November 28, 2018
When you walk down the hallway, does it feel like people are staring at you, judging you? That all eyes are on you, ready to ridicule any word or action that’s slightly out of the ordinary? Stressed beyond belief for a test, having trouble focusing? If any of these experiences sound familiar and are something you feel frequently in your day-to-day life, you could be suffering from an anxiety disorder. The words anxiety disorder may sound off some alarms, but you’re not alone, the ADAA (Anxiety and Depression Association of America) reports that over 25% of teens aged 13-18 in the U.S. have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.
But what is anxiety and how do you know if you have it? Anxiety has been officially deemed a mental illness, and though that has a negative connotation, it doesn’t make you clinically insane or anything. It simply means that you have an issue that needs to be treated. It’s actually the most common mental illness in the U.S. today. 40 million adults have been diagnosed in the U.S., and symptoms often begin in their childhood/teenhood. The good news is that it can be treated in a variety of ways, and medication isn’t the only method.
There are many different types of anxiety disorders, but the most common are: GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder), Panic Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, Specific Phobias, OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder), PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and Separation Anxiety Disorder.
Given the high percentage of teens diagnosed, it comes as no surprise that your classmates, maybe even your friends, may have been diagnosed with a disorder such as the ones listed above, or if not formerly diagnosed, might still be suffering from symptoms of anxiety.
“Once it gets started, it’s hard to stop. It just increases and increases and you can’t stop it. It’s like your brain is going a million miles a minute.” This is how Sophmore Parker Kodachi described the anxiety they feel every day. Kodachi has experienced social anxiety their whole life. They can often feel like the odd one out, even in completely normal situations, which is something a lot of people, especially teens can relate to. It can easily spiral into worse thoughts such as “everyone hates you” or “you suck at everything, just give up.” These thoughts can prevent Kodachi from engaging with others and getting work done in school.
For others, anxiety can very commonly be linked with depression. In fact, approximately half of people diagnosed with depression are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder as well. This is the case for Oli Devereux, who has been battling both since the fourth grade. Devereux describes the beginning of it all thinking his feelings were just nerves. “But it turned into this constant negative feeling,” Devereux said. “The best part about anxiety and depression is that they kind of work against each other. First your depression is telling you, “No, you don’t have to do this, it doesn’t matter, you don’t have the energy,” but your anxiety is like, “Oh my gosh, what if you don’t do this? What’s going to happen?!” These feelings can turn something as simple as an essay into a insurmountable task that he doesn’t know if he’ll get through.
Feelings of anxiety can start at really any age, even in very young children. For Abby Steward, the rollercoaster started at the age of four. Steward has been experiencing separation anxiety from her mother since that age. She also experiences social anxiety as well as a lot of stress from school. Steward started to suspect her feelings were more than just typical childhood stress when she began having trouble sleeping and having a really hard time focusing, which ultimately led to not getting enough work done. “I have a really hard time staying focused. I can be very easily distracted, and I either have too much energy in class or none at all,” Steward said, “When I have a lot of high energy, it’s a lot of anxious energy about everything that’s been happening that day even if nothing has really happened.”
When anxiety kicks in, it can be a really scary thing, and often times the reason why that feeling is there isn’t always clear. Triggers can be literally anything, it just depends on the person. For Steward, it’s deadlines. For Devereux, it’s the constant possibility someone is mad at him or that he’s forgetting something, and that tends to hit him in waves. For Kodachi, it’s solving issues/problems that come up in day to day life. But the shared trigger seems to be talking about serious issues with family/friends. That’s unfortunately something that most teens can probably relate to. No one likes talking about the hard subjects because they can be emotional and can easily not end well. That’s when the fear and anxiety of it all kicks in, and for people with an anxiety disorder, it makes the already stressful situation even more so.
So, how can someone experiencing these things overcome it? It depends on the person. Some can cope with their feelings through hobbies and activities. Devereux uses music, writing and drawing as outlets to release the pent up emotions that seem to never really go away. Kodachi talks to their friends and therapist about how they’re feeling, and they claim it really helps. Kodachi also takes medication for their anxiety, and they’ve said that they’ve improved drastically since then. But, they recommend talking to a trusted adult/guardian to talk about alternatives before taking that step. Finally, Steward recommends trying out different hobbies and activities to see what sticks best. “There is always some sort of outlet you can use, you just might not have found it yet,” Steward said. Steward also uses dance and painting as her personal ways of coping with the anxiety.
“Suffering in silence is not the best way to handle emotions and feelings,” Devereux said. Steward and Kodachi agree. “It’s hard to go to adults or people at school because you’re afraid that they won’t take you seriously, but they are still good resources,” Steward said. Though it can be hard, there are great counselors, two school psychologists and a social worker at Wilson who are ready to help you if you need it. There are also always your friends and family that can get the help that’s needed. Steward offers some final words of encouragement “It’s not abnormal what you’re going through, and everybody’s different in the way that they handle things. Just because it looks like everyone else is doing really well it doesn’t mean that you’re alone.” Lastly, if you really feel like there’s no one to turn to in a time of need, a few hotlines are listed below.
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): 1-800-950-6264
National Suicide Prevention Line: 1-800-273-8255
Teen Line: 1-310-855-4673 or 1-800-852-8336
Crisis Hotline: text connect to 741741