Updated: Feb 21
It can often feel like everyone around us is doing great, feeling fantastic, without any worries. I would personally say this is 99% incorrect. Everybody (above a certain age, so who isn’t a toddler jumping in puddles!) has some sort of anxiety, sadness, frustration, fear etc going on. It’s just we don’t talk about these feelings all the time, plus social media can portray seemingly beautiful, relaxed, joyful lives of the people we meet. This has been massively enhanced in the last year, as a lot of our socialising has been on social media and not in person, so we’re not getting the overall picture or the “tone”, just filtered images and the best bits of stories. I don’t think anyone is always as confident and happy as their social media account would suggest!
What are the symptoms of Anxiety?
Symptoms of anxiety can be feelings of unease, worries racing around your head, having a sense of fear through your mind or body. Your heart may beat fast, you may feel sweaty, shaky or find it difficult to breathe.
Anxiety can become a problem when you notice you’re changing your behaviour, like avoiding doing things, or when your worries are out of proportion to a situation. When anxiety feels intense or overwhelming, or affects your day to day life or relationships, then it could be time to talk to someone.
The Science Behind Anxiety
Understanding anxiety can help with your symptoms. Just knowing some science behind anxiety and knowing it’s extremely common can let you feel a bit more at ease. An evolutionary approach reminds us that negative as well as positive emotions have value. E.g., If our ancestors came across a bear in a forest, feeling anxiety and fear was useful. Their amygdala in their brain would have produced a “flight or fight” response so they could kill or run. If that response wasn’t there, they may have been eaten. Anxiety is also useful for running through scenarios that may happen so we are prepared. Our ancestors would have felt anxious before heading out to hunt, so may have wiped mud all over them to hide their scent, or planned an exit route – all of this is for survival.
Anxiety feels horrible but in small doses it can be useful. It shows you care about something and it can actually help motivate you. It’s useful to know there’s a reason for it being there and it’s trying to help you, but you don’t want anxiety take over as that’s when it’s overwhelming, even debilitating. So when your mind is planning for hundreds of potential scenarios you’re anxious about, meaning you can’t sleep - this is not useful.
Covid-19 and Lockdowns
Anxiety can be heavily associated with control so it’s good to gain clarity on what you can and can’t control. The one thing we all haven’t had control over this last year is covid.
Since covid hit, there has been a whole heap of extra worries, stresses and strains on us all. For teenagers, they’ve had a year ripped away from them that they won’t get back. I know this is technically the same for most people, but in our teenage years, every year counts and you only get 7 of them. It could’ve been a year of fun, going out with friends, first time clubbing, first job, studying, taking exams, exploring relationships, sex, going to gigs, learning hobbies, finding new interests, playing or watching sports, first holiday with friends, travelling around the world etc.
Being in such a lengthy lockdown with just your family and not exploring life with friends, is not a natural, desired or healthy thing for teenagers. Humans are meant to live in a community, with multiple authentic connections – teenagers need these connections with other teenagers. Instead of freedom, adventure and experimentation, teenagers are having to stick to household rules, Government limitations (and contradictions!) and school routines – without the balance of much social life. This is incredibly tough and unfair.
So it may not be a surprise that many teenagers are struggling with resentment, loneliness and anxiety. They may be anxious about covid illnesses and deaths, relationship strains within the family, being behind in school-work, exams, going back to school which is overwhelming, or feeling they’re “out of it” in terms of friendship groups. The anxiety and depression symptoms we’re seeing currently may be partly a form of grief — their lives not being as they should and lacking the connections they need.
Feeling Anxious For No Reason
What’s also common, is feeling anxious when we don’t know why, or where it’s stemmed from, it can just be a feeling that comes from nowhere. This can add extra worries like: “What’s wrong with me?” “Will this ever end?” or “I’m not fun or interesting enough, it’s obviously just my personality that I’m stuck with”. However, knowing that this is normal and there are ways that can help will hopefully ease symptoms.
Ways To Help
As an emotional coach I talk a lot about our inner critic or inner bully. We all have one that torments us or simply annoys us from time to time, telling us that we’re not good enough or that no-one likes us. There are lots of techniques to work on this that can be really effective in ignoring or changing those thoughts.
If you’re a teenager and feeling anxious, finding your preferred way of expressing yourself and looking after yourself can be a great first step. Examples are being creative using any kind of art, writing a journal, listening to music, getting outside, exercising, eating well, sleeping well or talking to someone. I appreciate things like sleeping well is incredibly tough when you feel anxious, so taking the pressure off and just aiming to rest can be easier. Self-compassion, i.e. being kind to yourself and not being hard on yourself is key.
If you feel you’d like to work with me to help cope with your anxiety, please do email me: firstname.lastname@example.org