How Teen Anxiety Might Get in the Way of School Success

Teens are under a lot of pressure from parents and teachers. They have school, home, and social responsibilities. Although spending time with friends and classmates might not sound like hard work, it is when the life stage you’re in is all about developing a sense of self – which for teens can come through social interaction. There are many reasons why a teen might feel anxious. Between finals, pressure to date and do drugs, doubts about self-identity and more, anxiety can be a common internal experience for many adolescents.

It’s natural to feel pressure or stress when there is too much to do or when a deadline is dangerously near. However, when anxiety gets in the way of being able to function in life, that’s when it might point to a mental illness.  For instance, perhaps a teen feels as though there is too much to do. Perhaps he or she feels as though school work is overwhelming, social life is too demanding, and home life feels unsupportive. When it begins to build up, a teen might feel anxious with physical symptoms such as a racing heart, dizziness, nausea, shortness of breath, shaking, and sweating palms. He or she might decide to stop doing everything, refusing to do homework or ignoring assignments altogether.

With pressure from parents and other students around them that are doing well, it might be hard for a teen to admit that he or she can’t get it done. His or her thoughts might be too intrusive to think. The physical symptoms of anxiety might not allow a teen to focus enough on what needs to get done. All of these experiences combined and if they continue to occur night after night, then slowly school work may begin to decline and grades will suffer.

In fact, poor grades and declining school performance is one of the indicators that a teen might be experiencing mental illness. Because often it’s not only the mental illness, but it’s what a teen might do to cope with the difficult feelings of anxiety. For instance, it’s common for teens to use drugs as a means to cope. Teens who are using drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism to manage their symptoms and strong emotions are known to be self-medicating. They are frequently looking for relief from challenging emotions or for a way to better function in school, at home, or at work. In fact, approximately, 60-75% of teens who abuse drugs or alcohol also have a mental illness. Among adolescents who have not used substances before, the incidences of first time drug use is higher among those who have experienced mental illness than those who have not.

Suicide attempts might also be a way to get out of the psychological pain teens experience. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among teens and young adults ages 15-24. Teens who are most at risk for losing their life to suicide include those who hide their depression or anxiety from parents and caregivers.

When that anxiety gets in the way of functioning at home, school or work, that’s when professional treatment might be in order. That is the time to have a teen professionally assessed by a mental health expert. A psychologist or therapist can decide on a diagnosis, based on your teen’s symptoms, and then develop an appropriate treatment plan. The type of anxiety disorder will determine the type of treatment, frequency of therapy sessions and medication use, as well as the level of care. However, for most teens with anxiety disorders, treatment will involve psychotherapy and psychotropic medication

If you see that you’re teen is struggling in some way, it’s important to ask your child about it. In fact, if you have any doubts at all about your teen’s psychological health, have him or her assessed by a mental health professional. Doing so can then lead to the right treatment and eventually restoring a teen’s emotional and psychological well being.

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