You probably wouldn’t believe it if I told you, but the stage is where some of the most anxious people spend their time. It’s hard to believe since it takes immense courage and bravery to put yourself in front of a crowd. How could someone with anxiety choose to put themselves in a situation where all eyes are on them? In both my professional and personal experience as a Therapist at Creative Counseling and Wellness, I know that center stage holds some of the most anxious teens.
Silent Sufferers of Social Anxiety
Theater teens tend to be silent sufferers of anxiety because on the outside they do not appear anxious. Because what are theater teens really good at? Pretending, acting, and escaping into someone else! Theater teens are pulled to the stage by two specific types of anxiety: social anxiety and anxiety that results from perfectionism. These types of anxiety help the teen to flourish in the spotlight. But struggle once they take their bow and return to everyday life. Anxiety is both a blessing and a curse for teens who enjoy performing arts.
According to the Social Anxiety Institute website, social anxiety is “the fear of being judged and evaluated negatively by other people, leading to feelings of inadequacy, inferiority, self-consciousness, embarrassment, humiliation, and depression.” Being on stage is a prime opportunity to face judgement and evaluation but what I find with theater teens is that being able to play a character shields them from social anxiety during a performance.
The Opportunity to be Someone Else
A teen with social anxiety can step out onto that stage as someone else. And therefore not feel the weight of potential scrutiny. For a short while, they are transformed, they are not themselves. They get to place a barrier over their anxiousness and step into an entirely different world as a different being. When theater teens who struggle with social anxiety step off the stage and into everyday life, you may notice that interacting with peers is a challenge.
When Out of Character the Social Anxiety Sets In
Off stage, your teen is not hiding behind a character. This is where the anxiety sets in. Teens with social anxiety have a hard time connecting with others due to the fear they have of being humiliated or embarrassed. I think a lot of social anxiety comes from being unsure how to interact socially and a fear of “doing it wrong.” They feel insecure about how to move, speak, and behave and how others might move, speak, and behave in return.
Unpredictable Daily Variables Drive Social Anxiety
When on stage, your teen has practiced over and over again how interact. For a performance, a teen has blocking for movement, has memorized lines, and knows how the other characters are going to respond. They have rehearsed repeatedly what to do each step of the way. In ever day interactions, there are many unpredictable variables that the stage reduces.
The second type of anxiety that teens who are drawn to theater tend to exhibit is related to perfectionism. Perfectionism is “driven primarily by internal pressures, such as the desire to avoid failure or harsh judgment,” according to Psychology today. Teens who are perfectionistic often view life as a never ending report card and set unrealistically high expectations for themselves.
Hyper-Focused on School Performance
In my work with highly perfectionistic teens, I have observed a common theme of being hyper-focused on school performance, mainly grades. The thought of the slightest deviation from a perfect 100 percent score can send a perfectionist teen into self-defeating attitudes towards the self. Not all perfectionistic teens make straight As as you might guess. Some do, but others are so afraid of imperfection that it is difficult to complete tasks out of fear of failing. They would rather not do something at all than do it with flaws.
A perfectionistic teen may struggle with sleep problems, procrastination, low self-esteem, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, depression, and more.
Where Social Anxiety and Perfectionism Meet
So where do social anxiety and perfectionism come together? Both are anxieties that are fixated on failure, judgement, and criticism. Social anxiety is more focused on the judgement and humiliation they might receive in front of others and perfectionism is often times an internalized battle with the self, but is also wrapped up in how others might perceive them if they are imperfect.
When I work with teens who are involved in theater, I often find that both types of anxiety are present. I think theater draws in perfectionistic teens with social anxiety and I also think that the anxiety makes theater very attractive.
I see many reasons for the ever-present relationship between teen anxiety and theater:
1. Getting to put on a mask
And be a different person/character. When performing, the teen is transformed into a character. Being anxious makes theater teens especially skilled at acting because it is a rare opportunity to put their anxiety aside. Social anxiety allows a teen to feel most comfortable in a role outside of themselves and perfectionism allows a teen to strive for perfecting their role.
