When people get older, they can look at their past with rose-tinted glasses. Compared to their present, their youth can appear pristine, a time of youthful abandon absent of the responsibilities and hardships of adulthood. It’s perilous to try and compare your situation to someone else’s (even your own past self), and it can be unhelpful especially when addressing mental health concerns. Anxiety in teens is often missed.

Teens, like everyone else, get anxious. Anxiety in teens can range from everyday worry about an upcoming test or date, to crippling anxiety that makes social interactions or separation from loved ones nigh impossible. It’s important to understand some of the sources of anxiety in teens, as that can help one understand why certain circumstances may be stressful and anxiety-inducing, and it can inform the beginnings of how to mitigate anxiety in a teen’s life.

What anxiety feels like

Anxiety produces a physiological response, called the stress response. Your body releases adrenaline, cortisol, and other neurochemicals that make your heart beat faster, muscles tense up, breath comes in short, extremities feel numb or tingly, your stomach feels unsettled, and it can also make you tremble and sweat. Being anxious can make you feel like you’re struggling to catch your breath, and it can feel like the world is either speeding up or slowing down around you. You may even feel lightheaded or like you’re about to pass out.

Experiencing these various sensations can be disorienting and unsettling. Not only that but if you are constantly anxious, it can affect your physical health because your body wasn’t designed to always be on high alert and for the stress response to be activated all the time.

Sources of anxiety in teens

Teens face many challenges in daily life. According to the World Health Organization, it is estimated that 1 in 7 (14%) 10- to 19-year-olds globally experience mental health conditions. Around 9.4% of US children aged 3 to 17 years (approximately 5.8 million) were diagnosed with anxiety between 2016 and 2019, and those numbers increased significantly during the Covid pandemic.

There are several sources of anxiety for teens, including some of the following. Teens are often anxious about how they are perceived, particularly by their peers. They have an awareness of how the people around them see them, and that has only been ramped up by the presence of social media.

A teen can get caught up in whether they are seen as competent, and they are hyperaware of things that can embarrass them. Often, one of the results of this is a crippling social anxiety.

Another thing that teens are often anxious about is their academic performance. School forms a major part of a teen’s life, and there can be a lot of pressure to perform well to please parents and teachers, meet the standards of their peers, as well as begin laying the foundation for college admissions and their future. Perfectionism and its attendant anxieties can be the result.

Lastly, teens are also anxious about their bodies. The pre-teen and teen years are when their bodies are undergoing many changes, some of them unsettling. Anxiety can result from developing earlier than peers, just as it can also arise from developing later than one’s peers. The changes they undergo can affect their self-esteem and confidence.

In some cases, those changes can be so uncomfortable and disorienting that they feel like their body is not their own. In other cases, they may become obsessed with real or perceived flaws in their body and they develop a negative body image that can interfere with their well-being.

Apart from these sources of anxiety, anxiety may also be caused by a combination of genetic, environmental, and circumstantial factors. Mental health challenges such as anxiety may come about as a response to environmental stressors such as bullying, trauma, the death of a loved one, parental separation, or moving house and changing schools.

If a teen has parents and other family members with anxiety or anxiety disorders, that increases the likelihood that they’ll also develop anxiety and anxiety disorders.

Relieving anxiety in healthy ways

Anxiety can inhibit a teen’s social development at a critical juncture in their lives. If you are a teen or you have a teen and you suspect that anxiety is a reality in their life, the good news is that there is a positive outlook on addressing different forms of anxiety and anxiety disorders.

It’s important to seek help when dealing with anxiety, and to not assume that it’s something that will blow over or that one can simply “grow out of”. Reach out to a Christian counselor to address anxiety and anxiety-related concerns.

Some of the ways to get appropriate help include seeking professional mental healthcare in the form of Christian counseling. Talk therapy and medication can help to contain anxiety and its effects on a teen’s life, and there are a few lifestyle changes that can also help alleviate the symptoms of anxiety.

Some of these lifestyle changes include taking self-care seriously by exercising regularly and staying active, eating a healthy diet, and maintaining a regular sleep schedule to get quality sleep.

Other changes that can make an impact are spending time with loved ones, enjoying the outdoors, and handling your to-do list by breaking up large tasks into smaller, simpler, and thus more manageable ones. The Lord does not desire us to be trapped in worry and anxiety (Matthew 6:25-34; Philippians 4:4-9). Anxiety undermines one’s well-being, but with help, it can be overcome.

“Hangin’ Out”, Courtesy of Eliott Reyna, Unsplash.com, CC0 License