Social Anxiety

Social Anxiety Disorder and School/Student Life

Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated October 10, 2020

Social Anxiety Disorder and School/Student Life

Social anxiety is an inconvenient disorder in many situations in life. But for a student, it can be especially difficult. School is a place where social interaction is not only expected but required. It is a place where being judged and criticized by others is routine, and where struggling to cope with social situations and feedback can result in negative feedback that makes it more challenging to overcome social stresses.

This article will discuss the various challenges posed at school for students with social anxiety, and how to handle them.

Problems Associated With School Anxiety

Social anxiety disorder at school can be a serious problem. It is also one that is self-sustaining. Below, we'll take a look at some of the reasons that people experience social anxiety at school.

The following are some examples of both ways the ways that children experience school anxiety and what happens if it goes untreated:

Going to Class/Absences

Attending class means being forced into in a room full of other students for hours at a time, every day.

In most social situations, you are free to excuse yourself when anxiety becomes overwhelming. In school, there is no such opportunity. At best, the child has to sit in the classroom and focus on your anxiety. At worst, the children may be forced to make up excuses to leave, causing further shame.

In the classroom, there is also an expectation of social interaction. Outside of the classroom (such as a grocery store or library) no such expectation is present. That leaves those with social anxiety knowing and dreading heading to school.

Social anxiety can also be compounded by the behaviors students take to avoid it. Students that do not talk to anyone, avoid class, or find ways to leave the room during periods of anxiety may:

  • Experience social stigmatization.
  • Struggle to keep up with schoolwork (leading to more stress).
  • Fail to develop close friendships.

All of these issues can lead to recurring social anxiety that is fueled even further by the behaviors that students use to avoid it.

Little Issues That Create More Anxiety

Social anxiety complications can also be seen in the minor interactions that students have with their classrooms. For example, classroom seating is often chosen by the students, and students with social anxiety tend to find themselves sitting in the back.

But who else sits in the back?

Sometimes it is the student troublemakers, hoping to avoid trouble with the teacher. It may also be other students with social anxiety, which in turn limits social interactions.

Sitting in the back of the classroom may also mean it is harder to see the board or listen to the teacher. If that leads to any academic struggles, the student may find themselves with additional stressors that create further anxiousness.

Students with social anxiety may even be at a disadvantage starting on the first day of class. For example, some teachers lead student introductions as a way to start the school year. For most students, this is a welcome experience. But for students with social anxiety:

  • The student becomes anxious, worried about getting called upon for their turn.
  • The student becomes distracted by these physical symptoms. They may not be able to listen when other students speak, thus forgetting the names of their classmates (which can lead to even more social anxiety).
  • When it is the student's turn, they may be visibly nervous. Their peers will often pick up on that nervousness, potentially leading to social issues.
  • Finally, once the turn is over, the child with social anxiety may overthink the experience, reinforcing their anxiety in future social interactions.

This little experience becomes a self-fulfilling issue that leads to future social anxiety.

Social anxiety can make it difficult to focus on tests and quizzes. It can hurt class participation. It can distract from group activities. It can create not only a social situation that contributes to further anxiety, but also a level of stress about unrelated issues (for example, test scores) that makes anxiety worse.

Social anxiety can have a profound effect on student school life. But what makes it even more challenging is the way that it can become self-sustaining. Children that have social anxiety often run into behaviors that reinforce that anxiety so that it is stronger in the future.

That is why it is so important to treat or reduce social anxiety - especially in students. The following are some tips and strategies for dealing with social anxiety issues in student life.

  • Talk to a Professional Never be afraid to have you or your child speak with a professional. there are many useful strategies for controlling social anxiety in students that can be discussed in a therapeutic setting.
  • Talk to your Teacher(s) in Private It also helps to be open and honest with the teachers. Communicating about social anxiety takes some of the pressure off of the teachers to understand you and your struggles. They may also be able to adapt the class to account for that anxiety and figure out solutions that make it easier for the student to adapt.
  • Get to Know People Other Students Outside of Class Social support is important for building confidence and addressing anxiety. If you or the student can get close to just one additional friend, you can develop a support system that makes attending class much easier.
  • Create Mock Social Settings The pressures of social interaction come, in part, by not preparing oneself for what the social interaction is like. Create an environment that mimics the same social settings, and it is possible to get someone used to a scenario or situation so that it causes less anxiety in the future.

For the student struggling with social anxiety in their school life, addressing that anxiety quickly is an important tool for overcoming it.

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You can ask your doctor for a referral to a psychologist or other mental health professional who uses relaxation techniques to help patients. Not all psychologists or other mental health professionals are knowledgeable about these techniques, though. Therapists often add their own “twist” to the technqiues. Training varies by the type of technique that they use. Some people also buy CDs and DVDs on progressive muscle relaxation and allow the audio to guide them through the process.

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