Photo illustrations by Rebecca Pizano/Oracle

Often written off as shyness, social anxiety is a common disorder pertaining to a person’s inability to effectively communicate and interact with others. With a small percentage of those afflicted with social anxiety being high school students, their often debilitating disorder can make for a challenging social life, both in and outside of the classroom.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), anxiety disorders are among the most common mental illnesses in the U.S. and affect roughly 15 million adults in the country. Ranked as the most common form of anxiety and typically emerging around the age of 13, social anxiety can be a lifetime problem if left untreated.

Freshman Emma Fiorentino just moved from Quebec, Canada in August of 2013 and since moving has experienced bouts of severe social anxiety. While still living in Canada, Fiorentino had never suffered from social anxiety or any form of psychological disorder before.

“I have had five major ones since I got here and a couple of little ones. I start shaking really badly, and then I start panicking and having shortness of breath. I then start crying, and I then just black out,” said Fiorentino.

Common triggers for social anxiety are meeting new people, public speaking or being the center of attention. Even presenting a project to the front of the class can trigger an anxiety attack. When having an attack, Fiorentino will use her inhaler to help calm herself down.

In some cases, social anxiety can have the potential to wreak havoc on a person’s life, causing them to miss out on making friends, joining clubs or even just carrying on a simple conversation with someone.
English teacher Eric Vona doesn’t force his students to share during his class because he wants the students with social anxiety to feel comfortable, but he does encourage the students to present and get out of their comfort zone.
“For student who are selective mutes or have a diagnosed anxiety issue, then they can do work a rounds or alternative assignments,” said Vona.

There is a way to treat social anxiety and that is by an approach called Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT). CBT is a way of thinking which therapists introduce to patients because it is a way for them to think differently and a way to not manipulate an event that causes the patient to have a panic attack.
“There is so much of an emphasis on social parts of our lives that school and social media can have a larger impact on teens then it can on adults,” said psychologist Dr. Andrea Friedman, who has worked with both teens and adults suffering from social anxiety.

“Facing your fear it is better than avoiding it. So if we are afraid to speak up in class then we never speak up in class. We are never going to learn what we needed to learn to overcome it,” said Friedman.
Through the assistance of treatments such as CBT along with positive reinforcement from teachers and students alike, those suffering from social anxiety have a better chance of overcoming their fears and succeeding in the classroom.

Emma Stevens/Staff Writer

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