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What to prepare for back to School: The ultimate guide for social anxiety

Updated: Aug 29

While the heat wave is passing, summer breaks are coming to an end. You are reading this post probably because you are a parent or a child who is preparing to go back to school and don't want to miss anything on that first day of school after the Labour Day long weekend. Well, this ultimate guide is the best of the best. When you read this post, you will find out everything you need to know about overcoming social anxiety at school.


What are the symptoms of Social Anxiety?

How do you know if you have social anxiety? Symptoms of the disorder are:

  • Being anxious and scared when talking to or meeting unfamiliar people, being observed when eating or drinking, and when having a presentation in front of others

  • Reacting with excessive anxiety to a situation such as being unable to speak in public, freezing, or shrinking

  • Also, the fear, anxiety, and avoidance last more than 6 months and you are always scared, worried and anxious when you participate in social interactions

  • Please note that the fear, anxiety and avoidance are not caused by substance use nor by other mental disorders


Having gone through the symptoms of social anxiety, you should be able to know whether you are suffering from it. The rest of the guide will analyze the meaning and all the causes of social anxiety among children and youth and will also provide advice for you on how to overcome it.


The ultimate guide for social anxiety (back at school edition)


Do you know what are the causes that make you anxious when being involved in social interactions with other people? Follow this guide to find the cause of social anxiety and acquire the correct tool to tackle the problem.


Heading #1: what is social anxiety and what does it do to us?

Heading #2: how can we identify social anxiety?

  1. Attachment Theory

  2. Bullying and Cyber-bullying

  3. Self-body Image

  4. Peer Pressure

Heading #3: what are the techniques that we can use to reduce social anxiety?


 

Heading #1: Why Is Social Anxiety and What Does It Do to Us?


According to the definition provided in DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), social anxiety is the "persistent, intense fear or anxiety about specific social situations because you believe you may be judged negatively, embarrassed or humiliated, and avoidance of anxiety-producing social situations or enduring them with intense fear or anxiety" (1). The prevalence of social anxiety among young adults and children has significantly increased these years globally and will likely continue to rise in upcoming years. Many people with social anxiety are not aware that they have it, so the problem becomes more severe without appropriate treatment (2).


The impacts of social anxiety cannot be neglected since they can cause severe outcomes. Children or young adults who experience social anxiety are more likely to become victims of bullying, which in turn, increases their chances of suicide. Social anxiety can also affect their functionality in normal life and lower their happiness and well-being (2). They also have a greater risk of leaving school early which results in low-level education. They have fewer friends and are less likely to marry, have children, and are more likely to divorce. In addition, they are more likely to have bad performance in the workplace.


Heading #2: How Can We Identify Social Anxiety?


It is important to find out the cause before deciding which strategy you want to use to reduce social anxiety. Here is where the causes will be analyzed and it is time to search for your cause.



#1. Attachment Theory

Do you feel supported by your family? Children and youth who are supported by their families are more likely to have greater happiness and well-being when they grow up into adults. If they are not or do not feel supported by family, they have a higher chance of suffering from social anxiety, especially young adults who really need family support. They most likely feel insecure when they do not have a good relationship with their parents and other family members. Bad relationships are usually caused by uncomfortable communications. For example:


"Stop playing on your computer! Go to bed now. You have school tomorrow!" the mom yells.


"You are so annoying! I can't stop right now, I am in the middle of the game!" the child says.


"Why are you so useless? Look at your sister, why does she always get good grades?" the mom says.


"..." the child sighs.


From this conversation, you can see that it is not a conversation built on respect. When the mom yells at the child, the child becomes defensive and obstinate, which means it is an ineffective conversation. In addition, the use of an unpleasant tone makes the child feel sad and unloved. The child will feel unsupported by his family living in an environment filled with yelling, disrespect, and arguments. This will eventually cause insecurity and low self-confidence in the child. The final blow here is the mom's action of comparing the child with his sister. This action will lead the child to excessively care about others' opinions and judgements, in turn, which triggers social anxiety.


On the other hand, the relationship between the parents can also affect children's desire to stay with their families. If the parents always argue in front of the child, the child will become worried, sad, anxious, and scared. The children then of course would want to stay away from this environment. Without support from family, the child will become more and more insecure which significantly increases the risk of social anxiety.




#2. Bullying and cyber-bullying

Do you know that 1 in 3 Canadian teens has been bullied recently? Do you know almost half of the Canadian parents say that their child has been bullied (3)? The number of people affected by bullying is larger than you imagine. Children and youth who are bullied or cyber-bullied by others are more at risk of social anxiety. They would feel that strangers will always hurt and tease them, just like they will be in danger anytime. The outside world is filled with malice for them. They will be anxious and scared and want to avoid meeting new friends and unfamiliar people. They will always be worried that someone will attack them when walking on a street, mall or park.


However, please note that it is not a one-way cause; children and youth with social anxiety can also be at a higher risk of being bullied or cyber-bullied. Children and youth who suffer from social anxiety tend to have low confidence, poor social skills, low grades, poor employment performance, be shy, and stay isolated from social interaction. Individuals with these traits are easy to become the targets of bullies.



#3. Self-body Image

When children and youth think of themselves as ugly, short, weird, or fat, they are not likely to be able to appreciate themselves. They think that they are always worse than others and are worried that people would judge their appearance. All the unfortunates that happen to them will be thought of as the outcomes of having a bad body shape. They will have low confidence and be afraid of talking to people, which are the symptoms of social anxiety.



#4. Peer Pressure

Each individual cannot be separated from social networks, especially children and youth who have to go to school. They need to meet new friends, maintain relationships with them, and participate in group activities. Building social connections and being involved in groups are therefore unavoidable. Youth and children, who have difficulties in making new friends, joining new circles, and getting approval from peers, usually suffer from social anxiety.


