Social anxiety is NOT just butterflies in your stomach
Public speaking panic attacks mean much more than feeling a little anxious. Some schools require students who have these disorders to participate in group activities or present in front of their classes. People with these disorders can have serious reactions that could be dangerous to their health if they are put in these stressful situations. Symptoms include shaky voice, sweating, paleness, and severe body shakes. It can also be quite frustrating for students with such disorders when others tell them that they are just nervous or need more practice. An anxiety disorder can prevent a student from making friends, raising their hand in class, and participating in school activities. These students can feel ashamed, afraid, and alone.
Cynthia Kipp, a victim of social anxiety disorder, told her story through the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Cynthia told her viewers that any kind of social situation was uncomfortable for her, causing her to experiment with alcohol and drugs as a way out of her anxiety. Sharon Longo also shared the story of her son, Brian, who suffered from selective mutism. He never raised his hand in school to ask a question or go to the bathroom; however, he talked with his family, the people he felt most comfortable with.
Cases like Brian’s are pretty rare, but they do occur. The fact that he would not verbally interact with anyone except his family shows he didn’t feel comfortable in school. Brian’s teachers should have tried to make a more comfortable environment for him in order to help him interact with his peers. The same goes for Cynthia, who started using alcohol and drugs to help with her anxiety. School is where children learn lessons, grow up, and make memories that they can cherish. It’s not a place for kids to feel pressured and constantly anxious. Requiring students with these disorders to associate with others and perform activities they’d rather stay away from shows that as a community we need to improve awareness and try to be helpful to those with these disorders. We should let these students know that we understand them.
We can compare these types of situations to another situation that we see often. When students break their leg or hurt themselves during P. E. class, they are exempt from any physical activity until they are in full condition to put their bodies through the activities again. It’s just like the fact that you can not make a student who has a broken leg run a mile. Their bodies simply can not take it. It is the same situation for children with social anxiety disorders. If they do not have the capacity to speak in front of a class or present a group presentation, they should not be required to. Forcing a student to participate in an activity he or she feels uncomfortable in can cause mistrust between the student and the teacher, and even the student and people around him/her. This doesn’t mean that students who have such illnesses should get by without having to do anything. A teacher should push a student, for example, by giving 15 extra minutes for a test, but the following week giving only 10. But also keep in mind that the teacher should never push a student to their breaking point where they may harm themselves or even others.
There is a fine line between being nervous and having an issue with anxiety. Some may think that they can get away with thinking they have a disorder and be exempt from assignments that they don’t want to complete. Social anxiety disorder is an actual medical condition and should be dealt with by the school psychologist; it’s not something to be taken advantage of. And if a student does have this anxiety, the teacher should be understanding of their situation. A good idea would be to have the student present their project alone rather than making the student perform in front of the class.
Students like Cynthia and Brian should not be obligated to take a part in any activity that makes them uneasy and fearful. Schools should make all students, including those with social anxiety disorders, feel welcome and protected in order to help our community flourish.