According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 13% of Americans, or 15 million people, suffer from social anxiety. It is the most common form of anxiety disorder and the fourth most common mental illness.
Adolescence is typically when the onset of this disorder is identified. Opinions of peers can negatively affect children into thinking that they don’t belong. Some become so influenced by the opinions of others, they develop social anxiety.
Jennifer Shannon, the co-founder of Santa Rosa Center for Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, says social anxiety is an anxiety disorder that influences a person’s ability to function. Those with social anxiety may avoid social situations altogether, because of the perceived threats of those environments. These threats typically involve worrying about people looking at them or judging them in some way. A common sign of social anxiety in children is creating excuses to avoid school or social gatherings.
Shannon’s daughter Rose was one of the many children who suffered from social anxiety growing up. And, although Shannon was an expert in the field, she could not find any suitable resources for her daughter, so she decided to take matters in her own hands. When she did so, her research materialized into the writing of two books, The Shyness and Social Anxiety Workbook for Teens and The Anxiety Survival Guide for Teens. Shannon says both are guides for adolescents as well as their parents to cope with and eventually overcome the social anxiety, because she says the disorder is very treatable.
Shannon runs a cognitive-behavioral therapy treatment program for patients like her daughter with the hope of curbing their social anxiety. She uses a method she calls “target practice” to allow patients to slowly face their fears in various social situations. They focus on realistic goals, like smiling and asking questions, as a first step to helping patients feel more comfortable socializing with their peers.
Shannon notes that parents need to look out for consistent patterns in their children, like constantly missing school or social functions. If left untreated, symptoms can get worse. However, if parents catch it early on, they have a good chance of helping their child overcome social anxiety.
- Jennifer Shannon, co-founder, Santa Rosa Center for Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, Santa Rosa, CA and author of The Shyness and Social Anxiety Workbook for Teens and The Anxiety Survival Guide for Teens