Understanding Anxiety in Your High Schooler

Health Writer
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High school is a time of transition. Children enter high school while navigating the ups and downs of puberty. During the next four years, they develop friendships, explore romantic relationships and finally start their transition into young adulthood, applying to colleges and exploring career choices. All the while, they are taking demanding classes, while some hold part-time jobs.

Over the years, the demands on high school students have increased. Colleges are more selective and because of this, students are pushed to take honors and Advanced Placement classes in order to increase their chances of getting into the “right” college. The pressure to do well and exceed expectations can leave little time left to relax and simply enjoy their youth.

Social pressures have changed, as well. Social media sites are full of boasts about grades, college acceptances, over-the-top parties, lavish proms. Today, perhaps more than ever, teens feel an overwhelming pressure to keep up with their peers.

About eight percent of teens in the United States have some type of diagnosed anxiety disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. This doesn’t count those who hide their symptoms or simply haven’t been diagnosed. With more than 41 million teens in the U.S., that means that more than three million teens suffer from an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are characterized by irrational fears or excessive worrying. Some of the ways anxiety disorders show up in teens include:

Teens with anxiety disorders might also have a strong urge to hide, i.e., stay in their rooms, avoid social interactions, withdraw from activities, avoid school, or engage in excessive partying.

If you believe your son or daughter is suffering from anxiety, the first place to start is by making an appointment with your family doctor to rule out any physical causes. While there, request a referral to a mental health professional who specializes in working with teens. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which focuses on problem-solving and changing negative thought processes, has been found to be effective in treating anxiety. Look for a therapist who works with CBT techniques.

There are also things you can do at home to help your teen:**Find ways to ** incorporate exercise into your teen’s daily schedule**.** If your teen doesn’t participate in any sports, look for outside opportunities, such as yoga, swimming, or martial arts. Exercising for even 20 minutes each day can help to decrease anxiety and depression.

Focus on ** gratefulness**. Practicing appreciation can help to relieve anxiety and depression. Incorporate feelings of gratitude into your daily speech. Let your teen see that you appreciate what you have and encourage her to start a gratitude journal, listing a few things she is grateful for every day.

Discuss relaxation techniques. Many teens think that relaxation means sitting on the couch watching television or using their phone or tablet. Some might think getting high or drunk is their form of relaxation. Work with your teen on relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga.

Talk to your teen about times you have felt anxious. Many people with anxiety feel alone, as if no one can understand what they are going through. When their anxiety includes irrational fears, they know they shouldn’t worry, but they can’t stop themselves. When their anxiety includes excessive worrying, they probably worry about how much they worry. Let them know that everyone gets anxious sometimes. Listen, without judging. Let them know they aren’t alone.

Discuss ways your teen can reduce some of the pressure. Are there activities that can be cut out or reduced? Does your teen really need to take that third advanced class at school? Is your teen overwhelmed with school and work? Does your teen need to apply to only the “best” colleges? Work with your teen on reducing some of the pressures to make her life more manageable.

Encourage your teen to connect with friends -- in person. Social media can be a wonderful tool for keeping people in touch, but it doesn’t replace in-person friendships.

Let your teen know you love him or her -- every day.

See more helpful articles on teens for anxiety:

Ten Signs Your Teens May Have An Anxiety Disorder

When Social Anxiety Stops Teens From Making Friends

Signs and Warnings of Teen Anxiety in High School

Helping Teens Manage Stress

The Difference Between Nervousness and Anxiety Disorders in Teens


Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of Idiot's Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot's Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love and Essential Guide to Asperger's Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.