Anxiety: The Torment of Our Generation

Lizzie Meyer, Staff Member

High school students are often put under immense amounts of pressure, and it may be too much for them to handle. In high school, kids are put under pressure by almost everyone around them. Parents, teachers, even friends are pushing students to do their best, but their best often isn’t good enough for them, and most of the time, people don’t even care. Many teens are constantly riddled with anxiety and stress instead of being able to enjoy their young years while they can.
Often times, people don’t see anxiety as a very important mental health concern. The director of the Child and Adolescent Anxiety Disorders Clinic at Temple University in Philadelphia, Philip Kendall, says that, “Anxiety is easy to dismiss or overlook, partially because everyone has it to some degree.” Everyone gets anxious feelings, whether it be before a big game or on their first day of work, no matter what their age or if they have it regularly or not. Just because everybody feels anxious sometimes, that doesn’t mean that they have an anxiety disorder, which is why it’s so easy for others to ignore. They can just brush it off as having an odd day when their, student, child, or friend is dealing with a mental illness that people seem to be pretending doesn’t exist, when in reality it is a rapidly growing health concern in teenagers.
There are a lot of different types of anxiety, but some that tend to be most prominent in teens are generalized anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, phobias, social anxiety disorder, panic attacks, and post-traumatic stress disorder. There are also a lot of signs that someone may be developing one of these, one of them being emotional changes. Emotional changes can include what many people think of when they hear the word anxiety, which is an unwanted or excessive worry, but these emotional changes are much more than that. A few examples of these changes are feeling on edge and nervous, which is very similar to worry but is different in the sense that worry is about something specific, while nervousness often has no real reason. Teenagers with anxiety can also become irritable and have random outbursts, for what appears to be no reason. When a teenager is inexplicably angry, it can cause problems with all the people around them and with school. Another emotional change that can affect school in the inability to focus. When students can’t focus, their grades will undoubtedly suffer. The last example of emotional change is restlessness. Many people think that restlessness is simply the inability to sleep, but that’s not always the case. Although restlessness can mean that whoever is experiencing it is not able to sleep, restlessness is often when a person is unable to relax as a result of anxiety or boredom. This can be as simple as pacing around a room. Restlessness can also be defined as offering no emotional rest, resulting in emotional exhaustion. This can either come from physical symptoms or it can come from being psychologically drained.
There can also be a lot of social changes that may be signs of anxiety, from cutting people out to barely even leaving the house. Teenagers who are experiencing these social changes often stop hanging out with their usual friends and cut themselves off from their peer groups. This can be a result of several different things or feelings that this person is having. It could be that they don’t want their bad mood to be reflected on everyone else, or that they feel like they’re different when they are around people who don’t feel the same way that they do. It could also be that they don’t feel good enough, which leads to the next social change which is perfectionism. Perfectionism is the desire to be a perfect person and it comes along with extremely high standards for oneself. These standards are often too high to successfully meet, which is another thing that people with perfectionism want to stop, they always want to succeed at everything they do. Being a perfectionist can have positive and negative effects, the positive being that it can really motivate someone to do their best, improve on themselves and meet their goals. The downside of perfectionism is that when people set standards too high to meet, they are setting themselves up for failure and disappointment and will make the person have negative self-evaluations. Perfectionists may even go as far as to judge others who don’t live up to their own standards, which can also have a role in them distancing themselves from the people around them. Having these increased expectations for oneself can cause feelings of anxiety to increase and make it harder to cope with the symptoms of their disorder. This is slightly similar to another social change that can come from anxiety, which is the desire to fit in and be accepted. Everyone feels this at least some of the time, but people who are experiencing anxiety may dwell over it for much longer than the average person and will avoid social situations and the people in their lives out of the fear that they will not be accepted or won’t fit in.
Another type of change that needs to be looked out for is physical changes. A teen with anxiety will often experience irregular pains in their stomach, head, muscles, and just general pains. If someone constantly complains about not feeling well with no clear medical cause, that may also be a symptom. Consistent visits to a school nurse or doctor’s office could be concerning. The last physical symptom is constant fatigue. This can be because of overworking oneself mentally or physically, which can be a result of the aforementioned perfectionism, or it can be due to a lack of sleep and/or nightmares. This ties into a greater issue, which is sleep disturbance. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that teens from the age 13-18 get 8-10 hours of sleep per night for them to be as healthy as they can be, and pediatricians, in general, recommend turning off all electronics 30 minutes before it’s time to go to sleep and removing them from the room while sleeping so that the person isn’t tempted to use it while they’re meant to be sleeping. There are a lot of things in a teens life that can make them lose sleep, so it can be hard to tell whether it’s actually anxiety or not. However, there are some signs that are almost always anxiety related, a few of them being the inability to fall/stay asleep, having nightmares often, and not feeling refreshed after waking up no matter how long the person slept for.
One thing that almost always comes along with anxiety disorders is panic and/or anxiety attacks. Many people think these are the same thing, but they are not. A panic attack is usually unexpected and for no apparent reason, and can last an unpredictable amount of time. This is different from an anxiety attack because an anxiety attack is triggered by a stressor that someone is experiencing, can be predicted to happen if that person knows what may trigger their anxiety attacks, and only lasts a short duration of time. Some symptoms of either one of these include: sweating, nausea, rapid heartbeat, trembling, dizziness, labored/difficulty breathing, chest pain, feeling like they’re losing their mind, numbness/tingling in arms, legs, etc., and derealization. Many people’s first thought when they are having one of these attacks is that they are going to die, so a person saying or thinking that is a pretty sure sign that it is either a panic attack or an anxiety attack.
There are things people can do to help others who are dealing with an anxiety disorder or that people can do to help themselves. One of these things is to celebrate the small wins. Many teens face social anxiety, especially when meeting new people, trying something they’ve never done before, or facing a challenge. This can be overcome by celebrating small wins and remembering good things and successes from the past. This will help teens have higher self-esteem and be more inspired and motivated to succeed again and again. They can also work on breaking down big goals. If a goal is too large, it can make a person anxious at the thought of having to face it, so breaking it down into several smaller goals that will add up to the bigger goal may make it less nerve-wracking. If a goal isn’t met, the person needs to sit down with someone they’re comfortable with and talk about what went wrong and what can be fixed next time. Having a positive phrase or saying can also really help people to keep their heads up when things are getting to be a bit too much. People with anxiety often have negative thoughts going through their heads that almost seem like a conversation or a voice, so if they remind themselves to replace those negative comments with a positive mantra or if someone else repeats that mantra to them, it can boost self-esteem and takes away a reason to make mistakes. Sometimes mistakes are made on purpose by people who are going through this so that they can have a reason to agree with or justify those negative thoughts. As time goes on repeating this positive phrase to oneself or to another person, the person who is struggling with an anxiety disorder will start to believe in the positivity instead of the negative mottos that they’ve been telling themselves for so long.
If you or someone you know is experiencing many of these symptoms, please seek professional help. You can go to the counseling office, your personal therapist/counselor, or talk to an adult at home about seeing a professional outside of school. You can contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-622-HELP or their Treatment Referral Routing Service at 1-800-487-4889. This service is free, confidential, and open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. If you would prefer to send messages, text CONNECT to 741741. This will put you in contact with someone from Crisis Text Line, these people are not trained professionals, they are trained crisis counselors who are volunteering their time to this organization.