Anxiety in High School Students—What Causes It and How To Battle It?
If you are experiencing student anxiety, you are not the only one among your peers who does. In fact, anxiety disorders are the most common mental health issue adolescents deal with today. One of the frequent disorders to affect the young is social anxiety in teens.
Helping teens with anxiety, including yourself, means learning about the different types of anxiety disorders. The symptoms of these disorders often overlap, so it’s not uncommon for a person to suffer from several anxiety disorders since one can easily lead to the development of another. When you recognize what your specific issue is, you’ll have a better idea of what to do.
Let’s take a closer look at anxiety disorders, how they manifest, and what triggers them. You’ll also see what the first steps to take towards healing are.
Types of Anxiety Disorders
Although you may think anxiety is a single mental health disorder, there are actually many different types of anxiety from which you can suffer, such as:
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
- Panic disorder
- Test and performance anxiety
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Social anxiety disorder (SAD)
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Credit: Doğukan Şahin
Generalized anxiety disorder is a mental health issue that manifests through constant and severe anxiety attacks. Instead of having a specific concern, you worry about all aspects of your life, such as school, money, family, and romantic relationships.
It is normal to feel anxious from time to time, especially if certain situations make you worried, stressed, or fearful. If you have GAD, your anxiety is often not rooted in reality—i.e., you don’t have a specific reason to feel stressed or nervous.
Generalized anxiety disorder can manifest in many ways. If you have it, you:
- Find yourself in a constant state of exaggerated or unwarranted worry
- Feel paralyzed by your anxiety
- Don’t know how to break your negative thought processes
- Anticipate worst-case scenarios for every situation
- Avoid social situations for fear of being mocked or ridiculed
- Postpone plans out of worry that something bad will happen if you go through with them
Sometimes, anxiety is so pronounced that the person also starts exhibiting a number of physical symptoms, such as:
- Accelerated heartbeat
- Stomach pains
- Lost focus
- Lack of sleep
If you thought experiencing the first signs of panic disorder at the young age of 11 was impossible, think again. Even though the panic disorder is usually not diagnosed before you are much older, it is entirely possible to develop it as a child or a teen. If you experience sudden panic attacks that you can’t find the cause for, you may be suffering from panic disorder.
If you have a panic attack due to another anxiety disorder, you don’t necessarily have the panic disorder. For example, you might be diagnosed with test anxiety and happen to have a panic attack before an exam. This is a symptom of the existing test anxiety disorder, not a sign you have panic disorder.
Going through frequent panic attacks can cause the development of a series of other conditions, such as:
- Anticipatory anxiety—for fear of having another panic attack, you can begin to anticipate it constantly and be anxious at the thought of embarrassing yourself
- Agoraphobia—another anxiety disorder, agoraphobia means you are scared of places and situations that trigger your anxiety. When you have panic disorder, you can start avoiding your stressors and develop agoraphobia too
- Substance use disorder—succumbing to drugs and alcohol is common in people with anxiety disorders. The worry, stress, hopelessness, and helplessness you experience with panic disorder can lead you to find short-term relief in these substances and become an addict
Test and Performance Anxiety
Stress and nervousness are common emotions to experience before an exam, which is why they aren’t necessarily signs of test anxiety. Common stress usually goes away when you begin your exam.
If you are unable to calm down throughout the test and your anxiety acts up in a way that makes you unable to speak or complete a written assignment, you have test anxiety.
Test anxiety is linked with the fear of failure. It’s the feeling you might not succeed that makes you incapable of performing on a test no matter how prepared you are.
Test anxiety can impact your school and college achievements in more ways than one. Out of nervousness, your mind could go blank during a test, and you could get a lower grade than you deserve. You could also avoid opportunities for which you need to make an effort and risk leaving the impression that you’re either a lazy or disinterested student on your professors. In the worst-case scenario, you would skip your examinations and have to re-do them in the next academic year. This brings the vicious cycle of being afraid of failure, failing, and feeling even worse about yourself as a consequence.
