Social Anxiety and School: 7 Survival Steps

Social anxiety, sometimes known as social phobia, can be very difficult to cope with at any time in life and requires careful management. However, for young people who are still in school, it can be especially hard to handle as the isolating nature of the disorder.

Social anxiety is an overwhelming and long-lasting fear of any kind of social situation. Quite often, this problem begins in the sufferer’s teenage years and while some people will get better when they progress into adulthood, for others, it will never go away without professional help. Social anxiety is very distressing.

It also has a major impact on the sufferer’s life in many different respects. However, it’s possible to cope with it if you know the right steps to take.

Here, we’re going to take a closer look at what social anxiety is and how you can learn to survive it.

What Is Social Anxiety?

Some people think that social anxiety is the same as being shy however this isn’t the case at all. It is rather a deep fear of social situations which affects self-confidence, everyday activities, relationships, and school life. While a lot of people worry from time to time about being in social situations, somebody suffering from social anxiety will feel excessively worried not only before the situation arises but during it and after it too.

How Do I Know If I Am Suffering From Social Anxiety?

You might be suffering from social anxiety if:

  • You are terrified of everyday activities like meeting new people, talking on the telephone, shopping, going to work or starting a conversation.
  • You worry continuously about social situations like eating in company, going to parties, or talking to groups of people. You may even go so far as to avoid them completely.
  • You’re always worrying about doing something which you find embarrassing like sweating or blushing.
  • You struggle to do anything if someone is watching you. You feel as if you’re constantly being judged by other people.
  • You are afraid of being criticized.
  • You have low self-confidence and poor self-esteem.
  • You avoid making eye contact with other people.
  • You experience distressing symptoms in social situations such as nausea, trembling, sweating or palpitations.
  • You experience panic attacks.

Lots of people who have social anxiety experience other mental health problems too like generalized anxiety disorder, body dysmorphic disorder, and depression.

How Does Social Anxiety Impact On School Life?

Although most teens feel self-conscious, social anxiety is a lot more serious than that. If you are so self-conscious that you can’t speak in class and struggle to make any friends in school, your social anxiety needs to be addressed.

1. Relaxation Techniques

Although it may sound too simple to be effective, deep breathing can actually relieve anxiety and make social phobia easier to cope with. If you experience anxiety before having to enter a crowded hall or make a class presentation, you should practice taking some cleansing, deep breaths to help you calm down. Breathe through your nose while counting to four, hold it for four and then exhale through your mouth for a count of eight. This is a simple and effective tool that you can employ anywhere to help you cope in moments of high anxiety.

Deep breathing is just one technique which you can use to soothe the anxiety you experience. There are other relaxation techniques to try too. These include visualizations which transport you into a tranquil place, reciting positive affirmations and meditating. Mindfulness is a very useful technique to focus your brain and to keep yourself centered. When you’re working on something, try focusing fully on that activity without allowing any other thoughts or worries to be a distraction. Some social anxiety sufferers find that listening to music is very calming. You may find it helpful to listen to favorite tunes between your classes or in your lunch break. This often helps tune out noise and the other people around you if you feel anxious.

2. Find Somewhere Safe

Schools are busy places so it’s no wonder that social anxiety is so difficult to cope with in this bustling environment. However, there are always places in every school which are quiet. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, find somewhere safe where you can calm down and get away from the crowds. A library is often a good place or you may be able to find a classroom which is empty. You may be able to arrange a special space in the school which you can use by discussing your situation with the school counselor.

3. Channel Your Anxiety

Although it sounds counterintuitive, you may find it helpful to channel your anxiety into a creative activity. Lots of sufferers find that, although it can be difficult to take the step of signing up, once they have joined an art group, band or drama club they begin to feel more positive about themselves and to grow in self-confidence. Artistic activities help to distract you temporarily from your anxiety. You can also use creative activities to release your anxiety through song, painting or music.

4. Know Your Triggers

If you’re going to be able to effectively control your social anxiety, you need to be aware of what is triggering it. Only then can you take steps to address the problem. Start listing the situations in which you notice your anxiety spiking. Think about the settings and circumstances which make you feel most anxious and note them down. Once you know those situations you can begin thinking about how you can cope with them in a healthier way.

5. Getting Support

Having social anxiety naturally makes you feel very isolated. This only contributes to the problem and makes it harder to cope with. It’s very important to seek support from other people who will be understanding and helpful.

