Piling on the Pressure

An inside look into how anxiety affects teenagers 

As junior Jane Doe* experienced the increase in anxiety as she progressed from elementary to middle school and then from middle school to high school, she noticed anxiety attacks weren’t only more intense, but they were much easier to trigger.

“I didn’t like to go to restaurants because that would stress me out,” Doe said. “Going out of town, riding on airplanes, even stuff like going to my friend’s house, just like hanging out [really freaked me out]. If there wasn’t a set plan and I didn’t know the friend or the family really well, I would just be nervous because I would have nowhere else to go then.”

Anxiety is a problem all humans deal with to some extent or another, counselor Kate Carmichael said. Students often experience anxiety due to the stresses of dealing with school, social lives and growing up, Carmichael said.

“Some students find unhealthy ways of managing their anxiety,” Carmichael said. “They do things such as hyper-fixating on romantic relationships, turning to drugs or alcohol, or using self-harm as a way of coping. Learning healthy ways to handle anxiety is a life-long journey as we live in a culture that promotes medication or other unhealthy methods to relieve these symptoms.”

According to Carmichael, the three main ways students respond to having anxiety is either by bottling up their feelings and trying to avoid them; acting out or becoming angry with friends, family or themselves (a method that is more common in boys with anxiety); or acting in (self-harm, criticizing yourself, not eating, a method that is more commonly found in girls with anxiety). However, not all students respond to anxiety in these three ways.

Doe has been dealing with anxiety since she was a toddler. As her anxiety grew worse and became more conflicting with her everyday life, she began seeking professional assistance.

“A lot of times I try to just listen to my breathing,” Doe said. “It sounds dumb, but it sort of puts you in perspective and brings you back down to earth and you realize what’s real. Because a lot of times, although anxiety is a real feeling, you’re usually not feeling something that is real. You’re like making it up in your head. So while the feeling is really real to you, it’s important to remember that it’s not actually reality, and that helps.”

Although many people confuse stress with anxiety, they don’t understand that anxiety is an awful thing if you actually have it, Doe said. Panic attacks can either cause someone to feel very sick or they can cause someone to become completely oblivious to the world around them.

For Doe, once a panic attack has started, her body shuts down, making it nearly impossible to absorb information at school.

“Anxiety attacks usually start with an emotional trigger,” Carmichael said. “Triggers can include everything from trauma to being rejected, bullied, or low feelings of self-worth. You already feel anxious and something stresses out our emotional systems which causes your body to have a reaction.  Breathing becomes difficult, your heart will begin to race, and as you experience these scary reactions you will begin to become more anxious, which causes an anxiety attack. Your vision becomes blurry and people often collapse or pass out.”

While anxiety has caused Doe to remove herself from new, possibly triggering situations, she said exposing herself to new experiences has helped with overcoming anxiety.

“Anxiety has made a lot of social things a lot harder for me than other people,” Doe said. “It’s made the stress around academics a lot harder. But its also taught me a lot about overcoming things. Now I pretty much have it under control and I can function normally like everybody else, so it’s kind of shown me how much I can get over. Basically if I want to do something, I can make it happen because I know I can. Like if I can overcome that, I can do almost anything.”

*Name changed for privacy.

johnstressed

Photo illustration by Hannah Ilan.

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