Dear Barb—Anxious for an Answer

Dear Barb:

Hi, I have been reading your column since my mom started taking courses at AU.  I am only 16 years old, but I think I have a problem.  I have tried to talk to my mom about it and she says I am worrying too much and that I am just shy, but I think I might have some sort of anxiety problem.  I hate social situations.  Well, I don’t hate them, but I hate how I feel when I am out in a group.  I would rather stay home.  I know at my age I should be out socializing but I just can’t do it.  I feel so uncomfortable and all I want to do is leave.  Even days before an event I begin to feel this way and try to think of a way to get out of it.  If I go out to an event, when I get home I replay everything in my mind that happened, and I feel that people didn’t like me or something I said.  I also have a hard time looking people in the eye, I am always looking away or looking down.  Is this just shyness, or something else, and is there anything I can do to overcome this? Looking forward to your help, thank you, Amber. 

Hi Amber:

Thanks for sending an email.  Some of what you are describing is normal shyness, however, some of what you are feeling goes beyond and may be “social anxiety.”

Medical Definition of social anxiety disorder

an anxiety disorder that is characterized by persistent and exaggerated fear of social situations (such as meeting strangers, dating, or public speaking) in which embarrassment or a negative judgment by others may occur and that causes significant distress, often resulting in an avoidance of such situations and impairment of normal social or occupational activities.  The essential feature of social anxiety disorder is marked, or intense, fear or anxiety of social situations in which the individual may be scrutinized by others.— Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition.

Do you feel this definition describes what you are experiencing?  If so, there are things you can do to learn to cope and improve your social interactions.  Treatments include counseling and or medication.  In counseling you learn how to change your negative thoughts into positive thoughts, therefore you become more confident in social situations.  Another alternative to one-on-one counseling is to join a support group, both are equally effective in treating social anxiety.  You will have to discover which is more effective for you.  Also, medications, often in combination with counseling can be helpful.  Your first line of defense is to visit your healthcare provider to determine if anything physical is causing your symptoms, if not then you will be able to receive a referral to the most appropriate treatment options available in your area.  Hope this information is helpful.

Best of luck Amber.

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