Your teenager or young adult may have challenges with anxiety if if he or she:
- Avoids certain situations or people rather than fully participate in the world
- Has a limited range of what they can tolerate in situations and the behavior of others
- Tries to control people, situations, or conversations to avoid becoming upset
- Has developed rituals of behavior to help them to feel safer or more secure
- Obsesses about problems or what might happen in the future
- Worries and thus has difficulty sleeping or changes eating habits
- Complains often of physical discomfort, most commonly stomach problems
- Is easily frustrated or becomes angry when things don’t go their way
Anxiety in Our Society
Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health issues, affecting more than one-quarter of all teens and a similar percentage of young adults. Studies indicate that children who suffer with anxiety are more likely to have lower self-images, underperform academically, lag behind peers socially, and engage in substance abuse. Because anxiety has reached epidemic proportions in this country, the issue is a focus of recent and ongoing research, with experts agreeing the problem has escalated in recent years and is expected to continue to do so.
What Does Anxiety Look Like?
Anxiety takes many forms, from mild test anxiety to obsessive-compulsive disorder to chronic or generalized anxiety. Anxious people tend to share one characteristic -- a strong motivation to alleviate their anxiety, which usually takes the form of efforts to control their environments in some way.
With teenagers and young adults, control may take the form of trying to exert influence on the people around them -- wanting family or friends to behave in ways that will lead to an acceptable or “safe” outcome. They may complain about things they don’t like or act out when they don’t get their way, often causing others to “walk on eggshells” to avoid upsetting them. Or control may take the form of avoidance, by staying away from social, school, or work situations or activities that lead to uncomfortable anxious feelings.
When control fails -- which it almost always does -- anxiety can turn to anger. Anger is a “bigger” and more upsetting emotion for parents and others to deal with. So they my focus on anger management as the primary concern, when the underlying issue that leads to the anger is anxiety.
Reacting with anger doesn’t feel good to teens and young adults. They may “get their way” when they’re angry, but on some level they recognize their anger hurts those they care about. With an anxious teen or young adult, self-esteem may suffer as they cause pain to others or struggle with school or work performance or social engagement.
The Good News
In the vast majority of cases, anxiety is treatable. As your teen or young adult begins to feel less anxious, they feel more capable and better able to engage in the world and be more productive in all aspects of their lives. Improved self-esteem and personal growth are natural outcomes of these changes.