Anxiety and How It Can Be Fought

The American Psychological Association (APA) defines anxiety as ‘an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure.’ Being a teenager can be quite stressful, but imagine being a teenager who suffers from anxiety.

Being a teenager can feel like a full-time job due to the fact that they have to balance school, school work, jobs, a social life, and family/friend relationships. Having to maintain a balanced and stable relationship with others can be draining when you have to worry about your grades, test scores, etc. Also, it does not help that the education system focuses heavily on grades. Teenagers are pressured to believe that good grades and high test scores means success and a stable career or life. Bad grades means failure and not succeeding after high school in life. When teenagers buy into that belief and gain that type of mindset, they stress themselves out eventually pushing themselves to the very max and an anxiety disorder can occur.

Throughout the four years of high school, we are expected to maintain good grades for all of the different subjects/classes. In addition, teenagers also face extreme amount of testing in high school. Every year most students have to take the PSAT which prepares students for the SAT. The SAT is very important because most colleges determine a student’s admission based on their score. The ACT is also another test that stresses upperclassmen in high school. AP exams are also other tests that contribute to a students stress and anxiety. AP exams are taken for each AP exams for each class and score a three or higher for their exam to be valid. Over-commitment in class a student takes. In the event that a senior was taking three AP classes, they would have to take three AP school and having good grades in advanced classes becomes stressful and students have trouble dealing with it.

A student in high school by the name of Samantha Goodyear says, “When I was 15 diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, as a grade 10 student, I was already feeling the pressure to succeed. According to society, my peers, and many of the adults in my life, in order to be a well-rounded teenager I needed good grades… and friends.” Samantha Goodyear is an example of how balancing school, good grades, and a social life outside of school can be exhausting and be too much to handle.

The main definition of anxiety, is a feeling of uneasiness and worry. Although this definition is very simple, it is not like that for everyone. People who suffer from anxiety have different feelings and symptoms from others; not everyone feels the same way or goes through the same thing. Anxiety is a mental health disorder that affects many people, adults and teens being those who suffer from anxiety the most. Anxiety is a disorder characterized by feeling worried excessively over anything and everything. Signs of an anxiety disorder include feeling tense, restless, or constantly agitated. Physical signs such as sore muscles, sweating, racing heart, stomachaches, and headaches are also signs. With anxiety, you always expect for the worst to happen. “Anxiety is the most common mental-health disorder in the United States…it is easy to dismiss or overlook, partially because everyone has it to some degree. Highly anxious people, though, have an overactive fight-or-flight response that perceives threats where there often are none ” says Philip Kendall, the director of the Child and Adolescent Anxiety Disorder Clinic.

The brain makes incorrect decision about what to fear, which causes the prefrontal cortex to fail and it suppresses the amygdala. This puts the body into a fight-or-flight mode and the hormones adrenaline rises. Once the adrenaline rises, the heart starts racing, it starts getting harder to breathe, blood starts diverting to the limbs, blood pressure and body temperature increases, and you may start sweating. That is the result of the sympathetic nervous system taking over.

Panic attacks are part of anxiety disorders, and they can come suddenly without a warning. A panic attack is an episode of fear in which physical reactions occur. At times, people have a panic attack when they are in a crowded place with people, sometimes it occurs out of fear, or it can also occur with no cause or reason. Panic attacks make people feel like they have no control of themselves. An anxiety or panic attack mostly happens suddenly, with symptoms peaking in the time frame of 10 minutes. To diagnose a panic attack, look out for the following signs: sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, a choking sensation, chest pain, nausea, dizziness, fear of losing your mind, fear of dying, feeling hot or cold.

“One day, without any warning or reason, a feeling of terrible anxiety came crashing down on me. I felt like I couldn’t get enough air, no matter how hard I breathed. My heart was pounding out of my chest, and I thought I might die. I was sweating and felt dizzy. I felt like I had no control over these feelings and like I was drowning and couldn’t think straight. After what seemed like an eternity, my breathing slowed and I eventually let go of the fear and my racing thoughts, but I was totally drained and exhausted. These attacks started to occur every couple of weeks, and I thought I was losing my mind. My friend saw how I was struggling and told me to call my doctor for help” says an anonymous teen who published their story to the National Institution of Mental Health website.

