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7 Reasons Why More Teens Are Struggling With Anxiety And How To Help Them
Adolescence is a challenging period marked by physical, social, and emotional development changes. However, teens today seem to be struggling more than previous generations with anxiety.
In 2017-2018, about 31% of young adults aged 16-24 in the UK showed signs of depression or anxiety, representing an increase from the preceding year (26%) and the same period five years prior.
Teenage years can be challenging on their own, but coupling that with a fast-paced and increasingly digital world where young people can never truly ‘switch off’ has led to more young people feeling anxious, stressed and frustrated.
Here Are 7 Reasons Why More Teenagers Are Experiencing Anxiety
1. Pressure To Excel Academically
Academic pressure is a common source of anxiety among teenagers. Many factors contribute to this pressure, including the increasing competition for college admissions and the emphasis on standardised testing.
Teenagers often feel like their entire future depends on their academic performance. The pressure to excel academically can be intense. This pressure can lead to feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt, and fear of failure, all of which can contribute to anxiety.
In addition to external pressures, internal pressures also play a significant role in causing anxiety in teenagers. As teenagers develop their sense of identity, they may place high expectations on themselves to perform well academically. These expectations to perform well in school can be a source of stress and anxiety.
Additionally, some teenagers may struggle with perfectionism. They may feel like they need to achieve unrealistic standards of success to be valued by others. This can lead to a cycle of anxiety, with teenagers feeling like they are not good enough. This is detrimental to their mental health and well-being. GT Scholars has developed a framework that has helped thousands of scholars successfully achieve their target grades. Discover the 9 Scholar Success Habits in this expert-led free parent webinar here.
2. Constant Connection Through Social Media
Social media and technology can be a significant source of anxiety for teenagers. Over the past ten years, there has been a substantial rise in social media usage. One reason for this is that social media platforms are designed to create a sense of constant connection and engagement. The continuous connection can be overwhelming and exhausting for some teens. This pressure to stay connected constantly can cause anxiety and stress.
Teens are constantly overwhelmed with so much information and news. Most of which can be harmful and distressing. This can create a sense of uncertainty and fear. This is mainly around issues such as political unrest, climate change, and global health crises. The constant stream of information can make it difficult for teenagers to switch off and relax.
Additionally, social media can create unrealistic expectations around body image, lifestyle, and social status. These expectations lead to feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem.
Additionally, teenage girls are more likely to use image-based social media platforms than boys. According to the Pew Research Center, 71% of 13- to 17-year-olds use Facebook, 52% use Instagram, and 41% use Snapchat as of 2015. 61% of girls use Instagram compared to 44% of boys.
Unfortunately, this increase in social media usage, particularly on platforms like Facebook and Instagram, may harm adolescent girls and young women’s self-confidence and body satisfaction.
In conclusion, while social media and technology have many benefits, they can also be a significant source of teen anxiety. The pressure to constantly stay connected and engaged and the constant stream of information increases peer pressure, impacting a teenager’s mental health and well-being.
As parents and caregivers, we must provide teenagers with the support they need to manage their relationship with technology and social media and help them develop healthy coping strategies to navigate the challenges of modern life.
3. More Teenagers are Experiencing Sleep Deprivation
A significant portion of teenagers are currently experiencing varying degrees of sleep deprivation. Contrary to what one may expect, teens require more sleep than young children. According to experts, teens should sleep more than nine hours per night to maintain their health. Unfortunately, over a third of teenagers can only obtain five to six hours of sleep each night. This issue can be attributed to several factors, including biological factors, screen time, and unrealistic teen expectations.
Sleep deprivation can have a significant impact on mental health and the well-being of teenagers. Sleep deprivation can lead to anxiety because it disrupts the balance of hormones in the body, including cortisol and melatonin. Cortisol is a hormone that is released in response to stress, while melatonin is a hormone that helps regulate sleep-wake cycles. When a teenager is sleep-deprived, cortisol levels can increase, leading to feelings of anxiety and stress. At the same time, low melatonin levels can interfere with a teenager’s ability to fall asleep and stay asleep, further exacerbating feelings of anxiety and stress.
