Anxiety is a feeling of nervousness, unease, apprehension and worry. It is a physical and psychological state affecting how we think, feel, and behave. Feelings of anxiety are similar to feelings of fear. When we are afraid, however, we usually know what is making us feel the fear. With anxiety, we have a difficult time pointing out what is causing the anxious feelings; this often increases the level of anxiety.
In some circumstances, anxiety is a learned form of behaviour and in others it is a result of external influences. The list below is a directory of some reasons teens experience anxiety. In life, these reasons often overlap and parents, coaches, and therapists must consider more than one as a possibility.
1. Negative thoughts: Negative thoughts and negative self-talk is common. The severity of it varies. Teens who engage in higher volume of these destructive thought patterns are more likely to experience anxiety. Their thoughts about the past, present, and future are usually gloomy and carry little hope.
2. Lack of confidence: A lack of confidence in one’s ability to handle social situations, tests, and other challenges increases feelings of nervousness. As such, confidence is not only important for achieving goals and other objectives, but it is also important for mental health.
3. Situation interpretation: It is well known that two people can interpret the same situation differently. One child can find the same situation threatening and another full of opportunity (e.g., signing up for sleepover camp). The difference of course is due to the meaning the child adds to the situation: a meaning of friendship and skill building or meaning of judgement and inadequacy.
4. Blowing it up: Often time kids make a problem appear bigger and more complex than it is to an adult. As such, they make up stories in their minds of how things will turn out horribly. When kids/teens don’t have the necessary skills to deal with certain situations, those situations do appear highly threatening. Parents can teach kids the necessary skills to help them handle fearful situations.
5. Feeling of no control: Believing to be stuck in a situation in which a child has no control over what can or what will happen tends to increase feelings of anxiety. These types of situations include bullying, divorce, or being pushed into situations child does not want to be in (e.g., joining certain teams).
6. Home life: What is going on at home? When there is extra stress at home the most sensitive kids (the ones more vulnerable to anxiety) will feel it, while the less sensitive kids will experience only mild discomfort. As such, it can be difficult for parents to connect the dots on the cause of the child’s anxiety. When the home life is stable with minimal stress, kids will also find outside stressors easier to handle.
7. Lifestyle: Diet, exercise, water, and enough sleep are all important. They are not only important for our physical health but also for our mental health. Make a habit in your house to eat fresh fruits and vegetables, and discuss the benefits of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Kids’ lifestyle is often a reflection of a parent’s lifestyle.
8. Trauma: Some kids experience trauma in life and never receive any attention or help regarding this experience. Although it may appear like the child forgot the event, it could be that the brain buried it deep in the subconscious mind. Anything buried in the subconscious mind has a way of coming back up when triggered by right circumstances. This almost always leads to anxiety.
9. Poor coping skills: Inability to deal with stress and other life situations will lead to anxiety. Kids face challenges as often as adults. Unfortunately, adults will sometimes downplay the importance of kids’ stress and challenges; remember that kids have age appropriate challenges and these are as tough on them as your bills and responsibilities are on you. As such it is important they have the right tools to deal with stress and to face life difficulties.
Best Wishes to Your Family!
Ivana Pejakovic, Life Coach in Toronto