Another disorder similar to test anxiety is performance anxiety, also known as stage fright. While a little nervousness is entirely natural before performing an activity or addressing an audience, performance anxiety leaves you unable to go through with the action. You can have stage fright before a school speech, a sports activity, or a business presentation. Since test and performance anxiety manifest this way throughout life, you must recognize the condition early on and treat it.
If you have test or performance anxiety, you can display these physical, emotional, and cognitive symptoms:
- Panic attacks
- Low self-esteem
- Forgetting your subject material
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Post-traumatic stress disorder occurs when you have gone through a traumatic experience or witnessed something terrible happen to someone else. It’s a tricky disorder because your symptoms can show right after the incident or months and years after.
PTSD interferes with your daily activities because its symptoms are random and often intense. Here are some of them:
- Flashbacks of the traumatic experience
- Acute emotional distress
- Negative feelings about yourself, including shame and guilt
- Emotional numbness
- Suicidal thoughts
The best course of action is seeking professional help right after the traumatic experience. Talk therapy and medication reduce the emotional, cognitive, and behavioral symptoms. Seeing a doctor also helps you make peace with the incident and live your life despite the symptoms you experience.
Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD)
Social anxiety disorder is extremely common among teens and adults today. The symptoms are developed in early adolescence, and 36% of people struggle with them for 10 years and longer before seeking help.
You have a social anxiety disorder if you experience severe emotional distress at the prospect of interacting with people. The distress stems from the underlying fear of other people’s judgment of you.
If you suspect you may be suffering from SAD, you can take a social anxiety test for teenagers to get a clearer idea. You can do this type of test online for free in under ten minutes. The test assesses the frequency and intensity of social anxiety symptoms, such as:
- Avoiding social events and isolating yourself
- Experiencing panic attacks
- Overanalyzing interactions and events
- Experiencing rapid heart rate
- Succumbing to substance use to alleviate stress
- Feeling negative about yourself
What Are the Risk Factors for Anxiety?
Credit: Eric Ward
Several factors can contribute to the development of anxiety in high school students. Let’s take a look at the most important ones:
Anxiety disorder can run in the family. If it’s a part of your genetic make-up, you are at a higher risk of developing it
Experiencing childhood trauma increases the risk of developing an anxiety disorder, especially PTSD
Parental neglect and parental pressure influence anxiety
Being the victim of bullying and discrimination at school affects your chances of developing anxiety, which is why creating a safe school environment is the priority for your educators
Girls are more likely to develop an anxiety disorder than boys
Experiencing overwhelming stress due to a specific situation or a life circumstance—like the death of a loved one or financial instability in your family—can bring about severe anxiety
Certain personality traits—like being shy, controlling, and overly critical of yourself—increase the prospect of developing an anxiety disorder
Another anxiety disorder
Having one anxiety disorder can influence the onset of another. For example, panic attacks and the inability to interact with people around you are symptoms of PTSD, which puts you at a high risk of developing social anxiety or panic disorder
Anxiety in High School Students—The Stressors
You might be suffering from anxiety as a mental health disorder, or you might only be experiencing occasional anxiety that is triggered by specific environmental factors. Either way, going to high school carries certain burdens that increase your stress levels and influence the development of anxiety disorders.
Here are some of the most common stressors for high school students:
- School responsibilities
- Extracurricular activities
- Social life
- Bullying and peer pressure
- Failing to seek help from a teacher
Striving to complete all of your school assignments brings plenty of stress. You worry about completing all your tasks in time and receiving high grades for them. There’s also the pressure to do well in final examinations.
Getting into a great college is a must if you want to pursue a career you’ve chosen, but higher education is fiercely competitive today. Standards of achievement for high schoolers are higher than ever before. You may feel like you need to be one step ahead of your peers, even when you have a perfect GPA score. This leads to taking on more responsibilities than you can handle, which can be detrimental to your mental well-being.
To thrive in school, you pursue extracurricular activities. You can volunteer, get an internship, or join various school clubs and academic competition teams. While all these activities improve your skills and contribute to having better college prospects later, you should approach them carefully.
If you find yourself unable to complete your regular workload due to extracurricular activities, maybe it’s time to take a breather. You should also not sacrifice the pastimes you enjoy or the time you spend with your friends and family if doing so causes you to be anxious more than occasionally.
