Q. I’m so stressed some days I feel like I’m going to explode. Is there any way I can be less anxious? It seems to be getting worse. By the way, I can’t go to counseling -my mom says I need to just deal with it until it passes, and my dad says life sucks, so I need to get used to it. Thanks.
Mary Jo Response: You’re not alone. People of all ages experience anxiety and emotional stress. Teen development often adds intensity to life, but life is still worth living.
Studies suggest anxiety disorders affect 25 percent of all teens and 30 percent of all teen girls. Teens are searching for self-identity and striving for independence. Adolescent brains are changing. Impulse control is challenging. Middle and high school students face academic stress and friend and relationship pressures that are complicated by social media. Emotional reactions to stress can be fierce during adolescence. Denying this reality isn’t helpful.
Many people fail to realize how much counseling and treatment can help. Because mental health isn’t as visible as physical health, it’s easy to think that just having a positive attitude can “fix” anxiety. Research shows anxiety disorders are very treatable; sadly less than 40 percent of people dealing with anxiety receive the treatment they need. Acknowledging stressors and seeking help are important first steps. You’ve reached out – good for you.
I’m glad you talk with your parents; I do wonder if they realize how much your anxiety is increasing. If they don’t understand your feelings, it’s OK to share with another adult. Are there other trusted adults in your life with whom you might find support? Consider a grandparent, aunt or uncle, school counselor, youth minister, teacher or other caring person.
Here are some things you can do to ease stress:
- Be kind to yourself. When people deal with a broken limb, they may feel frustration or even anger; they seldom expect to get better without help. Accept help and support. You are worthy of joy.
- Try not to overreact. Give yourself space to calm down and put things in perspective. I’ve known teens whose anxiety became overwhelming after one poor grade on a test. Their anxiety clouded their reasoning – one academic failure doesn’t negate years of solid performance. We all fail; learn from mistakes.
- Learn coping skills. Each person can develop a way to reduce stress. Some people play video games while others love to run or exercise. I know teens who write poetry or fiction; many use art to release tension. Music can be relaxing. Hanging out with friends in a safe place can help you find support. Our Common Ground Teen Center at 92 N. Main St. in Washington is open 3 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday for 13- to 18-year-olds.
- Try relaxation and mindfulness. I taught childbirth education since the 1970s. A big part of preparing for labor and birth involves learning how to release tension. A simple breathing technique to aid with stress centers on breathing while repeating mentally: “I am breathing in and I am peaceful. I am breathing out and I am calm.” Make the exercise personal by using your own words to stay focused on the present.
- Get enough sleep. When my children were babies, we often talked about them getting their “days and nights mixed up.” Many young people are awake until 3 or 4 a.m. and then must rise at 6 a.m. to prepare for early morning bus rides to school.
- Eat healthy foods. Indulging in junk food should be a treat, not a daily diet. Teen bodies are growing rapidly – give your body the energy it needs to reach adulthood.
- Finally, continue to seek support from adults who care. Let’s continue connecting. You’re a person of worth – I have faith in you.
Peer educator response: Please join us at our teen center. Since your family seems to not believe in counseling you need some sort of outlet or safe place where you can talk to people who will listen and validate you. Our first thought was to suggest counseling and it makes us so sad that you say you can’t get that kind of help. It would be the best thing for you. Please don’t give up.
Have a question for Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski? Connect with her at email@example.com.