I Think I Have Social Anxiety Disorder

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

I’m a junior in high school and I’ve never had any friends in school or outside of school. I was bullied from 5th grade to my sophomore year. It got so bad I begged my mom to let me be homeschooled. I have always been a shy person especially in school. Sometime during the summer of 2009 is when my shyness got extreme. I left my old school and went to a new school for 8th grade. The first day of school I was extremely nervous. The kids there were nice but I was so affected by the bullying I had endured at my previous school that I became scared of everyone. I became disconnected from people. I sat a lunch at a table with no one but myself. If people tried to talk to me I ignored them. Once that worked I started hiding in books. I read during lunch so on one would talked to me. I did that for a long time. When I got to highschool I became invisible to people. I was scared of my peers. I skipped lunch everyday. I did out in the bathrooms because I was affraid of walking in the lunch room and having all eyes on me. In class raised my hand because I was affraid of everyone looking at me. I’m 17 and I’m terrified of going in stores by myself. I don’t like people looking at me. I have to go in with my mom. I have panic attacks when I go in malls. I freak out when I see groups of teenagers. When I walked past them my heart starting racing and my hands get sweating and my face feels flushed. My mom doesn’t understand that I’m going through something. She tells my its just a phase. I’ve been getting panick attacks of going into places I know have peers in them since I was in 7th grade. I avoid being in situations with a lot of people. Whether it be stores or malls. My mom says that “I’m almost 18 I need to have social interaction.” My answer is ” I can’t people make me extremely nervous and anxious. I don’t know what to do. I’m worried about what I will do once I graduate. I’m almost 18 and I rely on my family for everything. I don’t drive. I have no goals. I’m very smart but I don’t want to go to school because of the fear I get around my peers. I feel like I won’t ever get a job. I in my house for 89% percent of the time.

I just feel better in my home. I’m a different person when I’m with my family. But when I leave my home I step outside of the world is when the fear and anxiety takes over me. I’m a teenager that hasn’t ever dated, ever gone to a school danced or a party. If I go I fear of people staring and me and whispering and talking behind my back to their friends. So I just avoid everything fear will trigger my anxiety. I feel so scared of life. Please help!

A. The continued avoidance of that which you fear is effectively worsening your social anxiety disorder. Removing yourself from an anxious situation is reinforcing. It makes you feel better. Feeling better is a “reinforcement.” The first law of behaviorism states that “if a reinforcer follows a behavior, then that behavior will increase in the future.” In your case, that behavior is avoiding social situations.

For instance, take the example of your being frightened to go to the mall. It probably happens this way: enroute to the mall, your anxiety builds. By the time you arrive, your anxiety is severely heightened. The severe anxiety makes it difficult to leave your vehicle and you ultimately return home instead of going into the mall. Upon leaving the mall, your anxiety diminishes significantly and by the time you arrive home, your anxiety is virtually nonexistent.

By leaving the situation at the height of the anxiety, you have made your social anxiety worse. Ideally, you should have gone into the mall despite your high level of anxiety. It would undoubtedly have been difficult to “sit with” that high level of anxiety but it would have eventually diminished.

Without treatment, social anxiety disorder tends to become worse. At this time, you find it difficult to leave home. Social anxiety is negatively affecting many aspects of your life. I would recommend seeking professional treatment. Very effective treatments exist for social anxiety disorder. Choose a mental health professional who specializes in social anxiety disorder. You may also want to choose someone who has specialized training in exposure and response prevention therapy, which is a specific cognitive-behavioral therapy designed to treat social anxiety disorder. You are a perfect candidate for treatment. I wish you the best of luck. Please take care.

Dr. Kristina Randle

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 14 Dec 2012

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2012). I Think I Have Social Anxiety Disorder. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 31, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2012/12/14/i-think-i-have-social-anxiety-disorder/