Social Anxiety Disorder and Muslim Teenagers

IS THIS YOUR FAMILY?

  • You come home and find your teenager in a fiery fit over how her schoolmates made fun of her new outfit that she had spent hours choosing. She screams that she is better off alone, and runs to her room.

  • You are hosting the ‘Eid ul Fitr gathering at your home. Your teenage son refuses to come out of his room to greet relatives and family friends. He complains that everyone looks at him in a funny way. He is afraid that they are always watching his every move.

One of the least diagnosed conditions that teenagers face is social anxiety disorder (SAD). Reading about SAD among Muslim teenagers may come as a surprise to many of us because of the emphasis on family and community life in Islam.

The family unit is of central importance in Islam because it is the family that prepares children to be active participants in society. And we know that Islam encourages the believers to pray in congregation, to work together, to share a meal with family or friends. So is this discussion about SAD even relevant to Muslim youth?

In the United States, SAD is reportedly the third largest psychological problem. Nearly 15 million Americans are said to suffer from this disorder. A high number of referrals to mental health professionals often result in the misdiagnosis of SAD patients as being clinically depressed. This misdiagnosis is partly the result of insufficient discussion and research about SAD among professionals, and partly due to an inability of patients to verbalize their condition. Often times, secondary symptoms serve as better indicators during assessment.

Interestingly enough, most of the research on the treatment of SAD indicates that it is not a medical condition in that it requires therapy. Cognitive-behavior therapy has proven to yield the best results, with the number of sessions ranging anywhere between twelve and thirty depending on the severity of the condition.

A Closer Look at SAD Among Muslim Children

Given the high tendency in our society towards individualistic lifestyles, it is likely that more and more people will experience this psychological problem. The scenarios presented at the beginning of this article shed some light on potential trouble spots that parents should be on the lookout for.

Even among Muslims, various shifts in development and in family and community life can account for an onset of SAD among children. For example, fearing embarrassment is common among teenagers who long to be accepted among their peers. Muslim youth, particularly young girls who have begun to wear hijab, may be especially vulnerable to experiencing feelings of not fitting in or of sticking out in the crowd.

Even when no one is watching them, people who suffer from SAD often feel as if they are the focus of everyone’s attention – not in an arrogant manner, but to the contrary, they feel as though everyone is judging or making fun of them.

In the first scenario, the young girl who concluded that she is better off alone is, in reality, reacting in such a way to avoid potentially embarrassing situations in the future. If her parents do not respond appropriately the first time she expresses a profound fear of embarrassment, it is possible that this teen might begin to avoid being seen in public. It is important that her parents do their best to immediately de-construct the situation, and help her realize that she need not fear appearing in public. Parents must actively work to reassure their children that their uniqueness contributes to the diversity of their schools and communities.

Should a fear of embarrassment become excessive, parents are strongly advised to seek out a same-gender Muslim professional to work with the child over a period of time. Again, SAD is not a medical problem, but is rather a psychological condition that requires professional intervention. Parents are encouraged not to be impatient or force their children into the situations that they are obviously trying hard to avoid. And neither should parents enable their children to simply give in to their fears of embarrassment and avoid public settings entirely.

A common phenomenon among Muslim families is that when children reach the teenage years, they begin to seek exemption from participation in masjid activities and other both informal and formal get-togethers. While very few teenagers consider the activities of non-teens as cool or enjoyable, there is reason for concern when a teenager shows great anxiety whenever the possibility of being in a social situation arises. Also, sudden shifts in behavior and emotions can be indicative of an anxiety with social situations. Parents must monitor such situations, and look for patterns of reaction from their teens.

A common behavior among teenagers with SAD is that they find great satisfaction in reading books, watching television alone, or merely staying away from others. Again, parents are not encouraged to force their teens to be active participants in social situations. High levels of anxiety coupled with the fear of embarrassment may drive a teenager to become further reclusive. It is better to talk a situation out with a teenager, and attempt to come to some compromise. For example, a family might agree that the teenager attend the first half of a gathering, and then go and read or do whatever he or she wants to do. Slowly, and with professional help, Insha’Allah, the teenager will come to terms with his or her anxiety. But the process must be allowed to unfold – however long it takes.

