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Social anxiety rising among young people

By ZOU SHUO | China Daily | Updated: 2022-12-02 07:35

Many say they lack the requisite skills to cope with work and community life

A new college graduate's decision to become a cemetery custodian has ignited a heated discussion on social media about how young people nowadays can deal with social anxiety and benefit from genuine interpersonal relationships.

The Generation Z student from Chongqing said she is very pleased with her job because she only has four colleagues and does not need to worry about any complicated relationships.

Moreover, her office, dormitory and canteen are in the same building, the pace of work is slow and she almost feels as if she has retired early.

Her decision became a trending topic on Sina Weibo, with many netizens saying they envied her position.

"Young people would rather work in a cemetery than network," said one comment, which received more than 10,000 likes.

Meanwhile, a 29-year-old man in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, made headlines after he called for emergency assistance twice in a month because he was experiencing social anxiety.

The man, surnamed Zhong, has a doctorate. He was diagnosed with a panic disorder when he began work and had difficulty adjusting to the pressure of his job and his new social circle. He also experienced two relationship breakups.

Previously, he had lived an isolated life and had not participated in social gatherings.

According to a survey conducted last year by China Youth Daily, more than 80 percent of the nearly 5,000 college students questioned said they had mild social anxiety disorder, with only 12 percent saying they did not have any problems.

The survey found that the disorder surfaces most frequently when speaking in front of large groups, communicating with strangers and asking for favors. One-third of the students said they would pretend not to notice acquaintances when passing them on the street.

Cheng Qiang, 29, who works for a media group in Beijing said he has experienced social anxiety disorder since middle school.

He said he always wears a face mask in the office to try to avoid contact with coworkers. He also chooses the long route whenever he goes to the toilet or kitchen so he will encounter fewer people.

"The disorder becomes more severe when I am around people who know me but are not close," he said. "Their attention makes me nervous, and I don't know how to respond."

Chen Mo, 29, a doctoral candidate at a university in Beijing, said she avoids talking to other people over the phone or in person because her voice is soft and she feels it does not sound professional enough.

"I would much rather text as I can use a meme to end a conversation or avoid awkwardness," she said. "I am more comfortable and seem more positive when texting, and it takes much more energy and mental strength to be as positive when talking in person."

Wang Wenda, a psychology lecturer at Ningxia University's Xinhua College in Yinchuan, capital of the Ningxia Hui autonomous region, said people tend to have social anxiety disorder if they are introverted or lack confidence or social skills such as those required to communicate with others, deal with conflict or find the strength to say no.

Others experience the disorder because they have suffered traumatic interpersonal relationships, he said.

The disorder is not trivial. Severe social anxiety can lead to panic attacks and trigger other psychological problems as a result of a lack of contact with other people, Wang said.

Some people are very socially active online but timid in real life because face-to-face communication requires more social skills than texting, he added.

"Instant messaging apps are not really 'instant' because people can choose not to respond to messages or can take time to come up with the best response, while in real life, they must react right away and understand different facial expressions and gestures," he noted.

He suggested that people with social anxiety disorder should go out and expose themselves to more social gatherings and practice their social skills, adding that through greater social experience and small successes in social encounters, they will reap the benefits of a real social life and come to enjoy positive interpersonal relations.


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