxiety and I do know how debilitating it is. It cost me a lot of career and friendship opportunities over the years and I still do not have it under control. Hopefully I will one day.

Anonymous said...

Wow, very interesting post. Learned a whole lot!

Oh a teen issue I would like Dr. Jenn to discuss is teenagers need to be accepted to a certain cliche...?

Marjie Braun Knudsen said...

Facebook can help with Social Anxiety. It has helped broaden her social circle, and helped her to build social skills in a 'less scary' format. The following article explains it well.

http://digg.com/d1uNPU. Facebook makes our kids happier socially and educationally.

Re-Post or blog about it if you like.

Kindest Regards,


Marjie Braun Knudsen

Anonymous said...

It is not true that the old men and women are more susceptible to depression than their younger counterparts and it must be mentioned that an individual is said to suffer from depression when he exhibits symptoms, namely, hopelessness, chronic tiredness, appetite loss, loneliness, sadness et al for one week or more. Therefore, it is important for you to get hold of right information on depression related details before starting to treat your depression.

Anonymous said...

I think I've had this. It's been about a decade since I graduated high school, but these problems are pretty much still with me and have simply become exacerbated contributing to my situation now. It is easily mistaken for being anti-social by choice, and I think as such the problem is ignored at younger ages.

You always need to network to get anywhere in life, but that's even more important in this economy. But if you have this disorder, you're probably not going to network no matter how much you know you need to. In addition, you'll have trouble in school because you won't want to attend classes, and if you don't attend classes, it is hard to have top grades which would offset a lack of networking.

I really didn't realize how prevalent it could be, I assume there are varying degrees of social anxiety.

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