The adolescent years are difficult to begin with. It is even tougher being a Muslim adolescent in a predominantly non-Muslim society. As such, parents are encouraged to establish and maintain regular communication with their children, and to do their best to assist them in becoming stable and productive members of our society. And, in the case of suspected SAD, parents cannot assume that their teens will just grow out of their fears of embarrassment and their tendencies to avoid social situations. Rather, through careful monitoring, patience and the involvement of professionals, it is entirely possible that anxious teenagers can be helped to live normal lives.

There is no reason to fear professional intervention as a precautionary measure. At the first warning signs, rather than wait for a teen to suffer from SAD-ness, parents should immediately seek out professional assistance to help put him or her back on the road to an enjoyable and healthy experience of growing up.

[Islam Online]

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13 Comments

Filed under Islam, Religion, Uncategorized

13 responses to “Social Anxiety Disorder and Muslim Teenagers

  1. Esra

    Assalamu Alaikum I think I have social anxiety, but where am I going to find a muslim professional to seek help? I’m 18 (I’ll be 19 in july insaALLAH) and I’m a freshmen in college.

  2. wa `alaykum salam,

    There is a link to a self-help guide for Social Anxiety: https://ibnayyub.wordpress.com/2008/10/09/social-anxiety-a-self-help-guide/

    There’s loads of info out there on the web on Social Anxiety Disorder and a lot of self-help material which you might want to check out. Do a search in google and have a look around.

    I don’t know about how you would go about finding a Muslim professional, it would depend on where you are located. Islamonline.net have a Cyber Counselor service which you might also want to consider: http://www.islamonline.net/servlet/Satellite?cid=1111998297572&pagename=IslamOnline-English-Cyber_Counselor/Page/CyberCounselE

    I hope this helps in some way.

    ibn ayyub

  3. Salam. I have always kept asking myself whether SAD is real. I told my parents I might have them but my parents were skeptical, saying if I “put my mind to it and remember God more” simply, I would be “just fine”. It seems like they do not think it is real, although I am sure I do, but I do not know how to say it to them to make them understand.

  4. wa `alaykum salam,

    We should all be remembering and asking Allah first and foremost.

    Another thing I would recommend is to check out Tony Robbins’ CD programs, I’m sure you’ll find them helpful in giving you some practical steps and actions to take.

    ibn ayyub

  5. Uzarsif1

    Assalaamu alaikum.I think i have SAD or even depression.i’m 21yrs old.sam people say i look like a 16 year boy.my problem is i was naturally created skinny or thin since childhood.i have been called so many funny names like Skeleton,bones etc.in order to avoid these names i stopped mingling with friends and always keep myself alone.what worried me most was my own biological siblings making fun of me.in my nuclear family i’m the only thin.i cry so much.i’ve been alone up till date.this isolation brought so many bad,suicidal and sinful thought in my mind.i hate going into public.i hate when friends visit me.i don’t get clothes of my size and i cry alot over the clothes i spent huge money on when they don’t fit me.i have been alone at the age 17 years till one day i got myself into masturbation.i didn’t know what masturbation was and its complications.since then i never had things easy again.i’m suffering from the complications of masturbation for 3 years now.i ran from hospital to hospital and i was paying all the bills myself but to no avail and i’m just a student.i’m always in doubt abt Allah cuz i prayed so much,quit masturbating and doing so many good deeds but my condition remained.there was a time i was blaming Allah for even creating me.i prayed so much and gave out sadaka to the needy and orphans around me but to no avail.i then lost hope totally and even stopped asking Allah anything.my parents never knew what i’m going through.now i’m dealing with 2 difficult problems.being skinny and this disease as a result of masturbation.how merciful is Allah and why did God created me very skinny/thin knowing verily that i’ll be worried by it.i really wish i’m dead and gone cuz i don’t feel the love of God for me.i was given a school prefect in my high school and i rejected it cuz i have very low self esteem.i just hate myself and i wish i was not created at all.what can i do.thank u all for reading my life experiences.