The Social Life of a High Schooler
Credit: Daria Nepriakhina
It is generally taken that high school is the period of your life when you have the most time and opportunities to socialize. Unfortunately, this might not come easy for you if you’re only finding your place in the world that surrounds you. You might already be naturally shy around people. The pressure to be liked and popular can heighten the feelings of nervousness when you’re around your peers.
Another factor why adolescents are prone to anxiety today is that the nature of socializing is completely different. In the age of social media and the internet, the pressure to keep up a certain image has doubled. You don’t only worry about how you appear to your peers in person but also what your social media accounts tell them about you. The number of friends, followers, or likes your posts get is, unfortunately, the standard by which many young people evaluate your worth.
Bullying and Peer Pressure
In the year 2017, 20.2% of students reported being bullied. We can only guess how many other students suffer bullying daily and never say a word about it.
Physical violence is not the only instance of peer bullying. If you are mocked, offended, or threatened in person or via text messages, you are also a victim of bullying. If you receive negative comments on your social media posts or threatening text messages, you are a victim of cyberbullying.
The most common reasons why students get bullied are their:
- Learning disability
- Mental health disorder
- Physical appearance
- Sexual orientation
It’s clear how experiencing bullying increases the risk of developing an anxiety disorder. It can cause you to:
- Hide your negative experience from others and suffer the consequences alone
- Skip school for fear of the next physical or verbal attack
- Lose interest in the school activities you enjoyed
- Develop low self-esteem
- Blame yourself for being bullied
- Fall into depression
Peer pressure can lead to bullying, but it also deserves a special mention as a stressor.
You may feel the pressure to open a social media account, even though you don’t want to, only because it’s considered weird not to have one. You may also develop a tendency to hide your hobbies if they are regarded as uncool by your peers. All this creates pressure to be someone you are not and results in you feeling unworthy or not good enough.
You can also drink alcohol, try narcotics, or have sexual relations before you are ready because you believe your peers will think you are cool if you do so. These situations can then cause not only a decline in your mental health but also physical consequences of your behavior.
Not Seeking Help From a Teacher
You may think that your teachers are being too strict or not paying attention to you. Along with worsening your anxiety, this can result in not seeking help from them when you should. Feeling like you don’t have an authority figure you can fall back on at school can only increase the feeling of anxiety.
You should always talk to your teachers about your stressors. Although it may seem to you like they wouldn’t understand, they are there to help you and genuinely care about you.
How To Be One Step Ahead of Your Anxiety?
Credit: Prateek Katyal
If you feel like your daily activities are interrupted by feelings of stress, worry, and anxiety, it’s time to take action.
Here’s what you can do to prevent your anxiety from taking control over your life:
- Do an anxiety test for teens—you can find countless online tests that show you how dangerous your anxiety may be. What you need to keep in mind is that you cannot diagnose yourself with these tests. They serve as a self-assessment tool to help you realize whether your symptoms are intense and whether you should consider visiting a doctor
- Buy an anxiety workbook for teens—another way you can help yourself is by investing in an anxiety workbook. You can learn more about different anxiety disorders and how they manifest. In these workbooks, you will also find many practical tips on dealing with your anxiety symptoms daily. You can read and implement various techniques to reduce your anxiety when it acts up
- Schedule an appointment with an expert—going to a doctor shouldn’t be the last resort. Even if you are 100% sure you are in no danger of developing a mental health disorder, talking to a professional can help you reduce your occasional anxiety and live a more fulfilled life. The assumption that only mentally ill people go to therapy is nothing but a myth
Share Your Journey With Us and Help Others
One way you can face your anxiety is by writing about it and sharing your story with others. Putting your experience into words makes you distance yourself from your anxiety and unravel the thought processes that you may need to deal with.
A crucial problem regarding anxiety disorders is the social stigma that is associated with them. If you battle anxiety, you can be regarded as strange or someone who makes up the problems they have, which can hinder your healing process greatly.
Help us break this stigma by telling us of your experience with anxiety. We’ll publish the text you send us on our blog and share it with our readers. Let’s start talking and help one another!