Impact of Anxiety/OCD on Social Life

How anxiety affects your child’s social relationships depends, in part, on the nature of their anxiety.  For example, children with generalized anxiety tend to have fewer friends than non-anxious children, but they still participate in social activities.  In contrast, children with social anxiety may be lacking in social skills due to their tendency to avoid social situations (Scharfstein, Alfano, Beidel, Wong, 2011).


Children with OCD tend to have difficulty with social competence (or the ability to handle social interactions effectively, including getting along with others, making and keeping relationships, and responding appropriately in social situations), may struggle more with making friends, and have fewer friendships (Borda et al., 2013; Kim, Reynolds, Alfano, 2012).  Children with OCD were also more concerned that peers would think badly of them, and experienced more victimization.  While they were also less likely to be bullies, they also were less prosocial (Borda et al., 2013).  “Prosocial” means behavior or intention that is positive, helpful, aiming to make friends, or be socially accepted.


Anxiety sensitivity - which is the fear of or unwillingness to experience anxiety - has been linked with an increased risk of peer victimization and increased sadness and worry (Rodriguez et al, 2020).  On the contrary, some studies suggest that compared to depression, anxiety can sometimes play a positive role in relationships over time - for example, children with generalized anxiety may work to preserve friendships more so than their non-anxious peers (Rose et al., 2011)


For kids vulnerable to anxiety, the presence of stressors and availability of supports during middle school transition can influence whether the anxiety becomes more of a problem later in life, or does not (Nelemans et al, 2018).