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15 Pieces of Advice to the Teenagers Struggling With Social Anxiety

I am 15 years old, quiet, anxious and counting down the days until I’m finished with secondary school forever. This is not because I am dreading leaving school, but rather, it is the only way I can accept another two years of the persistent bullying I have been experiencing. After this, I will be free.

As a teenager with social anxiety disorder, I was seen as an easy target for some students to persistently embarrass me, try and make me stutter on words, make fun of my physical appearance and any other way that could make my day any more uncomfortable than it already was.

Due to having social anxiety disorder, I rarely answered back and unfortunately, you can begin believing the abuse and insults thrown in your direction and realize you are living each day with no confidence and counting down the minutes until you can shut yourself away until the very next day.

Unfortunately, the above experience is probably one that many people with social anxiety disorder can relate to. Sometimes a person can be bullied because the behaviors they exhibit due to the condition. At other times, bullying can result in the onset of social anxiety disorder in someone that may not have struggled previously. Regardless of why the bullying was occurring, these are pieces of advice I would give the 15-year-old me:

1. You are not the only person that feels this way. Social anxiety disorder is a common condition that affects roughly 1 in 8 people. Take a look around your classroom, you certainly aren’t alone.

2. Social anxiety disorder doesn’t just stop. Unfortunately, you will not wake up one day and find your anxiety has disappeared. This can be difficult to accept but can also motivate you to seek the help you need to manage the condition.

3. There is no magic fix for social anxiety disorder; proven and logical methods tend to be the most successful ways to manage and treat symptoms.

4. Just because your social anxiety makes it difficult for you to clearly say what you are thinking does not mean you aren’t intelligent, interesting and a unique person with lots of great characteristics.

5. Don’t hang onto the anger you feel toward those that chose to bully you because it can consume your mind even further and prevent you from rising about their level.

6. Alcohol is not a cure for social anxiety disorder. It may provide a temporary reprieve in social settings for your anxiety, however, it will only make your day to day anxiety worse and could result in a dependence that may be difficult to escape from.

7. Overhearing someone saying your name does not always mean you are being spoken about, and most importantly, it does not mean that you are being spoken about negatively.

8. Realize that not having the confidence to express your opinions is not the same as not having an opinion.

9. Find someone to confide in about your social anxiety. This will be a very difficult step to take, but one you will never regret. Talking out loud to a family member, doctor, teacher, etc. will feel as though a weight has been lifted from your shoulders. Speaking to someone about your social anxiety is not a form of weakness, it takes immense strength to have that initial conversation.

10. Follow up on that initial conversation with the appropriate professional help — counseling, support services, etc. is essential to addressing your social anxiety in the long term and ensuring it is not driving every decision and action you take for the rest of your life.

11. Making progress to address your social anxiety will take hard work, but with each bit of progress you will gain more confidence and eventually break the stranglehold that social anxiety has on you.

13. Try and find new ways to interact with people. This may be taking up a hobby, sport or other activity, because forming connections with others is easier when participating in something both people enjoy.

14. Learn to breathe through the tough moments. A poor breathing technique can lead to shortness of breath, increased anxiety and onset of panic attacks.

15. And most importantly, always remember that having social anxiety does not define the person you are right now or the person you will go on to be. It does not make you any less intelligent, funny, caring, imaginative, helpful or countless other traits that make up the person you are.

Social anxiety disorder is a battle you will win once you begin taking the right steps, but like many of life’s battles, these are steps you must first take yourself.

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Unsplash photo via Ali Tareq