Another reason why sleep deprivation can lead to anxiety in teenagers is that it can interfere with cognitive functioning. Sleep-deprived teenagers may have difficulty concentrating, making decisions, and solving problems. This can lead to feelings of frustration and helplessness, which can, in turn, contribute to anxiety.
Additionally, sleep deprivation can impact a teenager’s mood, making them more irritable and easily agitated. This can create a negative cycle in which sleep deprivation leads to anxiety, making it more challenging to get a good night’s sleep, leading to further anxiety and stress.
4. Peer Pressure, Both Online And Offline
Peer pressure can be a significant source of anxiety for teenagers. Adolescents are at a stage in life where they are beginning to define their identities and establish their place in social groups. This can lead to a heightened sensitivity to the opinions of others, particularly their peers. The fear of rejection or social exclusion can lead to anxiety-provoking situations, such as feeling pressure to conform to peer expectations or engaging in risky behaviours to fit in. The constant need to navigate complex social dynamics can create a sense of insecurity and anxiety, which can be difficult for teenagers to manage on their own.
Teens are exposed to a constant stream of curated images and content that can create unrealistic expectations about what it means to be successful, attractive, or popular. This can lead to constant pressure to present a particular image or conform to certain social norms, which can be exhausting and anxiety-provoking.
Moreover, peer pressure can be amplified by social media and other digital platforms. This can intensify feelings of anxiety and social comparison. Constant comparison can lead to feelings of inadequacy, exacerbating anxiety and contributing to mental health issues.
In January 2020, a review article published in Computers in Human Behavior highlighted the association between social media use and mental health issues in young adults aged 18 to 29. The study suggested that despite turning to social media for stress relief, it did not effectively assist in managing stress.
Similarly, a study of 467 Scottish adolescents published in the Journal of Adolescence in August 2016 found that nighttime social media use was linked to poor sleep quality, low self-esteem, and high levels of depression and anxiety among young people.
Parents, educators, and other caregivers must recognise the impact of peer pressure on teenagers and provide support and guidance to help them navigate these complex social dynamics.
5. Hormonal Changes Can Cause Feelings Of Anxiety And Stress
Hormonal changes can be a significant factor contributing to anxiety in teenagers. The body undergoes significant hormonal changes during adolescence as it prepares for adulthood.
The release of hormones such as cortisol, adrenaline, and testosterone can cause feelings of stress, anxiety, and unease. These changes can also cause physical symptoms such as increased heart rate, sweating, and shaking, further exacerbating feelings of anxiety.
The surge of hormones can cause extreme emotions such as anger, sadness, and irritability, which can be difficult for teenagers to manage. Additionally, hormonal changes during adolescence can lead to mood swings and emotional instability, which can be distressing for teenagers. These dynamic changes can also impact teenagers’ relationships with their peers and family, leading to isolation and loneliness.
Overall, hormonal changes can significantly contribute to anxiety in teenagers, and we must provide them with the support they need to manage their emotions and navigate this challenging time.
6. Unhealthy Food Choices Disrupt the Gut-Brain Link
Unhealthy food choices can contribute to anxiety in teens for several reasons:
First, consuming a diet high in sugar, processed foods, and saturated fats can lead to fluctuations in blood sugar levels. These fluctuations can impact mood and contribute to anxiety. Consuming foods with low nutritional value, such as processed meats, high-sugar foods, caffeine, and alcohol, has been linked to increased psychiatric symptoms and higher cortisol levels. Cortisol is the primary hormone responsible for stress.
Secondly, unhealthy food choices can also contribute to anxiety by impacting gut health. Emerging research suggests a complex relationship between gut health and mental health, with the gut-brain axis playing a critical role in regulating mood and anxiety. Consuming a diet that is low in fibre and high in processed foods can disrupt the delicate balance of bacteria in the gut, leading to inflammation and other health issues that can impact mental health.
By making healthier food choices, teens can support gut health and promote overall well-being, potentially reducing the risk of anxiety and other mental health issues. Consuming certain foods can help to reduce stress and anxiety levels.
A healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats can aid in reducing stress and anxiety while enhancing mood and self-esteem. These foods supply the nutrients the body and brain require to function correctly.
7. Relationships Between Teens & Parents Can Be Challenging
The relationship with parents can be a significant source of anxiety for many teenagers. One reason for this is that the teenage years are when young people develop a sense of independence and autonomy, which can sometimes clash with their parents’ expectations and rules. This tension can lead to conflicts and disagreements, which can be a source of stress and anxiety for teenagers.
Research has found a correlation between parenting styles and practices and anxiety levels in children, with the most significant impact observed in the various types of parental control and corporal punishment. Children and adolescents with anxiety disorders are more likely to have been raised by parents who do not adopt an authoritative parenting style (such as those who are overprotective or neglectful) and tend to exert excessive control (such as preventing autonomy) harshly or inconsistently.
Additionally, teenagers may feel pressure to meet their parents’ expectations for academic and social success, which can increase their stress levels and contribute to feelings of anxiety.
Another reason the relationship with parents can cause teen anxiety is that it can sometimes be a source of emotional turmoil. Teenagers may struggle with guilt or shame if they feel they are not meeting their parents’ expectations or living up to their standards. They may also feel pressure to hide their emotions and struggles from their parents, leading to isolation and loneliness.
These feelings of stress and anxiety can be further exacerbated if teenagers feel that their parents are not listening to or validating their concerns and emotions. Parents must work to create a supportive and understanding environment for their children to thrive.
Despite the various stressors and factors present in the lives of adolescents, the family environment remains the most significant and influential aspect. Love, routines, and structure are fundamental needs that children require to develop correctly. Thus, parents can be confident that providing their children with these essential elements will enable them to grow and develop healthily.
Strategies to Help Your Teen with Anxiety
As a parent or caregiver, watching your teen struggle with anxiety and not knowing how to help can be challenging. Fortunately, there are several strategies that you can use to support your teen and help them manage their anxiety. From creating a supportive environment to encouraging healthy habits, these strategies can significantly improve your teen’s ability to cope with anxiety and overall well-being.
Encouraging Healthy Habits
Encouraging healthy habits is one of the most effective ways to help your teen cope with anxiety. Healthy habits such as getting enough sleep, eating a balanced diet, and regular exercise can positively impact physical and mental health. When your teen takes care of their body, they can feel more confident and less likely to experience feelings of anxiety. When teens adopt healthy practices, they can feel more in control of their lives, reducing their anxiety levels.
Getting enough sleep is crucial for both physical and mental health. When your teen is sleep-deprived, they are more likely to feel irritable, anxious, and moody. Encouraging your teen to sleep enough each night can improve their mood and help them feel more relaxed. Good sleep hygiene practices can help your teen get a better night’s sleep, such as avoiding caffeine before bed and establishing a consistent sleep schedule.
A balanced diet can also play a significant role in reducing anxiety. Foods rich in vitamins and minerals such as omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, and vitamin B complex can help to alleviate anxiety symptoms. Encouraging your teen to eat a balanced diet that includes fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains can help them feel physically and mentally better. Additionally, avoiding foods that can worsen anxiety symptoms, such as caffeine, sugar, and processed foods, can be helpful.
Exercise is another essential healthy habit that can help reduce anxiety. Regular physical activity can increase endorphins, the feel-good chemicals in the brain, which can improve mood and reduce stress. Encouraging your teen to engage in physical activities they enjoy, such as sports or dancing, can be an effective way to help them manage their anxiety. Even a short walk or yoga session can help your teen feel more relaxed and less anxious.
Creating A Supportive Environment
Creating a supportive environment is essential for helping your teen cope with anxiety. A supportive environment can give your teen a sense of safety, security, and understanding, which can help reduce their anxiety levels. One of the most important aspects of a supportive environment is communication. Open communication with your teen can help them feel comfortable discussing their feelings and concerns with you. When your teen feels heard and understood, they are likelier to feel less anxious.
