These days, the words ‘anxious,’ ‘nervous’ and ‘panic’ are thrown around a lot, which permits the uninformed to trivialise the very real and concerning issue of teen anxiety. Though it may manifest in different ways for different individuals, teen anxiety is usually overwhelming and always detrimental to the mental health of an age group that is constantly battling different stresses and identity crises.
To start off, let’s try to summarise teenage anxiety- it is a reaction with symptoms that may include nervousness, worrying, restlessness or erratic behaviour in teenagers. Due to the nature of today’s competitive world- and the overarching pressures attached to being the hottest, the smartest, the fittest or the coolest, most teenagers tend to feel some sort of mild anxiety from time to time. However, when this becomes a regular experience it is called an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are mental health conditions with varying symptoms but similar degrees and effects- they manifest in a proportion generally greater than the problem at hand, attacks occur frequently and are quite strong.
Anxiety isn’t just stress. There are different teen anxiety disorders which reflect their respective symptoms.
Generalised anxiety, for one, is a condition in which the affected individual worries constantly about multiple things- school, social life, family, or the future- often causing nausea, headaches and exhaustion. Another type of teen anxiety is obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) which causes a person to have obsessions (fixations) and compulsions (habits) to help them relieve their anxiety.
- Teen anxiety is a widespread issue today, and can manifest in the form of various disorders with different symptoms
- These issues are often trivialised or over-hyped, with accelerated impact during the global COVID-19 pandemic
- In order to help alleviate these strains, sensitivity and respect are essential
Phobias, or fears, also manifest as anxiety– such as when someone with ornithophobia might be afraid and jumpy at the idea of being around birds. Sometimes, fears manifest in the form of social anxiety- which is fairly common in teenagers. They are uncomfortable and passive in interactive situations, and this may extend to a rare disorder called selective mutism, where they are not able to bring themselves to speak in front of certain groups even if they wish to. Yeah, the thing Raj from TBBT has is the same thing.
Fits or episodes of ‘random’ anxiety that do not appear to have a trigger are called panic attacks, wherein teens experience numbness, hot flashes, increased heart rate, dizziness and hypersensitivity to stimuli. They may even experience PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) wherein a specific traumatic memory or event in the past causes perpetual fear, nightmares or flashbacks.
It may seem unlikely that someone young might experience this, but its worth noting that the scale of the event is larger for the victim, and even ‘minor’ occurrences could serve as powerful triggers. On the other hand, unfortunately, sexual assault and other physical trauma for teenagers is now fairly common and is a severe trigger for PTSD.
It’s slightly tedious to read all about the different forms of teen anxiety, but it might be worth it for you.
While I suffer from occasional bouts of general anxiety, many of my friends suffer from very specific disorders that disrupt their lives completely. My friend, Simran, once confided in me, and said, “When I’m anxious, it feels like I’m driving down a dark tunnel that never ends.” Because adults, particularly in Indian society, do not take mental health seriously, it is that much harder for teens to vent or relieve their stresses if they don’t have an expensive therapist or a best friend (like mine) who only has to say “I’m here, and it’ll be fine, pakka.”
Given the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s even more difficult to partake in positive activities that are like channels or outlets for anxiety.
The idea of being locked in traps many teens in their own heads, and amplifies their anxiety. This is made worse by the increase in external pressures and need for adjustments- along with the fear of catching a case, there’s the strain of online exams, increased screen time for work or college applications, chores and maintaining steady relationships with family and friends. With constant exposure to social media, many teens are anxious about turning the pandemic into a productivity contest- which is of no help in the long run.
Sonali Gupta, an Indian therapist and consulting psychologist from Mumbai stated as part of an interview “this generation (Gen Z) is far more anxious than previous ones.” She’s right. It’s hard to pin just one cause down, but the desperate need to have achievements early in life, coupled with increased awareness and sensitivity to urgent environmental, humanitarian and personal issues in a contrary world are just some of the reasons.
Honestly, there are enough opportunities to help teenagers suffering from anxiety out. If we ask to be alone, leave us alone. If we don’t want to be alone, stay and distract us or talk us through it. Try hearing us out, and getting us help if we need it. It’s great everyone wants us to be the hope for a better tomorrow or whatever but there isn’t a chance in hell that’s going to happen if we can’t collect ourselves or feel comfortable in our own skin. Maybe we don’t want to be the hope for a better tomorrow, and we just want to be okay for a bit- that’s okay too. [Image credit: Motion Arrey]