According to a report from 2017 made by Child Mind Institute, “nearly one in three adolescents will meet criteria for an anxiety disorder by the age of 18.” Basically, 31.9% of teens are suffering with anxiety. Since anxiety disorders are several conditions rather than one single disorder, they can look different from person to person. Someone can suffer from anxiety attacks with no reason, and another person could just get nervous thinking about meeting new people or socializing. Teenage anxiety affects virtually every aspects of an adolescent’s life. Teens with anxiety regularly face obstacles that may seem too high to overcome. Which leaves them in despair while they repeatedly cycle through negative thoughts.

Dr. Ahghard Rudkin, a clinical psychologist says, “Anxiety is not a state conductive to learning or concentrating in a seminar. Even if you manage to take in what is being said, the information is likely to bounce around [in your brain], not being processed properly or stored in your long-term memory.” As teenagers, school is our main priority and it is expected from us to excel and have impressive grades. Academic stress is one of the most common reasons as to why anxiety disorders are rising in this society. School and good grades are so important that they slowly start to take over a student’s life and their stress levels shoot up. Anxiety and the stress that comes with being academically great can take control over the student.

There are several types of anxiety among teens that can be easily triggered or caused by school. There is test and performance anxiety, stranger and social anxiety. Test anxiety is the uneasiness or nervousness students feel before a test. The students fear they will fail the exam and will probably experience; grades defying their personal worth, fear of disappointing family or teachers, or time pressure. Symptoms that come with test anxiety are nausea, fidgeting, sweating, headaches, racing heartbeats. On the other hand, anxiety during social interactions, particularly between strangers, is common among young people. However, it can eventually become a social anxiety or social phobia. Social anxiety varies in severity for everyone suffering from it.

For some people, it is characterized by experiencing discomfort or awkwardness during physical social contact such as hugging, greeting each other, shaking hands. In other cases it can lead to a fear of interacting with strangers in general. Those suffering from this condition usually restrict their lifestyles to accommodate the anxiety, by minimizing social interaction whenever necessary. For example, if someone with social anxiety were at school the teen would not make eye contact with the teacher and would altogether avoid being picked on to speak out loud or present something.

In the late 1900’s anxiety disorders were called phobias. Clinicians and patients who attended phobia meetings discussed the need to promote awareness of what the phobias were and treatments. It wasn’t until 1980 when anxiety disorders were recognized by the American Psychiatric Association. Before this, very few people received effective treatment due to there being no understanding by professionals.

Recognition and awareness of social anxiety happened slowly through the years and was based on the diagnosis of cases. The developments can be described in three stages, the Pre-developmental period, initial developmental period, and the most recent developments. Social anxiety was first known “shyness” in early 400 B.C. Some of the social anxieties were scopophobia, the fear of being observed, xenophobia, the fear of strangers, and anthropophobia, the fear of people. During the eighteenth century, European psychiatrists, psychologists, and authors started looking more into the topic.

In 1910, Hartenberg described many forms of social anxiety using words such as shyness, performance anxiety, timidity, and personality disorder. “Social neurosis” was used to describe the condition of extremely shy patients in 1938 by Schilder, a psychiatrist. In 1980, APA officially added social phobia as a psychiatric diagnosis in their third edition of DSM. In this edition, it is described as “a fear of performance situations and did not include fears of less formal situations such as casual conversations.” In 1987, the American Psychiatrist Association made a revision to the DSM-III in which changes were made in the diagnostic criteria. Instead of considering “significant distress’ symptoms alone for diagnosis, they also added “interference or marked distress” symptoms. Then, they introduced a term called “generalized social phobia” for referring to more intense and distributive forms of the disorder.

In the DSM-IV published in 1994, the term social phobia was replaced by “Social anxiety disorder (SAD).” Social Anxiety Disorder described the depth of disorder as “marked and persistent fear of one or more social or performance situations in which the person is exposed to unfamiliar people or possible scrutiny by others.” In the latest revision of DSM, further changes in the diagnosis of social anxiety disorder were updated in 2013.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association defines twelve types of anxiety disorders that can be grouped under seven headings. Those disorders are phobias, OCD, panic, stress, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, anxiety disorder not specified, and anxiety disorders due to physical causes that are known. According to 2017 statistics of the Child Mind Institute, 31.9% of teens will meet criteria for anxiety disorder by the age of 18. 19.3% were assumed to have a specific phobia, 9.1% had a social phobia. 7.6% had separation anxiety, 5.0% had PTSD, 2.3% had a panic disorder, and 2.2% had a generalized anxiety disorder.