This is another reason that anxious teens love theater. As mentioned previously, theater teens feel at ease knowing that they have practiced and rehearsed endlessly for their performance. They know what to say, they know how to act/move, and they know their cues and how others are set to respond. For teens with social anxiety this feels especially relieving since they are less worried about unexpected variables in the interactions.
Perfectionistic teens were born for this because they are determined to give a flawless performance with zero missteps. The dark side to this is that you can practice, practice, practice and things can still go wrong. A castemate may drop a line, you may trip over your feet, a set change may go awry. Theater teens with anxiety can put on a good face on stage but when they perceive even small imperfections in their performance, this can send a teen with anxiety into a spiral of negative thoughts backstage.
This is a very important element in the relationship between teen anxiety and theater. Because social anxiety and perfectionism are so common amongst the theater community, theater teens tend to find common ground with their castmates. Getting to know a new group of cast members is often nervewracking at first, but it does not take long before teens come together in this space. Perfectionism allows theater teens to all have a collective motivation to put on a great performance. Social anxiety is often dissipated through a shared feeling of relief in slipping into another role temporarily. Social anxiety and perfectionism make theater a great place for teens to create a social support network of friends.
The Role of Counseling in Theater Teen Anxiety
As you can tell there are pros and cons to the relationship between social anxiety, perfectionism, and theater for teens. Having relief from anxious symptoms, a sense of control, and opportunities to make friends are just some of the benefits of anxious teens getting involved with theater. Masking symptoms, not having the same sense of control in every day life, and self-defeating attitudes towards self when a performance is less than perfect are some of the downsides that make the relationship between teen anxiety and theater complicated.
As a performer myself, I personally know the experiences that theater teens have with social anxiety and perfectionism. I also spend time backstage with teens today who are regularly wrestling with anxiety. This makes me especially skilled in working with theater teens who struggle with social anxiety and perfectionism. Therapy for Teens with Anxiety can help overcome these struggles.
Goals For Counseling
I have 3 main goals in counseling anxious theater teens:
Of their unique selves! I spend time in counseling with teens helping them embrace who they are authentically. I want teens to know that it is okay and normal to feel awkward and anxious in social interactions and that they can own who they are with confidence. If they get rejected for who they are, then those are not the people to be friends with. I am not here to fix teens or change something that is broken. I work to empower teens to love themselves fully and authentically!
In every day life! Perfectionism and social anxiety often lead teens to have rigid and black and white thought processes. A grade on a teach is either an A+ or a failure, a social interaction either leads to a best friend or being completely humiliated, mastering the dance steps of a stage routine is either flawless or an utter disaster with one wrong step. Rigidity and polarized thinking can be a really difficult way to live! I help teens learn about the inbetween, the ambiguity, and the grey areas that are make up the human existence. Not only will we learn that the middle exists, but we will practice sitting in the uncomfortable feelings.
Just like on stage! The stage is not as predictable as it seems. Everyday life is extremely unpredictable! Being on stage feels more comfortable because the chances of unexpected variables is less when actors have practiced for weeks on end. It is possible to practice everyday interactions though! In counseling, we will study social interactions like we are conducting a research study. We will walk through real-life scenarios step by step, figure out what worked, what didn’t, why something worked or didn’t, and how to change the variables for a different outcome next time. Chances are a similar situation will come up again!
Begin Therapy for Teens with Anxiety in Metairie, LA Today!
If your teen struggles with social situations and the desire for perfectionism, Therapy for Socially Anxious Teens at Creative Counseling and Wellness is here to help. As a Therapist, I have both personal and professional experience with these issues and am prepared to walk this journey of self-discovery with your teen. Follow the steps below to get started. Through ownership, balance, and practice, your teen can own the stage and the stage called life!
- Reach out to me via my convenient online contact form.
- Get to know more about me and my story here.
- Begin the journey to self-discovery and healing
Other Mental Health Services Offered at Creative Counseling and Wellness
I specialize in working with teens and their families. I work with a wide variety of individuals such as: LGBTQ+ Teens, Teens with Anxiety, Theater Teens, Creative/Artistic Teens, Teens Questioning Gender Identity, High Achieving Teens, Teens with Social Anxiety, and Teens Struggling with Perfectionism. My own own life and experience gives me a unique perspective that lends itself to working with teens especially. Reach out today!