Coping Skills for Teens With Social Anxiety: A Guide for Parents
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Many people with social anxiety start to notice it interfering with their life in notable ways during their teen years, as it has an adolescent onset age. This is also when they start learning a lot about themselves as individuals and identifying the goals they want to pursue in life. Social anxiety can make it difficult to function at school, in extracurriculars, at work and even with friends.

If your teen is feeling anxious around other people, or if it’s keeping them from doing important things, there’s no substitute for treatment from a licensed therapist. But there’s also value in finding coping strategies on their own.

There are coping skills teens can learn to manage their social anxiety independently. We’ll cover some of our recommendations in this article.

What can teens do to manage social anxiety?

Meditation and mindfulness are popular practices people use to feel calmer by being in a state of mind that helps them recognize their thoughts and emotions without judgment. Opening up can also be beneficial, as talking about their feelings can help your child understand their own discomfort better. Finding others who struggle with the same things can help them form better connections and feel less alone. 

But when social anxiety starts to interfere with your child’s day-to-day life, it’s time to talk with a licensed clinician. You may start with an outpatient therapist, talk to your family doctor, or start with a structured outpatient program for even more support. There are medications that help with anxiety, but they tend to work best in combination with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). 

Without proper treatment, teens (and adults) will find ways to manage their social anxiety. They may not be healthy or practical, though. When people do things like isolate themselves or dissociate to deal with their anxiety, they ultimately end up reducing their overall quality of life.

Is social anxiety a “real” mental health condition? 

Yes, it is! Social anxiety disorder is very real, and it can keep people from making healthy connections with others — which allows their anxiety to perpetuate. Research shows that 9.1% of U.S. teenagers between the ages of 13 and 18 experience social anxiety. 

For a long time, social anxiety in teens has been dismissed as “shyness” or being willfully “antisocial.” But now we understand that the contributing factors can be complex, including genetics, brain chemistry, upbringing and past experiences. Our treatment programs are a safe space where your teen will develop coping skills for managing their anxiety, and we’ll encourage them to explore its root causes.

7 top coping skills for teens with social anxiety

These seven tips are inspired by the concepts and skills we use at Lightfully Teen. There are many more, and you may find that you have to talk through ways to modify them with your child so they can figure out what works. Experimenting with new, healthy coping skills is a big part of what teens do in our programs.

  • Find a way to self-distract — If your child needs a lot of sensory stimulation, take them to pick out a few fidget toys or a stress ball they can carry with them to help with self-regulation. Or you can practice grounding with them by identifying things in the room that they can see, hear, smell, feel and taste. Grounding techniques can help them focus on the current moment and reduce anxious thoughts and feelings.
  • Acknowledge and accept the anxiety — If your teen can accept that anxiety is a chronic issue for them, that can make it seem less terrible by reducing shame or frustration. Some people even create some separation from their anxiety by giving it a name or visualizing it as a monster.
  • Reframe anxiety as excitement — Anxiety and excitement share a lot of the same sensations. Try to help your teen focus on their excitement. Ask them why a social encounter will matter to them personally and remind them to maintain that positive perspective.
  • Notice confirmation bias — When we expect things to go wrong, we find more reasons to worry. Ask your teen if they feel like their anxiety really fits with the situation or if they might be making some assumptions. Be sure to keep a calm, curious tone so they recognize that they’re in a judgment-free zone.
  • Focus on the facts — This is a great way to stay grounded in what’s realistic or positive. Talk through your teen’s strengths and what they already know about the situation or the people involved. This can boost their self-esteem and provide reassurance during times of anxiety. Encouraging them to focus on what they can control and what is realistic can help them approach situations with a balanced perspective.
  • Come up with anxiety-busting mantras — Help your teen think of quick reminders they can use as mantras to help them stand in their power when they’re feeling overwhelmed. “Feel the fear and do it anyway” is a great one, and mermaid mantras are a good go-to for any situation.
  • Practice deep breathing — Taking long exhales through pursed lips burns up anxious energy. Try this with your teen when you notice them feeling anxious. Practicing 4-7-8 breathing together can help, too.

How can Lightfully Teen help your child learn these skills?

Managing anxiety is hard. For many people, it’s something they deal with for their entire lives. But it can get easier with a lot of practice and the support of a healing community. Teens with moderate to severe social anxiety come to Lightfully Teen programs for a safe environment to learn new skills, approach their fears with the support of a therapist and talk with other teens about their experiences. We hear teens share profound insights in our support groups every day.

Teens needing additional support does not indicate parents have failed in some way. Healing is possible for teens with social anxiety, and outcomes are even better with early intervention.

If you have any questions about our programs, you can always contact us for answers. When your teen is ready to take the first step in their treatment journey, reach out to our Admissions Concierge Team. We can’t wait to meet your family.

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