Teenagers can appear to be complex at times. They are in between adulthood and childhood, which in turn can cause feelings of inadequacy and figuring out where they fit. It’s the stage in life where things are starting to make sense, yet uncertainty about identity, friendships, school/career, and family issues are rising to the surface as well. Life may become overwhelming and hard to balance. For many teenagers, all these things combined can create an immense amount of anxious feelings. In this article, we’ll examine some of the typical stressor’s teenagers feel and how this can cause anxiety and panic at times. We’ll also discuss symptoms of anxiety and how to identify if a teenager may be struggling.
The Stress of Being a Teenager
One of the most prominent stressors teenagers experience these days is the social media surge. There can be a lot of emotional stress that stems from keeping up with apps such as Instagram and Snapchat. Every day tempts teens to enter a popularity contest depending on how many “likes” they receive and how many followers they have on their profiles. Imagine having a 6+ hour day of school, then coming home to complete 2 hours of homework, and then having to keep up with texting and posting to your social media profiles.
For most of us it would make our heads spin to say the least. Keeping up with social media not only creates additional stress but for some teens it can create insecurity or feelings of worthlessness. Cyber bullying may also happen on these platforms which can be unavoidable for some teens and extremely dangerous/damaging.
Another stress teenagers face is nightly homework load, often having several hours of homework to complete in order to fulfill the assignments of up to five different classes. Most teenagers don’t even have the chance to start their homework immediately after school due to other demands such as sports, after school activities, etc. These teens then end up staying up late which in turn effects their productivity and sleep. When sleep is affected, teenagers are more likely to have depressive or anxious type feelings.
Aside from these situational type stressors, another big area to consider are the biological changes that every teen will experience. With the release of all kinds of hormones that take place during puberty, this can have a huge impact on teenager’s overall feelings. The intensity of emotions will flare, and teens may not even feel like they are in control at times. It can be a confusing, frustrating, and long process for some. As teens go through these transitions, it is also a time of changes to their appearance. Some teens may struggle with acne, some teens may be taller than others or shorter, and everyone changes at their own pace. Due to this, the continuing biological changes can also influence self-esteem and overall self-concept. During this time, it’s especially important to be supportive and to help educate teens on the changes to be expected.
These are just a few of the factors of what teenagers are dealing with. Granted every teenager is different but for the most part, there are a lot of biological, social, familial, and academic triggers that teenagers experience. Many of these triggers can lead to anxiety if not properly identified and managed.
Signs Your Teen May be Struggling with Anxiety
If a teenager is struggling with depressive or anxious feelings, being able to identify what those symptoms may be is the first step. Here are a few common signs and symptoms to be on the lookout for:
A teenager may display sudden and drastic changes in their emotions. For instance, they may become irritable about small things. They may isolate to their room more often than usual. They may appear restless or struggle to stay focused on things they once loved. Or, perhaps they have explosive outbursts when you ask them to do a simple task. These changes may seem small at first and escalate over time. If this is happening, it may be a good time to ask questions and provide support.
Lack of Sleep
If a teenager is struggling with anxiety, another big symptom could be disturbance in their sleep patterns. For instance, maybe they struggle to fall asleep because they have too much on their mind. Or perhaps they are tossing and turning all night and not getting enough hours of sleep that is best for their growing bodies. If a teenager appears sluggish, develops bags under their eyes, or states they are struggling to sleep, this could be a concrete sign that something bigger is happening.
Another big sign of anxiety is when teenagers begin to isolate away from their friend groups. Maybe they stop going out with their friends and tend to stay home alone more often than usual. They may stop getting involved in extra-curricular activities and they may stop making plans with others. This could also mean that there was a problem with a friend that is causing anxious feelings.
Although anxiety tends to be more of an emotional response, there are physical symptoms that can pop up in relation to feeling anxious. For one, a teenager may be eating more/not enough than usual and feeling fatigued/exhausted. They may prefer to stay indoors and not engage in any sort of physical activities. They may even describe having somatic type symptoms such as stomach issues, nausea, and headaches. Lastly, they may even begin to panic attacks. Panic attacks tend to come on suddenly and may present with symptoms such as shakiness, rapid heart rate and breathing, chest pain, sweating, and dizziness.
Lastly, if a teenager is dealing with anxiety they may develop significant problems with their school performance. They may show signs of forgetfulness, lack of being able to focus, and inability to follow through with assignments. They may develop fear around testing and forgetfulness in meeting deadlines. Especially if your teenager was once an A student and their grades are dropping suddenly, it may be time to evaluate what is happening.
For some teenagers, signs and symptoms may vary but these are some general guidelines to follow when trying to understand more about anxiety amongst teens. If your teen or a teenager you know is struggling, it’s important to provide unconditional support and guidance. Get them in to talk with a professional counselor, whether at school or in an office setting. Provide your teen with the proper tools and coping skills to appropriately handle their feeling. Most importantly, let your teen know that they are not alone, and that support is out there. All of these things will help to decrease their anxiety and make a valuable impact in their recovery process.