  6. wa `alaykum salam,

    Thanks for dropping by!

    What I would say is that no matter how bad you see your situation to be there is always someone else who is in a worse off situation! It’s easy to overestimate other people and to think that they don’t have problems or challenges in themselves but everyone does. I don’t mean to sound disaffected by what your saying and I can only imagine what it must feel like to be going through the situation your in BUT there is a way OUT.

    You don’t need to feel trapped by your genetics. There are plenty of people out there who have your body type and there’s a way to transform it. What’s your diet like? How often do you exercise? Do you have a workout plan? What have you tried in the past? How badly do you want to change?

    Here are two places where you can start and start taking immediate action NOW:
    http://stronglifts.com/blog/
    http://rosstraining.com/blog/

    If you’re feeling sad and depressed on a regular basis where it’s become a habit then that too can be turned around. It’s not necessarily a problem with your Iman, we’re all human beings and you may just need professional assistance to help with your psychological and emotional side, and there is no shame in seeking help. I could recommend listening to Tony Robbins CD programs if you don’t want to seek a health professional–it works:

    http://www.tonyrobbins.com/

    As long as we’re in the dunya problems are going to stay. We’re here to be tested and overcome the challenges that come our way. And we CAN overcome them. Are we going to turn to Allah and ask for His help or turn away and blame Him?

    Explore some of what been recommended above and start taking some immediate action. Once you start making progress even if it’s a little you’ll feel much better.

    I hope some of what I’ve said makes sense to you. I don’t claim to have the answers and I don’t think I’ve communicated in the most eloquent way but I hope that you can see that you can take control of your situation. Allah hasn’t created you to punish yourself like this!

    And finally don’t forget to keep praying and asking Allah. The help of Allah is nearer than you think!

    brotherly yours,
    ibn ayyub

  7. Uzarsif1

    Thank you so much for your kind and inspiring encouragement.infact you are the 1st person who has responded to my problem on line.i really appreciate it.upon reading ur comment i got so much relieved.i was full of excitement when i was reading ur comment.well,i’m a Ghanaian by birth and i live in Ghana.i eat at least 3 meals a day cuz i’m really not from a wealthy family but i thank God for what he gave my parents.i don’t have regular exercise may be once a month and i do it in my single room i don’t go out .to my problem i leave everything to God and i’m really starting to pray to God again cuz it’s being a while now when i stopped asking anything from Allah.immidiately the imam says aslamu alaikum warahmatullah i walk out of the mosque cuz i feel that my dua will not bring any change in my life.i’ll be heading to the university November this year but i feel so young or small to be there.it’s really disturbing me.with the depression i think i could handle it but with the disease i’m suferring from masturbation(pain in my genital when i urinate,severe chronic waist pain,a discharge but sometimes once in a month or not at all,lower abdominal pains and chest pain) with the chest pain i think it was caused by the excessive crying i was doing.i don’t really feel the pains so much and i feel it once in a while.i have ran so many lab test but all the results were negative for STDS.luckly,i’m from a family of huffaz.my parents have 5 children whom am the 3rd born.3 of my biological siblings have memorised all the Quran and i reached suratun najm when i quit and went to the high school.this was where life turned away from me.through out my high school i was going with this problem but what kept me happy was i got so much loved by my colleagues cuz i was clever and many said i’m really handsome and gentle.so most of my mates were closed to me.i completed high school last year and i’ve been alone till now.i’m always in the house doing nothing.i look physically young so i’m not planning of getting a work doing now.may Allah forgive me and consider me cuz i’m really suffering and i really want to change. Allah should just give me the chance.i’m ready to change.i know satan is the biggest enemy i ever had cuz i nearly commited suicide.i love u .thank you much

    • ousman

      well Uzarsif1 first of all thank you fro being breif in your problem. second i want to give you my sincere advice that when Allah.s.w said dont do haran things it’s not for him it’s for us because we have a very merciful creator that want’s us to triumph in this world as well as the next .so in general by obeying his guidance “QURAN’ and by following our prophets Sunnah .it will make us athe best created beings.

