At Family TLC we are noticing a rise in anxiety rates in teenagers. What does that rise look like? More teenagers are coming in for help and they are describing stress and anxiety that is more intense, frequent and longer lasting.
We are commonly hearing teens say, “My heart is racing, I can’t sleep, I feel like I am under pressure, I am afraid of things I have never been afraid of before.” We also hear things like, “I feel so sad and lonely, I worry every day, I worry about performing, I worry about fitting in, I worry about meeting expectations.” We also get more reports of teenage aggression and destruction, which is commonly misunderstood anxiety.
Anxiety is meant to help us, acting as a natural warning sign that results in a healthy response to take some kind of action. In these quotes from teens, though, we are seeing that the intensity of the physical, emotional, and mental impact is so overwhelming it becomes debilitating.
Left untreated, anxiety causes a teen to be mentally paralyzed. The teen’s thoughts are so strong that before they know it, they are frozen in a dark and terrifying imagined future, which to them appears present and real. The anxiety is not helping, it is hindering.
Perhaps in the past, there were fewer things to worry about, and more things that were healthy distractions. Today, teenagers are experiencing more pressure in themselves, and from friends and family. And they are struggling to keep these anxiety-provoking thoughts short lived.
Unfortunately, these thoughts are not only lasting longer, they are more frequent. Teens worry about things in the past, present and future. “I probably failed that test. I don’t look good. What will happen this weekend? What will happen next year?”
The problem with anxiety is that it forms thought patterns in the brain, almost like trails. Each time the teen goes down “the worry trail,” the path gets more beaten down and it becomes easier to get on that worry trail, stay on it, and go further into anxiety. More alarming is how hard it is to get off the worry trail. Left alone, anxiety can destroy the present and become a lifetime problem.
The good news is that anxiety is normal as long as it is not too frequent, intense or long lasting. Teens have the ability to manage anxiety through relaxation and other healthy coping strategies. For example, exercise can regulate anxiety, certain meditations can help break the pattern of sleeplessness, and different ways of thinking can create new healthy thinking pathways in the brain.
At Family TLC we are seeing many teens who are quick learners, who are using these types of solutions to stop anxiety from being a life long problem.