Anxiety in adolescence: characteristics and keys to resolve it.
These are some psychological keys to help adolescents manage anxiety.
Adolescence is a complex stage for many reasons. It is an age of transition between childhood and adulthood in which it is necessary to adapt to new responsibilities, new ways of relating to others, and the need to develop for the first time a consistent self-concept and sense of identity, linked to the role one has in society and with which one feels good. And to all of this must be added a process of physical transformation and a change in hormonal functioning.
Of course, managing all these changes is not easy and requires effort. But make no mistake, adolescence does not have to be a life phase of strong psychological ups and downs or emotional and identity crises; there is nothing inherently painful about it. With this in mind, parents and educators should be aware that seeing adolescents suffering from high levels of anxiety is not and should not be normal, and that in detecting such cases, there is nothing inherently painful about it.and that when these cases are detected, they should be helped and measures should be taken as soon as possible.
What forms does anxiety take in adolescence?
The most common anxiety disorders among the youngest are the disorder of anxiety by separation (mainly during the infancy and first years of adolescence), the social phobia, the disorder of generalized anxiety and the specific phobias.. Their main characteristics are the following:
- Separation anxiety disorder: appears mainly in the school context, due to the perception of not having parental protection.
- Social phobia: is the anxiogenic reaction to the idea of being teased and belittled by others.
- Generalized anxiety disorder: a state of high anxiety that is maintained over time, without easily identifiable concerns or triggering events.
- Specific phobias: psychopathologies based on specific phobic stimuli: needles, animals, specific places, etc.
On the other hand, as time goes by and the young person suffers the effects of this kind of psychological alterations, the probabilities that he or she will start to suffer from these disorders increase, the likelihood that he or she will also begin to develop clinical depression increases.The anxiety disorders and mood disorders overlap a lot in the general population, including adolescents. These psychopathologies constitute serious problems that greatly impair the quality of life of young people and, in certain cases, can even lead to a form of symptomatology as severe as suicidal ideation.
However, it should be borne in mind that there are also frequent cases in which there is an excess of anxiety, but this does not lead to a diagnosable psychopathology; that is to say, it is a form of anxiety that is not diagnosable.In other words, it is a propensity to experience moments in which anxiety accumulates a lot and/or favors young people to adopt counterproductive behavioral patterns to try to alleviate this discomfort.
In cases like this, it is important to know that because it is not a disorder, high anxiety is no longer a problem that needs to be solved. Everything that involves helping young people to properly regulate their emotions and not let stress and anxiety lead them to adopt harmful habits will be progress in maintaining their mental health.
Elements that favor the appearance of anxiety in young people
These are some of the factors capable of producing anxiety problems in adolescents.
1. Anxiety about seeking acceptance from other young people
The beginning of adolescence coincides with a period in which the referents of the young people pass from being the parents to be the other young people of similar age to oneself, and especially those who are a little older.
This often generates a feeling of disorientation in having to relate to others from having to relate to others from new coordinates, adopting various behaviors associated with the concept of "the popular". and, in certain cases, this even leads some adolescents to compete with others for the attention of the rest of the members of that generation, and to become obsessed with not missing out on fashions and ways of expressing themselves that give a good image.
2. Insecurities with one's own image and/or identity
Related to the previous anxiety-triggering element is the ease with which adolescents develop insecurities related to their body and their image in general.
This is especially true for girls, who tend to experience greater social pressure to hide what are often considered to be imperfections; thus, they must actively work to always look their best. In addition, the rapid and somewhat "messy" physical changes that adolescents' bodies undergo make it easier for many to not accept themselves as they are. Knowing this, it is not surprising that adolescence is a key stage in the onset of eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia. a key stage in the onset of eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia..
3. Problems getting organized
Adolescents do not have don't have it as easy as adults to prioritize long-term goals ahead of short-term pleasures and satisfactions.. This means that in many cases they do not organize their tasks well and postpone indefinitely many of them, their responsibilities accumulate and they end up feeling that the activities to be carried out overwhelm them.
4. Inexperience in conflict management
In adolescents it is common to observe problems in dealing with conflicts from a constructive attitude and seeking consensus; In many ways, they show a lesser predisposition to adopt an external and global perspective on clashes of interests.They are more focused on their own point of view, partly due to a lack of experience in conflict resolution. This leads, for example, to frequent fierce arguments and crises in their group of friends.
5. Dependence on new technologies
The majority of adolescents in Western societies make almost daily use of social networks, even if only to see what others are posting.. In fact, it is through this medium that they learn about most of the news in their circle of friends or social circle of reference, minute by minute. This means that the simple fact that their cell phone battery runs out while they are out on the street can cause them anxiety, through what is known as FOMO syndrome (Fear of Missing Out).
Tips to help them overcome this form of discomfort
These are several guidelines that we as adults can follow to help adolescents manage anxiety.
1. Allow them to work on self-acceptance.
This involves not constantly drawing attention to their image in order to highlight the negative, and also to talk openly about the beauty in their features that are far from the predominant canons of beauty. openly talking about the beauty that lies in their features that deviate from the predominant canons of beauty and in their clothing choices that go beyond the prevailing fashion codes. and in their wardrobe choices beyond the prevailing fashion codes.
2. Teach them relaxation techniques
There are many such techniques available, such as Mindfulness or Jacobson's progressive Muscle relaxation.
3. Support them in their hobbies and pastimes.
Hobbies are an excellent way to manage anxiety and to let go of thoughts of anxiety. and to get rid of intrusive thoughts that induce worry; therefore, as parents we should support them in the activities they choose to spend their free time with, as long as they have some variety and include the active participation of friends of their age.
4. Help them get organized
Making it easy for them to adhere to a more or less fixed work schedule will make them enjoy their free time more and associate satisfaction with the experience of performing their tasks, since they will know that they will complete them successfully and without problems. The latter, in turn will reduce the likelihood that they will procrastinate on these activities..
5. Give them tools to challenge social pressure
Helping them to develop critical thinking and to question the fads and ideas behind what is considered "cool" will make it easier for them not to feel bad about themselves. will make it easier for them not to feel bad if they fall into the "uncool" category from time to time.. This is effective if at the same time we include the whole group of friends, making them gain autonomy to choose their own rules of operation and their own values without always depending on what others think.
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- Leigh, E. & Clark, D.M. (2018). Understanding Social Anxiety Disorder in Adolescents and Improving Treatment Outcomes: Applying the Cognitive Model of Clark and Wells (1995). Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 21(3): pp. 388 - 414.
- Siegel, R.S. & Dickstein, D.P. (2012). Anxiety in adolescents: Update on its diagnosis and treatment for primary care providers. Adolescent Health, Medicine and Therapeutics, 3: pp. 1 - 16.
(Updated at Mar 28 / 2023)