Doing Life Together

desperate-2293377_1920Nicole was doing well in school but found herself incredibly anxious. A freshman in college, she found her way to the counseling center for help. She discovered that anxiety is the number one reason college students seek counseling services on campus. She, and several of her friends, struggle with an overwhelming sense of anxiety. They are not alone. There seems to be a steady increase in anxious students.

The question is why are our teens running around with so many negative beliefs about themselves that cause them to worry? Sometimes, the teen has good reason to be anxious. Those raised in abusive homes or  who live in dangerous or poverty neighborhoods have reasons to be anxious. Anxiety is a response to an out of control, unstable environment. Fear is a real thing when neighborhoods and families aren’t safe.

Well off teens with better environmental circumstances may be anxious as well. The child who has it all can be perfectionistic and fearful of failure. They push themselves and feel they have to do more and accomplish much–AP classes, ivy league colleges…the pressure to perform and be successful is real and they often feel they don’t measure up. They are anxious about school and social media and how they are perceived. The relentless comparison and keeping up with peers can make a person self-conscious and unsure.

They struggle with uncertainty and new situations in which they have little control. Yet, this is what builds confidence to face anxious situations. Living on social media is a pretend world in which they control uncertainty and discomfort. But that isn’t life. Life is filled with numerous opportunities to problem-solve in the moment and move forward despite your insecurity. So people have to be exposed to these uncertain experiences and learn how to cope.

To overcome anxiety, you have to face it head on. No more trigger warnings, safe spaces and opting out. Teens need to stay in the anxious moment and learn to deal with it. They need to build resilience and be inoculated with stress. Parents, help your teens get out of their comfort zones and bedrooms and into face to face relationships. Basically, they need to learn to tolerate distress. And once they experience their ability to cope with stress, this builds confidence and lessens anxiety.

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