Why will teens go to incredible lengths to dress, talk and act exactly alike?
One word — anxiety. The overwhelming fear of standing out is a leading trigger for today’s teens according to Joe Nelson, LIMHP, PLADC, CHI Health Mental Health Therapist. “The teen brain, more specifically the medial prefrontal cortex, is obsessed with what
others are thinking. ”
High parental expectations and the ongoing quest to fit in can be overwhelming for some — one in three adolescents ages 13 to 18 will experience an anxiety disorder.*
“Even what we consider small stuff, like stress over fashion brands, is big stuff for those with an anxiety disorder. Worry and dread become too constant and too intense, affecting daily life,” Nelson said. “It’s a continual cycle of ‘what ifs’ and ‘I can’ts’ with concentration, confidence, sleep and appetite suffering. In severe cases, physical symptoms can be crippling.”
Addressing anxiety before it leads to other mental health problems — depression, substance use, even suicide — is essential.
“Unfortunately, anxiety disorders don't just go away on their own. It’s important to tell someone who can help,” said Nelson. “Your doctor can rule out any physical conditions and recommend a mental health professional for proper diagnosis. Finding out what's causing the symptoms can be a great relief.”
Physical symptoms of a panic attack*
- Pounding or racing heart
- Sweating, chills, trembling
- Breathing problems
- Weakness or dizziness
- Tingly or numb hands
- Chest pain
- Stomach pain, nausea
Talk back to anxiety
Teens tend to overgeneralize, getting caught up in black and white thinking. Exploring a few questions can help them take back control.
1. What are you worried about?
Everyone at school thinks I’m a loser.
2. Why do you think that?
John laughed while I was practicing my jumpshot.
3. What do we know to be true?
Only John laughed. My friends from the team hung out with me after practice. Coach is starting me on Saturday.
4. How can you change this worry to positive thought?
The people who matter most support me. If I keep working hard in practice, it’s likely I’ll be the team’s high scorer.
*National Institutes of Mental Health