  8. salam Uzarsif1. upon reading your comment I think I have to respond, since there has been a point in my life before when I felt like my problem will only persist and never be solved; I only blamed and did not try to find the way or solution. hope you do not ever give up, for Allah is always with us. May Allah bless you and help us in our struggle.

  9. Uzarsif1

    Thank you my dear .i’m in the hospital right now.i repented to Allah yesturday and i was able to recite suratu Lukman in the evening and then i slept.i woke up this morning very happy.i will try hard to stick to this act.the problem i’m facing is i can’t go into public nor play football with my peers.i’m really good at playing football,that’s my talent.but my legs are too thin and i get teased for that.so i spend so much time in my room.what can i do to overcome this isolation.i have some friends who wish to be with me all day but i’m not given them that chance because they sometimes bring those funny names there.Allah has gifted me with some special talents that my friends saw in me.i repair their phone for them mean while i never learnt how to repair phones,i’m good in my academics,i’m talented in football and lastly they say i’m handsome.the only problem i’m facing is being skinny and the disease i’m having as a result of masturbation.this disease is not going off,i tried so many medicines prescribed by doctors but to no avail.i’ve been with this disease for 3 years now.i know Allah is going to help me one day.low self esteem,isolation and this disease are my biggest problem.insha Allah i’ll recover them.may Allah help anyone in my condition to get back to normal life.i know is my mistake which lead me into this condition.what i like so much about myself is that i never associated Allah with anything,i always pray on time,i don’t gossip,i don’t quarrel with anyone and i forgive anyone who cheats me so easily.please add me to your prayers.i really want to change.thank you so much.assalaamu alaikum warahmatuLLAH.i love you.

  10. Ibrahim Yasin from Ghana

    Salam alleikum.

    I have this problem too, i am a muslim living in Europe. I suffer from Social Phobia also called Social Anxiety Disorder. I go in highschool right now, but i have always hated school, because i never had any friend in my class. I had been teased at very young age almost every day. My problem is that i am very nervous, shy and with very low selfsteem in school. I have hard time making friends in school. I feel embarrased by telling this. I dont know what to do. I am so afraid of socializing with my peers that i actually sometimes avoid those situations. I hate this disorder. I want to live a normal life and have fun, but instead i am prisoned in lonelyness. I dont know where to get help and who to ask. Its just so very frustrating this SAD.

  11. H

    This is a good article alhamdulillah for sharing it. Uzarsif1 and anyone else suggering from social anxity disorders you are in my prayers and I pray that Allah gives you the strenth and drive to continue on. Always remember that Allah is with you and keep up and dont give up on your prayers and duas. Theres going to be hard times when you feel like giving up but please dont and remember Allah doesnt test a soul with more than it can bear. This life is a big, big test and it wont last forever so please take everyday as it comes and try your best. Alhamdulillah. I hade social anxity problems but with dua and prayers i have learned to overcome most of it. We can not be perfect so dont try to be please people but try to please Allah more. I know how it is also having confidence issues with your body size and so on but beleve me if you just be yourself! and strive to be the best muslim you can be then you will attract the right people who will love for the sake of Allah and will have sinceir true friends.

  12. Zohaib

    Hopefully, you will see this and reply to me.

    Salam, my name is Zohaib. I’ve been suffering with social anxiety since I was eight, and have been for quite a while.

    Some of the people who commented here don’t have social phobia at all, but they can relate to shyness.

    I’d like to ask you, is there any verse of our dear creator that tells us about social phobia or shyness? Or at least verses relating to it?

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