Social Anxiety Disorder: the Symptoms and Triggers of the Disorder

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Social anxiety (also sometimes known as social phobia) is the most common disorder to be diagnosed in adolescents (Memik, Sismanlar, Yildiz, Karakaya, Isik & Agaoglu, 2010). Social Anxiety Disorder, or SAD, is a chronic and disabling disorder that causes a fear of being judged or rejected in social situations (Mehtalia & Vankar, 2004). Those who suffer from this disorder tend to avoid social situations in order to avoid feelings of excessive embarrassment or humiliation (Mancini, van Ameringen, Bennett, Patterson & Watson, 2005). SAD usually begins to develop at the start of adolescence and reaches its peak at age 15, making high school an especially difficult time (Mancini et al., 2005).

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Some of the most common symptoms of SAD in adolescents are social withdrawal, little or no conversation skills, poor coping strategies, avoidance of social events, and a lack of friendships or relationships (Erath, Flanagan & Bierman, 2007). Erath et al. (2007) reports that these students have a difficult time starting and maintaining friendships because of their lack of social skills. Even with close friends, those with SAD may still act shy and reserved (Schneider, 2009).

Many events and activities at schools may trigger anxiety in students with SAD. Some of the most common events in schools that may trigger a student’s anxiety are asking questions during class, classroom discussions, presenting to a class, speaking with an authority figure (e.g. teacher or principal), musical or athletic performances, writing on the chalkboard, using school bathrooms, eating in front of others, and starting or joining a conversation. (Mohammadi, Abasi, Soleimani, Moradian, Yahyavi & Zarean, 2019; Mehtalia & Vankar, 2004; Bernstein, Bernat, Davis & Layne, 2008). Mohammadi et al. (2019) found that students were afraid of these situations because they felt that they did not have the skills to speak or perform in front of others and they were constantly afraid of being humiliated and mocked by their peers. Mohammadi et al. (2019) and Mehtalia & Vankar et al. (2004) found that when students were put in these situations they experienced physical symptoms including an increased heart rate, heart palpitations, trembling, sweating, blushing, feeling cold or hot, sweating, and an inability to speak or move. These situations and symptoms are by no means a comprehensive list but are listed to give an idea of what a student with SAD struggles with on a day to day basis. Studies show that adolescents with SAD report similar causes of anxiety as well as symptoms. This does not appear to change from country to country, urban to rural areas, different races, or different socio-economic statuses.

SAD rarely, if ever, goes away on its own and even with help, the symptoms generally never fully disappear. However, early identification and treatment may decrease the consequences of SAD and may help individuals find coping mechanisms (Erath et al., 2007). The easiest place to identify SAD as early as possible is in schools. This brings into question what role the schools should have in assisting students with decreasing their social anxiety symptoms. My research focuses on adolescent students in middle school and high school but one article does study late elementary students. During my research process, I did not limit my findings to one country, type of area, or to a certain race or socio-economic status. Since SAD symptoms and causes of these symptoms seem to be very similar across the globe, it can be assumed that similar actions will help decrease SAD as well. In this paper, I review eight peer reviewed articles consisting of seven quantitative articles and one qualitative with seven articles being primary research and one article being secondary. The goal of this literature review is to identify what schools can do to decrease their students’ social anxiety symptoms.   

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