Another critical aspect of a supportive environment is providing your teen with a sense of routine and structure. Establishing a consistent schedule for daily activities such as meals, homework, and relaxation can help your teen feel more in control of their life, which can reduce their anxiety levels. Additionally, providing a comfortable and calming environment, such as a quiet study area or a cosy bedroom, can help your teen feel more relaxed and at ease.
Encouraging your teen to develop and pursue hobbies and interests can also create a supportive environment. Hobbies and interests can provide a sense of purpose, fulfilment, and enjoyment, which can help to alleviate anxiety symptoms. Encouraging your teen to pursue hobbies such as reading or drawing can help them feel more relaxed and less anxious.
Teaching Them Relaxation Techniques
Teaching relaxation techniques is another effective way to help your teen cope with anxiety. Relaxation techniques can help your teen reduce feelings of stress and tension, which can alleviate anxiety symptoms. One popular relaxation technique is deep breathing.
Encouraging your teen to practice deep breathing exercises when they feel anxious can be a simple yet effective anxiety management tool. Deep breathing exercises can help to calm the body and mind by slowing down the heart rate and relaxing the muscles. They are redirecting attention away from worrisome thoughts and promoting mental tranquillity.
Meditation is another relaxation technique that can be effective in reducing anxiety symptoms. Meditation involves focusing on the present moment and letting go of distracting thoughts. Studies have found that a significant anxiety reduction was observed among the subjects during each meditation session.
Brain imaging revealed that the anxiety relief associated with meditation correlated with activating three specific brain regions. These regions are known to be involved in executive function and the regulation of worrying. The activation of these three areas directly corresponded to the relief of anxiety.
The research shows that mindfulness meditation alleviates anxiety by influencing mechanisms involved in regulating self-referential thought processes.
Therefore, encouraging your teen to practice meditation regularly can help them feel more relaxed and calm. There are several apps and resources available that offer guided meditations specifically designed for teenagers.
Helping Them Develop Effective Time Management Skills
When your teen feels overwhelmed by the demands of life, they may experience heightened anxiety levels. Helping teens develop time management skills is an effective way to reduce anxiety. Helping teens develop time management skills is an effective way to reduce anxiety. Teaching your teen effective time management strategies can help them feel more in control of their time. This is an integral part of the GT Scholar’s Success Habits. You can find out more in this free expert-led parent webinar.
When individuals have limited time to address important matters, the pressure and anxiety to perform well can become burdensome. Those who struggle with time management are more prone to experiencing stress and anxiety. Additionally, they may begin to exhibit symptoms of burnout.
Time management is not solely crucial for meeting school-related deadlines. It is also essential for attending to familial obligations, social engagements, and health.
Consequently, the ability to categorise tasks effectively and manage time can assist in reducing anxiety. Effective time management also alleviates depression and even improves the quality of sleep individuals obtain each night.
A critical aspect of time management is setting priorities. Encouraging your teen to identify their most important tasks and allocate time accordingly gives them a starting point. Additionally, teaching your teen to break down larger tasks into smaller ones can help them feel less stressed.
Another essential time management skill is creating a schedule. Encouraging your teen to schedule their time with a planner or calendar can help them avoid over-committing themselves. This ensures they have time for essential tasks such as studying, exercise, and relaxation. Additionally, planning downtime can reduce anxiety levels, allowing your teen to recharge and relax.
Teaching your teen adequate time management skills can also help them develop self-discipline and self-control. Your teen can build self-confidence and reduce feelings of anxiety and stress by learning to prioritise their time. Also, practical time management skills can help your teen develop better habits and routines. This will positively impact their overall mental health and well-being.
At GT Scholars, when we talk about strategies, we mean helping young people develop actionable and realistic steps and techniques to help them succeed. We focus on assisting young people to set and achieve high-quality goals, manage their time effectively and develop leadership skills.
We’d love to help you learn more about these strategies so you can implement them to help your teen achieve success in school and beyond. You can access the free expert-led parent webinar here to discover more about the 9 scholar success habits.
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