Social anxiety is incredibly common among teenagers in the United States. In 2015, the National Institute of Mental Health revealed that nearly 3 million teenagers aged 12 to 17 in the U.S. experienced at least one depressive episode in the past 12 months. The statistics represented 12.5 percent of adolescents aged 12 to 17.
When talking about anxiety and depression, suicide is a common endpoint for people suffering from these mental disorders. In 2012, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that India was accounted for the highest number of suicides in the world. A Lancet study claimed that suicide increases in India day by day due to anxiety and depression.
Research on anxiety in adolescence:
The most common reasons for committing suicide among adolescents are their inability to adjust to social changes and peer pressure. Records have shown that in 2010, 56 percent of women and 40 percent of men aged 15 to 29 contemplated or committed suicide.
If you have social anxiety or social phobia, you are familiar with the rising anxiety that sets in when you find yourself with a group of people. You know the fear of being judged by others and the emotions it brings about—inferiority, humiliation, inadequacy, embarrassment, and depression. And, it makes you spend most of your time alone and to fear others.
When you are dealing with social anxiety, it is very easy to internalize the disorder and to believe that you are broken because you don’t react to situations as you believe “normal” people do. But, there are actually positive associations with social anxiety. Research indicates that it correlates with increased empathetic skills and higher IQ levels.
Causes of anxiety in adolescence:
When it comes to intelligence, some researchers link social anxiety with increased survival rates. High intelligence is a desirable and excessive worry that is frowned upon, but both cause people to avoid situations that cause harm. So, much like intelligence, the cautiousness of an anxious person is a benefit to the species. Furthermore, in studies, people diagnosed with generalized anxiety score higher on intelligence tests than those without the disorder, and people diagnosed with severe anxiety have higher IQ levels than those without it.
But, intelligence isn’t the only positive attribute linked to the condition. A study that asked highly socially anxious people and low socially anxious people to use a self-rating score, determines those with high social anxiety had “elevated cognitive empathy tendencies and high accuracy in affective mental state attributions.” People with social phobias are so concerned with the impression that they make that hey fixate on being judged positively. This makes them sensitive to social stimuli, which creates a unique profile of social-cognitive abilities.
It is, however, this increased empathy that makes social interactions so difficult to negotiate. All the sensitivity to the feelings of others can overwhelm a socially anxious person. I am sure you have experienced this. As a child, you may have been more oblivious to others and have negotiated things more easily, but maturity brought an increased understanding and anxiety.
How to manage social anxiety?
It is important to remember that social anxiety isn’t consistently problematic. It is associated with desirable traits. The key is to manage anxiety and better utilize the intellect and empathy, rather than allowing them to ramp up unease.
Social anxiety responds well to cognitive-behavioral therapy. Practitioners of this approach view behavior as a result of thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes. By changing the cognition, the behavior can be modified. Instead of viewing social interactions as you would a firing squad, you can negotiate these situations with more ease. Part of the therapy involves learning techniques to help manage the anxiety and the development of new skills that counter episodes.
Some people with social anxiety choose to expose themselves in social situations on a regular basis and focus on the absence of negative consequences. If you socialize once a week for two months and none of your fears are realized, can those fears be something to trust? Of course, anxiety is rarely rational, but exploring the inner voices that spread the fear is a worthwhile endeavor.
When you isolate yourself and let the anxiety take over, take a little time to remind yourself that there are ways to limit the negative experiences of anxiety and you can use your increased empathy and high IQ to help you.
Written by Josh Crane, a writer who spent years avoiding interacting with others. He finally entered therapy and used antianxiety medication until he could navigate the world on a daily basis without being crippled by fear. Now, he dedicates his time to helping others do the same as well as devote time blogging about marijuana addiction help.