Social Anxiety Treatment Center for Teens

Social Anxiety Treatment Center for Teens

Most people have experienced a form of social anxiety at one point in their life. Everyone, even natural-born extroverts, feel shy every once in a while. Research has shown that 90 percent of people will describe themselves as shy at some point during their lives. But there’s an extreme difference between being shy, being introverted, and experiencing debilitating social anxiety. Social anxiety is the third most common mental health struggle among teens, after depression and substance use issues, and can make it difficult for teens to open up to friends or a therapist for emotional support.

Residential treatment centers, like Elevations RTC, support teens with social anxiety by helping them develop more confidence in relationships and to let go of their fears about what other people think of them.

The guide is meant to be comprehensive, but as such, not every section will be applicable to everyone. Instead, we invite you to click on the links in the table of contents to jump to the sections that most interest you.

Table of Contents

Signs of Social Anxiety in Teens

Social anxiety can appear differently depending on the individual, but is usually related to an overwhelming fear of some social situations, including meeting new people, spending time in bigger groups, or performing in front of an audience. Specific fears related to social anxiety range from making simple eye contact, being asked questions, being left out, or being the center of attention.

The emotional and physiological symptoms of social anxiety in teens can include Fear, nervousness, raised heart rate, sweating, dry throat and mouth, and even muscle twitches and dysmorphia—but intense anxiety is the most common symptom.

Some signs your teen might be struggling with social anxiety might be that they:

  • Avoid going in public or cancel social plans, often last minute
  • Have lost interest in hobbies or activities they once enjoyed
  • Frequently shut themself away from interacting with family at home
  • Exhibit anxiety or fear when being faced with a social situation
  • Spend a lot of time online
  • Prefer to communicate over text than in person

Overlap Between Social Anxiety and Depression

  • Social isolation and a lack of contact with people. Social anxiety often gets in the way of feeling comfortable to reaching out to others. Teens often want to feel connected, rather than to push others away, but anxiety around rejection and loneliness can increase how disconnected they feel.
  • Persistent feelings of shame. Their avoidant behavior makes social anxiety sufferers feel ashamed and weak. They see their avoidance of social situations as a sign of inferiority, not as a reasonable coping method for dealing with frightening emotions.
  • Chronic inactivity. People with social anxiety tend to prefer staying at home than going out, which may mean they isolate for excessive periods of time. This reduces their stressful exposures, but their inactive lifestyles leave them feeling bored and empty, putting them at risk for depression.
  • Frustration over a lack of achievements. Social anxiety may involve high levels of self-criticism and self-comparison, which can get in the way of teens reaching their full potential. Often, they either set the bar too high for themselves or feel discouraged when comparing themselves to others and are more likely to give up.
  • Bad experiences with other people. People who openly exhibit the signs of social anxiety are sometimes teased, bullied, demeaned, rejected, or ignored. These experiences may reinforce the fears of people with social anxiety, feeding negative emotions that can eventually transform into depression.

How Does Elevations Residential Treatment Center Help Socially Anxious Teens?

Residential treatment centers for teens, like Elevations RTC, acknowledge that many teens with mental health issues are struggling with a variety of overlapping issues, even if their parents reach out with a primary concern.

Elevations RTC uses a variety of evidence-based techniques, like mindfulness, CBT, and DBT to help teens address the root causes of their social anxiety, whether that might be low self-esteem, generalized anxiety, a history of being bullied, or attachment issues.

Elevations also works with families through a parallel therapeutic process by teaching them some of the skills that their child is learning through the program. This helps families repair relationships, learn more about what their child is going through, and make changes in their own lives in order to better support their child when they transition home.

What about CBT can help some students struggling with social anxiety?

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on solutions, encouraging teens to challenge distorted thoughts and change destructive patterns of behavior. CBT rests on the idea that thoughts and perceptions influence behavior. CBT aims to identify harmful thoughts, assess whether they are an accurate depiction of reality, and if they are not, employ strategies to challenge and overcome them.

For example, CBT can help someone determine whether their social anxiety stems from evidence that someone doesn’t like them, a history of rejection, or if it’s just in the back of their mind. Identifying where these thoughts come from can help teens separate their fears from what is relevant in the present moment. This practice is useful for teens who are easily overwhelmed by the physical sensations associated with social anxiety, as it helps them to become more aware of what triggers these sensations and improves the mind-body connection.

What about DBT can help some students struggling with social anxiety?

Elevations RTC follows a Dialectical Behavioral Therapy model in individual and group therapy. Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) provides clients with new skills to manage painful emotions and decrease conflict in relationships. DBT specifically focuses on providing therapeutic skills in four key areas:

  1. Mindfulness focuses on improving an individual’s ability to accept and be present in the current moment.
  2. Distress tolerance is geared toward increasing a person’s tolerance of negative emotions, rather than trying to escape from it.
  3. Emotion regulation covers strategies to manage and change intense emotions that are causing problems in a person’s life.
  4. Interpersonal effectiveness consists of techniques that allow a person to communicate with others in a way that is assertive, maintains self-respect, and strengthens relationships.

Through DBT skills groups, teens with social anxiety become more comfortable learning and practicing skills alongside others. Students are encouraged to share their experiences and provide mutual support. The structure of a skills group and assignments is also useful for teens who are just beginning to analyze their thoughts and behaviors and benefit from learning the basics.

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What aspects of the therapeutic milieu at Elevations can help students who struggle with social anxiety?

One of the most powerful parts of residential treatment for teens with anxiety is that they are surrounded by a supportive community of peers who have gone through similar struggles. This helps challenge the persistent belief that they are “alone” and that “no one understands.” It also helps them build social awareness of how they show up in relationships, how they feel around others, and what they need to be successful in relationships.

While it may take a while for teens with social anxiety to feel comfortable sharing in group therapy, they benefit from gaining insight from others and offering others support and practicing these social skills in small groups. As they develop relationships with their peers, they learn that they too can offer others insight and deserve to receive support. Living in a residential setting may feel overwhelming for teens who prefer to isolate than socialize with others, but it can be a good way for teens to get out of their comfort zone and face their anxiety around social interactions.

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