I never thought much about the word anxiety growing up. I thought everyone worried that much before tests. I thought scribbling down every fact on the front of a page, this way I wouldn’t forget it was normal.
I thought the process and the mental exercises I had to go through before a big game was something everyone at least thought about. The crippling fear of losing, pushed me to never get to that point. But nothing about it was normal.
Nothing about worrying so often why a friend didn’t answer my text or call, was normal.
Nothing about playing out every worst case scenario was normal.
Irrational fears of things happening to people in my family that almost led me to tears at the age of 11. It was obvious something was off in my head.
“She just worries all the time,” my dad confided to my brother.
Two words. Anxiety Disorder.
Clarity came into my life around the age of 21 with those two words.
I thought back to everything and it wasn’t so much like a weight was lifted off my shoulder but rather an understanding as to why I was the way I was.
While some of these symptoms are still revenant in me today, they were there with me every day in high school and college.
1. Excessive worry.
Most teens worry about a lot of things. I think everyone at some point may show signs of anxiety but what separates just worrying with a fear that plagues you is when it doesn’t go away for long periods of time.
It’s the fear of failing a test. Losing a game. Fighting with a friend. Rumors, Drama. Not getting an assignment done. It’s irrational fears coming to life and it controls you.
2. Problems sleeping.
When you are constantly worrying about things, that project that’s not done yet, that test tomorrow, it makes sleeping very difficult.
High school consisted of sleeping just the amount I’d need to function. Then I’d wake up early and study. I was constantly almost falling asleep in classes or resting on the way to tournaments.
3. Highly critical of oneself.
The correlation between striving for perfection and having anxiety left me with no other choice but you succeed. My greatest fear was messing up my GPA. To me something like that was the end of the world. Something like that would lead to not getting into college. Which was the ultimate goals.
My greatest fear as a athlete was losing a game and messing up our record.
My coach sat next to me after a preseason loss. “Kir it doesn’t even count towards our season. It’s okay.”
I looked at him and with a straight face and just replied, “We do not lose to a team like that.”
5. Need to be praised and liked.
Teens with anxiety constantly need to be praised and told what they are doing is good work. Pushing oneself to overachieve and try too hard to be the best is what people with anxiety do.
And it isn’t that they are trying to make others look bad but when you are in a competition with yourself and this voice inside your head is feeding you all these lies like:
You are going to fail.
You will lose everything.
You are never going to be good enough.
You won’t graduate.
It motivates you to want to counter that. But more than anything, the need to hear from others that you are good enough, helps you to counter that voice.
When it comes to relationships teens with anxiety often overcompensate to get people to like them because in their mind, just being themselves isn’t good enough.
Teens with anxiety struggle making friends because of the pressure they put on themselves to try and maintain relationships then the fear of losing someone because of something they might have done often becomes a reality.
At the end of the day all any teen with anxiety wants to be liked and accepted in ways they are struggling to accept themselves.
6. Double/Triple checking school work.
The fear of handing anything in with a mistake was almost unbearable.
I had to stop rereading things 5 minutes before handing something in because I was driving myself crazy if I found an error.
Teens with anxiety know mistakes are bound to happen but for some reason everyone else’s mistakes are okay except theirs.
7. Headaches and tiredness.
Some of the side effects teachers or parents can look for is the student that’s constantly falling asleep. The child that is constantly asking for advil.
Inside the mind of a teen with anxiety, is like a hamster that never stops running on a wheel.
8. Irrational fears.
We all fear little things. But when that fear dictates a teens life, you’ll see it. The irrational fear of a car accident so they don’t drive. The irrational fear of not getting into college when in reality, they are one of the best students in school.
Inside the brain of a teen with anxiety is a false reality.
9. Crippling pressure to succeed.
Maybe it’s parental expectation. Maybe it’s constantly comparing themselves to siblings. But if you’ve come across a teen with anxiety whether it be as a teacher or coach the reality is they are overacheivers. They might impress you. They might stand out. You might remember them years later for all they did giving it 110% every day. But to them nothing they ever did was good enough.
10. Runs in the family.
Sometimes anxiety is just passed down to the next generation and the teens have to learn to live with it and function.
11. Constant over-thinking.
If a teen with anxiety sat you down and told you everything that went through their mind, you be exhausted just listening.
12. Skin picking/ Nail biting.
Even now if you look at my fingers and lips they are probably covered in scabs or dried blood. Sometimes I struggle to see the correlation between this habit I had since I was three and anxiety now. Is it anxiety? Is it just OCD? But every time I get nervous without even realizing, I find myself picking.
13. Failing to live in the moment.
Teens with anxiety fail to be present when their mind is constantly thinking about the next thing and worrying if they will get there in time. To be present is the greatest struggle of a teen with anxiety. When you are constantly moving from one thing to the next, it’s difficult to just take everything in sometimes.
While cognitive therapy or medication might help your teen, I think the best thing you can do as a parent, teacher or friend is simply accept them for who they are. A lot of times they can’t accept themselves and look at this thing as their greatest flaw.
But in the grand scheme of it sometimes those teens with anxiety end up achieving the most because of this thing that so greatly affects their life.