Anxiety is treatable but it is estimated that 80% of teens are not getting treatment according to the Child Mind Institute Mental Health Report. Finding the right treatment is an important first step in reducing your anxiety. Treatment can improve many areas of your life, including your performance in school and relationships with family and friends. Treatment is individualized for everyone and may include the following: psychopharmacology, individual psychotherapy, group therapy, systematic desensitization hypnosis, imagery, relaxation exercises, and biofeedback.

Several types of prescription medications can be useful depending on what type of anxiety you have. The psychiatrist will establish a diagnosis and use the results to guide medication management. Special anti-anxiety drugs called benzodiazepines can be used. Benzodiazepines are sedatives that can help relax your muscles and calm your mind. Examples of these sedatives are xanax, librium, klonopin, valium, and ativan.

Selective serotonin reputable inhibitions (SSRIS) work by increasing levels of serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that affects mood, appetite, sleep, and memory. Examples of SSRIS used to treat anxiety include: escitalopram (lexapro), fluoxetine (prozac), paroxetine (paxil), and sertraline (zoloft).

In addition, it is also recommend to see a therapist for cognitive- behavioral therapy or CBT. The therapist will help you identify the types of thoughts and beliefs that cause your anxiety disorder. They will then work with you to reduce them. Biofeedback, uses electronics to measure how your body responds to stress with the sensors placed over specific muscle sites. The therapist can read the tension in your muscles, heart rate, breathing patterns, and/or body temperature. Another alternative method for anxiety disorders is the relaxation technique. This technique helps reduce anxiety and negative thoughts while helping you manage stress. Common relaxation techniques include deep abdominal breathing, meditation, listening to music, and activities such as yoga.

Guided imagery involves the use of visualizing to help your body enter a relaxed state. You close your eyes and imagine the sights and sounds of a place that you find relaxing. The type of scene is not important, what matters is that you imagine every sight, sound, and smell and transport yourself to that place. Some may find themselves sitting in the sand of the beach taking in the sun while others may picture themselves at a childhood place that soothes them. Each scenario is different for everyone. The next step after having picturing your scene is to close your eyes and take deep even breaths. Once you start feeling relaxed, you count backwards from 10.

Here is a personal triumph story from Zac Hersh who has suffered from anxiety since his teenage years and openly speaks about his experiences and how he has coped with this illness until adulthood.

“I am a 23-year-old recent college graduate, certified personal trainer, yoga instructor, mindfulness and meditation coach, and an accomplished distance runner, and triathlete. I am also the co-creator of the Mood mobile app. For most of my life, I have dealt with a significant amount of anxiety… My junior year of college, however, I hit a wall, experiencing panic attacks so severe I stopped going out and ultimately lost most joy in life. It was like being at the bottom of a hole, looking up and seeing the top, but having no rope to climb out. I knew I had a few options, a life without joy or go on a journey to find a way to help myself out of that hole. It began with physical exercise. When my anxiety came up, I would go to the gym and workout.

Eventually I got into running, swimming, biking, and yoga. Going through long exercise sessions helped me, but it wasn’t practical to continue dropping whatever I was doing to take off for an hour-long exercise session anytime my anxiety flared up. It was then that I was introduced to the world of meditation and mindfulness; thus my studies shifted from the body to the mind. Eventually through this study, I found myself traveling the world, attending meditation and mindfulness retreats. Before returning to my senior year of college, I attended a meditation retreat in the mountains of Switzerland, this led to the first week of my life that I was completely in command of my anxiety. I excitedly returned to school confident that I had mastered my anxiety, it took about two days for me to realize that, yet again, I had the same problem as before. When my anxiety came up, it wasn’t practical for me to go sit in meditation for an hour or even ten minutes.

The more I looked into it, the more I began to notice commonalities between different fields. Monks spoke of gratitude the same way the top ultra-runners on the planet do. The highest caliber of yoga instructors I studied under spoke about breath in the same fashion my triathlon coaches did. Each discipline, though they contain various teachings and lessons, have distinct similarities. I realized I could take what I felt were the two most powerful practices from all fields (gratitude and conscious breathing) I’d studied and boil them down into an easy-to-do practice to help myself with my anxiety. To this day my journey continues, now paired with a mission to bring my process to the world through a mobile app called Mood. I am also dedicated to bringing awareness to anxiety, a problem that grips so many of us, yet so few speak about”.

Individuals who deal with anxiety or an anxiety disorder faces many struggles on a daily basis.Anxiety disorders can be viewed either generally or extremely specific, but no matter what it affects whoever is suffering with this illness. There are infinite amount of symptoms, causes, and consequences that come with anxiety. However, there is also several amount of treatment options and ways to handle anxiety.