Each person or group has a different expectation of the traits of friends. If you do not meet the standards, you will not be accepted or can get attacked by them. For example, a group of girls only accept you as a friend only if you have a bracelet from Pandora. If you cannot buy one or a more expensive bracelet, you will not be accepted. There can be a lot of comparisons when interacting with friends. Those comparisons can become a pressure that makes you anxious and stressed. You might be worried if you are not approved or accepted by your peers when you cannot meet their standards.



Heading #3: What Are the Techniques That We Can Use to Reduce Social Anxiety?



1. Accept who you are

When you accept yourself, with all your flaws and all your strengths, no one else will be able to hurt you, since your mind is strong enough to not care about others' opinions and judgements. You are confident to believe that you are the best no matter if you are approved by your friends or unfamiliar people. For example, if you are not skinny but you have accepted that, people are not going to or dare to tease your appearance since they see that you are not scared, worried, or anxious anymore, but very confident. Another example is if you cannot afford the fancy jewelry to fit in with the new group, accept it, and join another group that accepts you as you are. It does not mean you are not good enough because people do not accept you. It is because you do not accept yourself. Your own expectations are the only thing that matters.



2. Learn how to communicate comfortably

Do you always argue with your family or friends? Communicating comfortably is an important skill that everyone needs to learn to avoid conflicts. Refer back to the conversation in Heading 2 and lets show a different outcome:


"It is getting late and don't forget that you have school tomorrow. Lets finish the game up within five minutes please." The mom says clearly yet respectfully.


"The game is almost over! Please let me play for ten minutes more!" the child says pleadingly.


"Okay, since you did your homework, you can play for another ten minutes. Do you want me to shut if off after ten minutes, or can you do that yourself?" the mom says.


"I'll do it mom." Child says quickly.


The mother comes back up to check after ten minutes but the child has done as they said they would: the game is off and put away.


Here the mom uses a more respectful tone to ask her child to go to bed early. The mother is confident in her authority and the child is well aware, by previous experience, that it is best to follow moms rules. The mother lets the child know that there is a time limit and she is giving the child the benefit of respect by allowing the child some time to wrap-up. By giving the child some space here to voluntarily follow the rules of the mom, the child will not become immediately defensive. The child uses the respectful conversation to negotiate the amount of time left. Ultimately, the child respects the authority of the mom and the mother follows through with implementing the time limit. The mom shows her understanding and respect to her child. This technique is called boundary setting and creates a feeling that the child has autonomy. When the child feels that his mom respects him, he will also respect his mom and accept her advice.


The child also uses a calm and soft tone to explain to his mom that how important the game is and promise to go to bed right after finishing the game. Showing your understanding and respect to the person you talk with can make the conversation be more fruitful for everyone involved.


One of the most important things is that the mom should never compare the child with others to cause the child to excessively care about other people's opinions. Maybe this wasn't the intention of the mom, but directly comparing the child with their sibling will make him lose self-confidence and become anxious, worried, and sad. Eventually, this will add to the child's social anxiety.


Creating a comfortable and safe family environment for children and youth to grow up in is significant for reducing social anxiety. Parents should avoid arguments and yelling in front of the child. Parents need to make sure that their children feel loved, safe, and supported by the family. When children know that no matter what bad things happen to them outside, they are always supported by their family. Since they know that they are supported, it is unlikely that they will be anxious when involved in social interactions.


3. Services for bullying and parental control emails

If you are bullied or see someone being bullied, stand up for what is right or get help from your friends, parents or school. Bullying acts should not be tolerated and need to be stopped as soon as possible. If you, your friend or your child are victims of bullying, seek help from the facilities below:

  • Call 9-1-1 to report an emergency

  • Professional children and youth therapists at Nuway, Lorraine and Clover, are here to help!

  • Send a message to your school or school districts. They will follow up with the situation right away: Report It Erase (gov.bc.ca)

  • Call the YouthinBC 24/7 crisis line at 1-866-661-3311, or access their Online Chat –www.youthinbc.com (12pm – 1am daily)

  • Text Youth Space at 778-783 0177 (6pm -12am daily)

  • Call the Suicide Hotline at 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) available 24/7

  • Call the Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868 or text CONNECT to 686868

For parents who want to check children's social interactions on social media, set up a parental supervision email on google: Add & manage supervision on an existing Google Account



4. Time management

Worrying about uncertainty is the main problem for children and teens who experience anxiety. Before returning back to school, make a to-do list and organize it into a time schedule. The list can include visiting the school to prepare for the school route, preparing textbooks and equipment required for new courses, getting used to the new routine, preparing for lunch, doing homework, pre-reading, and relaxing. Uncertainties can be reduced by making plans early, which in turn, reduces the risk of anxiety.



5. Making new friends slowly

Don't be anxious when you cannot make new friends. Try to be patient in meeting friends that match you. Every person has different expectations of friends, hobbies, and interests. It is a slow process to find ones that share similar traits with you. You can shine your talents slowly to attract people to make friends with you instead of you getting close to them. Check out here to find out how to build a strong relationship with anyone.


6. See a counsellor

If your unique problems such as communication problems, parenting, social anxiety, relationships, school, work, family conflicts...etc. cannot be resolved after reading this blog, counsellors at Nuway are always here to provide professional advice for you. We are here to talk with you whenever you need to.

If you have questions about this blog post, please feel free to leave a comment below!




References:

1) Social anxiety disorder (social phobia) - Diagnosis and treatment - Mayo Clinic

2) Social anxiety in young people: A prevalence study in seven countries - PMC (nih.gov)

3) Bullying - Province of British Columbia (gov.bc.ca)

4) Get help - Province of British Columbia (gov.bc.ca)

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