As I was chatting on the phone with a dear friend the other day, I could hear her anxiety-ridden teenager in the background. I hadn’t realized this was a concern in my friend’s home, but it sounds like her family has been dealing with it for quite some time. After we hung up, it struck me that I hear more and more parents speaking out about this issue, and it got me wondering…
Why are our teenagers more anxious these days?
My first thought was that maybe we’re simply more aware of what our kids are going through than previous generations have been. After all, I certainly remember feeling uneasy during high school as I tried to figure out who I was, where I fit in, and what direction I wanted to go in. But for teenagers these days, it seems to be more than that.
As I tell anyone who poses a question to me: In this day and age, there’s no reason to let any question go unanswered. So I started digging into the topic of anxiety and teenagers.
For teens whose basic needs aren’t met, anxiety is likely a daily occurrence, for obvious reasons. However, that isn’t the issue we’re looking at today. Rather, I’m curious why seemingly well-adjusted, needs-met, happy-home kids are experiencing anxiety at record-breaking rates.
According to the New York Times Magazine, it’s more common now for young people to seek out therapy for anxiety rather than depression. Since anxiety is something we all encounter to varying degrees, we often look at it as being less significant or dangerous than depression. Having dealt with anxiety myself in the past, let me assure you that it feels pretty heavy when you’re in the midst of it.
My immediate thought was threefold. First, there’s so much pressure to get into the best universities that teenagers feel the need to build up their resumes by getting involved up to their teeth in all sorts of activities. Next, teenagers are always “on” in this digital, online world. Lastly, most teenagers consume the Standard American Diet (SAD), and this surely plays some role in the predicament.
The New York Times Magazine touches on the first two issues, confirming much of my suspicions. The article explains how “anxiety is all about the avoidance of uncertainty and discomfort.” For example, when teens can check their social media accounts to see who’s arrived at a gathering they’re planning to attend, they don’t have to worry about being the first one there and feeling awkward. However, finding yourself in an uncomfortable situation and realizing you can survive it is truly one of the best life lessons out there. ’Cause, my friends, there will be plenty of these.
Psychology Today recently posted an article listing ten reasons why teens are more anxious these days, and a good number of them hit home. While constant access to electronics makes the list, the article also discusses some of the signals that parents are sending. They need to excel at everything. They should always be happy. They’re not allowed to work through their emotions on their own. Or they’re not given enough unstructured free time to learn life skills, such as how to be alone with their thoughts and feelings.
What can we adults do to help our teenagers live with—and even thrive on—the anxiety they’re feeling?
Encourage them to put themselves in new situations and not back out. Make sure you talk to them about how they felt going into it and how they overcame any discomfort.
Take away their devices at a certain time each day. This not only allows a better night’s sleep but also ensures they don’t stay lost in the loop of what their peers are doing.
Let them feel the sting of failure. Make sure you discuss whatever they learned from the experience. No one is good at everything, nor should we want to be. Let them know there’s a lesson in every one of life’s outcomes.
While the articles I talk about here don’t touch on nutrition, never forget the importance of nutrient dense food. “The Anti-Anxiety Meal Plan” by Tylene Welch will get you headed in the right direction. She points out the role that nutrients such as magnesium and B12 play in staving off anxiety, and she also explains how important it is to avoid anxiety-inducing things such as processed foods and caffeine.
After all, it’s just common sense that the foods we fuel our bodies with play a role in our mental well-being. Pioneering nutritionists such as Weston A. Price started spreading the word many moons ago. Nutrition is powerful!
Of course, anxiety isn’t just a teenager’s concern. Humans of all ages deal with it. The key is arming ourselves with the tools to cope with it. Working with a professional to develop these coping skills can be essential, and there’s absolutely no shame in getting help for your teenager (or yourself).
How do you help the teenagers in your life deal with anxiety?