Often, the best people to go to first is your parents. It can be intimidating and worrying to share your feelings and thoughts about your anxiety however in most cases, parents are very understanding and want to help. They will be prepared to offer you the encouragement and support you need to overcome your condition. In the event that your parents have a negative reaction, you could ask them if they would speak with your school counselor who can educate them about what social anxiety involves and give them some advice about how they can support you. You might feel better about approaching your parents if you have some information to hand about social anxiety to give them. Print out the information from the internet or ask the school counselor if they have a pamphlet you can give them.

If you’ve got siblings or friends your own age, you might want to confide in them about your social anxiety. They may be able to offer you advice or you may be able to suggest ways in which they can help you, such as asking your brother or sister if you can sit next to them during lunch so you don’t have to eat alone, or asking your friend if they can help you meet more people and grow your social circle.

You may want to think about joining a peer support group. You’ll meet lots of others who are like you and who can offer you practical advice to help you cope with your anxiety. Although it’s hard to meet new people, they will all struggle with the same things as you and knowing that they understand your problems can help overcome that anxiety.

6. Seeing A Therapist

Talking to your school counselor or a therapist can be extremely beneficial. It’s hard to cope with social anxiety at any time in your life, but in school, it can be especially overwhelming and there’s nothing wrong with getting some professional help. Your school counselor is often the best place to begin getting that help. Talk to them about how you feel and what happens to you in social situations. Talk about the ways in which it is impacting on your life and studies.

If you work with a counselor, you can begin to spot your negative patterns of thoughts which make you anxious and then start challenging them. You can also start to learn new social skills so you can feel comfortable with interaction with others. You can create some scenarios with your counselor which mimic social situations you may encounter. Practice engaging with them as if you were in the situation for real. For example, you might want to practice answering questions in class, inviting friends to go out somewhere together or even saying hi to a fellow classmate. This will help you to get accustomed to social situations while building up your self-confidence.

It’s important, however, not to rush into tackling worrying situations. Expose yourself gradually to situations which frighten you or you could make matters worse. Start with the situations which make you feel least anxious then work up to those which trigger your worst symptoms over time.

You may need some medication to help relieve your symptoms. If you find that counseling isn’t sufficient, there are medications out there which can reduce your anxiety and which can make life much easier for you.

7. Better Self-Care

While all of the steps that we’ve mentioned about will help you to overcome your social anxiety, one of the most important things you can do is to care for yourself. Without good self-care, you cannot really tackle your social anxiety fully.

Make sure that you’re eating a healthy diet. Anxiety can be treated from within if you eat foods with a high content of magnesium, omega 3 fatty acids, and zinc. Including leafy greens, fresh fruit, nuts, seeds, beans, whole grains and oily fish such as tuna or salmon in your daily diet will help to give you the essential nutrition that you need for emotional well-being. Avoid processed and sugary foods, and don’t drink caffeinated beverages as these worsen anxiety.

You should also take regular exercise. Aim to take half an hour each day for physical activity. This will stimulate endorphins which make you feel more positive.

Get a minimum of eight hours of sleep every night to avoid sleep deprivation. A lack of quality sleep exacerbates the symptoms of anxiety and leaves you feeling jittery and wired. Put in place a relaxing bedtime routine so you’re ready for restful sleep and stick to the same bedtime and waking time consistently so you can develop a schedule. You may notice your anxiety reduces after a while.

Put in place a routine for managing your stress and keeping your anxiety under control. If you have a stressful lifestyle you’ll have less confidence and you’ll feel negative about yourself. Relaxation techniques such as those we mentioned earlier can be very beneficial in reducing stress in your life.

Pampering yourself from time to time helps improve your mood and increase your confidence. Do something you enjoy like getting your hair cut, having a manicure or massage or even just buying a new journal which you can write in.

Don’t be tempted to use drugs or alcohol to relieve your anxiety. This is all too common among teens who are struggling with mental health disorders but it is never a solution and only leads to more problems. Instead, talk to someone you trust about the way you feel and perhaps get some professional help. Abusing substances only makes it harder to keep up in school and to maintain positive relationships with your peers.

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Do I Need To Get Professional Help For My Social Anxiety?

If you believe you’re suffering from social anxiety and are finding that your problem is impacting severely on your everyday life, you should see a doctor and get some professional help. Although social anxiety is distressing, it can be treated with the right support. Although it’s hard to ask for help, your doctor will be able to offer you advice and can refer you to a therapist, specialist, or counselor who can give you the treatment you need.

Social anxiety is a very common problem, especially among young people, but with the right help and by taking the above steps, you can cope with it during your high school years more effectively.