How Young People’s Social Anxiety Has Worsened in the Pandemic
They expected their 20s to be a time for friends and the passage to adulthood. Instead, they drifted into isolation. Now thousands of young people are struggling to socialize again.

By Eduardo MedinaSept. 27, 2021

One student had several panic attacks a week, alone in his room. One felt her hands shake when walking on busy streets. Another hid in a bathroom while at a restaurant with friends, wondering why she was hyperventilating at her own birthday party.

They are all living with some degree of social anxiety, a growing problem among young people as the disorder, amplified by the pandemic and intensified through months of isolation, fuels social withdrawal and entrenches reclusive habits.

About 9 to 10 percent of young adults and adolescents in the United States have the disorder, defined as an intense fear of being watched and judged by others, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Now many have felt their extreme self-consciousness grow more severe, psychologists say.

That was the experience of Garret Winton, 22, of Tallahassee, Fla. He recalled an afternoon last May when he curled up in bed and placed two fingers on his neck. One hundred thirty beats per minute, he guessed. The sign of another panic attack, his fourth that week.

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