Teenagers with Social Anxiety

by Melissa Skinner, M.A., LCPC

Social Anxiety Disorder is when a person has an irrational and persistent fear of social and performance situations. A person with SA has an overwhelming fear that they will embarrass themselves and that other people will dislike them. SA is the third most common mental health disorder, however many parents are not familiar with the symptoms related to the disorder and often mistakenly assume their teenager is just shy. Unfortunately, because the disorder is often dismissed as shyness, many teenagers live with the disorder throughout adulthood and are never diagnosed.

SA does have an element of shyness, but the difference is in the level of severity. SA pervades every aspect of a persons life. Teenagers may go to great lengths to avoid any and all social or performance situations. They may not be able to leave their house without experiencing extreme anxiety. They may be incapable of performing in school and unable to make friends. Normal activities like walking into the school cafeteria to eat lunch, can create extreme anxiety. Older children with SA are at a greater risk of developing a substance abuse problem, if they start self-medicating with drugs and alcohol. The substance becomes their tool for relaxing and increasing confidence.

The signs and symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder may include:
-Rapid heartbeat
-Shaking or trembling
-Muscle tension
-Social Isolation

The best therapy for Social Anxiety is CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy). CBT focuses on changing negative thoughts and behaviors, as well as emotional responses. When treating an adolescent with Social Anxiety, progressive desensitization or exposure therapy is very effective. This treatment involves over the course of therapy, progressively putting the client into the situations that trigger their anxiety and essentially the anxiety is dulled down. This type of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, is used in conjunction with various relaxation techniques, to manage anxiety levels. An example of a first step in treatment, might be for a teenager to close his or her eyes and imagine walking into the school cafeteria, staying for a few minutes and then leaving. The second time, the teenager might imagine walking into the cafeteria, looking for a seat and sitting down. The exposure occurs in a graded fashion, beginning with mildly or moderately difficult situations. Ultimately the teenager would put him or herself into that actual real life situation, however by that point, the event has hopefully lost its power to trigger anxiety.

For parents there are some simple strategies for helping your teen manage social anxiety. Help them to identify their negative thoughts and restructure them into positive thoughts. For instance, if your child is avoiding a particular situation and confides in you, try re framing their negative self talk. There are so many other potential positive outcomes, so encourage them to entertain these other possibilities. Most often their fear of being scrutinized in public is unfounded and they need the help of an adult to challenge their thinking. Some relaxation techniques to teach your child and even to participate in with them, are deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, exercise, listening to music, stretching, laughing and hugging.

Melissa Skinner is the founder of Northwest Counseling & Wellness and a Licensed Professional Counselor. For more information or to schedule an appointment, please call 872/222/3132

How to Manage Grief

by Melissa Skinner, M.A.,LCPC

At some point everyone experiences loss and grief. Although grief is universal, we all do it differently and it is a unique experience for everyone. When we lose someone close to us, the pain and sadness can be very intense. It is not uncommon to feel as though you will never be happy again. It is important to understand that although the grieving process is very painful, dealing with and working through your loss, will enable you to begin to move forward and eventually find peace again.

As a society we do not talk about grief and death, so learning to express your sadness and how you are feeling can be very difficult. Therapy can provide a safe space to express your grief and to receive support for what you are going through. Often in my practice, I see client’s enter therapy thinking they should already be “over it”. I remind my client’s that grief is actually a journey and a process which unfolds in it’s own time. Sometimes not as fast as we’d like.

As a therapist I provide psycho education about grief and normalize the experience of feeling sad and needing to cry. I encourage my client’s to embrace their sadness, despite the intense pain they may feel. As part of the grieving process, I work with client’s on developing a new relationship to the deceased. Honoring rituals can be a good way to do this. Rituals to honor the dead can provide purpose and meaning and serve to connect an individual to something larger then themselves. The rituals can also provide some closure and help a person begin to navigate through the grieving process. Some rituals might include honoring a loved ones birthday or an anniversary, planting a tree in memory of the deceased or making a donation to a specific charity.

Practical ways to manage grief include, taking care of yourself by eating healthy, getting enough sleep and avoiding things that “numb” the pain, such as alcohol. Surrounding yourself with family and friends and allowing yourself the time and space to feel sad, will help you move forward. It is a time to scale back on obligations and focus on your own needs. You may want to explore the option of a grief support group or schedule an appointment with a Professional Therapist.

Melissa Skinner is the founder of Northwest Counseling & Wellness and a Licensed Professional Counselor. Melissa has extensive experience working with individuals and families who are coping with grief and loss. For more information or to schedule an appointment, please call 872/222/3132