Elk River Teen Treatment Program

Help Your Teen Prevent Anxiety from Taking Control

Some level of anxiety is expected, but pay attention to persistent anxiety

Signs and Sources of School Anxiety

September 23, 2021

Most teenagers admit that they are ready to put the 2020-2021 school year behind them and get back to in-person classes with their peers. But let’s admit it: few teens are enthusiastic about the the alarm clock going off in the early hours, or the long hours in classrooms, followed by assignments at home. The transition into a new school year can be a struggle for everyone and this year is no exception. Mask or no mask? Social distancing or not? The COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect students and schools.

As the parent of a teenager, you should watch for signs of anxiety in your teen and consider the sources of anxiety they face in middle or high school. The behavioral health experts at Elk River Treatment program can help you recognize the signs and sources of your child’s anxiety so you can take steps to help your teen prevent anxiety from taking control.

School Anxiety and Stress

Beyond the typical back-to-school adjustments, your teenager may be struggling with school anxiety that they can’t just brush off. Especially if your child already struggles with anxiety, you may notice that your teen is having even more trouble returning to their school routine this year.

Stressful feelings can be one of the first signs of teenage anxiety. Stress is a completely normal response to a new or changing situation. New teachers, homework deadlines, and the change in schedules that the school year brings can all cause stress.

Anxiety is the body’s response to stress. If your teen has anxiety, and it doesn’t go away, your teen may have an anxiety disorder that could begin to affect their physical and mental health. Chronic anxiety can lead to problems with your immune, digestive, cardiovascular, and reproductive systems.

Anxious feelings can also lead to more mental health problems, and sometimes anxiety can be the cause of a teenager experimenting with drugs or other controlled substances.

Watch for Signs of Anxiety in your Teen

For your teen to stay healthy mentally and physically, you should pay attention to the signs and symptoms of anxiety so they can be addressed.

Your teenager may be experiencing anxiety if they:

  • Seem restless or edgy
  • Become tired or fatigued easily
  • Complain that they can’t concentrate or their mind goes blank
  • Are easily irritated
  • Have muscle tension or soreness
  • Complain about stomach aches or headaches with no medical cause
  • Are constantly worried
  • Have difficulty falling or staying asleep and wake up feeling tired

If your teenager has anxiety, they are not alone. Research says nearly 1 in 3 adolescents between 13 and 18 years old have an anxiety disorder. According to the National Institutes of Health, anxiety disorder diagnoses increased 56 percent between 2003 and 2012.

Sources of Anxiety at School

Not all stress leads to anxiety and not all anxiety leads to an anxiety disorder, but you should be aware of the situations that could cause feelings of anxiety in your teen.

Especially in the past two years, teens have faced more than the usual challenges at school with the COVID-19 pandemic raising questions about vaccinations, masks, and remote learning. Research suggests that during remote learning, for instance, students made little to no academic progress.

As your teenager progresses through this school year, stressful situations that could lead to anxiety might include:

  • A new school from a move or from transitioning to high school
  • More challenging courses
  • Feeling behind academically
  • Worry about catching COVID-19
  • Discomfort with wearing a mask
  • Completing homework and projects
  • Performing poorly on tests
  • Difficulty managing remote learning
  • Fear about returning to remote learning
  • Trying out for an extracurricular activity
  • Changes in their social circle

Helping Your Teen Manage Stress and Anxiety

You can help your teen identify and manage stress and anxiety. The first step to good mental health is always communication. Talk with your teen about stress at school and how they handle it. Elk River’s mental health professionals recommend finding a casual time to chat with your teen, like meal time or a car ride. Listen carefully to your teen without judgment or interruption.

Ask your teen:

  • What makes you feel stressed out at school?
  • What do you do when you feel stressed or anxious?
  • Does your stress seem to ease after the event has passed, or do you continue to feel dread?

If your child doesn’t already have a healthy plan to manage stress and anxiety, ask them what ideas they have for relieving their school anxiety. They could read the NIH’s I’m So Stressed Out! fact sheet for ideas. For teen girls, the website girlshealth.gov also has some good ideas for planning to manage anxiety.

While you may want to come up with a plan for your child, the experts at Elk River recommend that you allow your teen to think about solutions that will work for them. By creating their own plan, they are more likely to feel ownership and carry out the plan.

Your teen’s plan for managing back to school stress and anxiety could include:

  • Tracking feelings of stress or anxiety in a journal
  • Using an app to learn meditation, mindfulness, or relaxation exercises
  • Joining a school club where they can make friends who share their interests
  • Increasing physical exercise
  • Eating healthy foods and drinking less caffeine
  • Forming a sleep routine
  • Planning time to spend with close friends and family members

You can also take action to help your teenager deal with stress and anxiety. For good mental health, teens need to feel connected to others. Find ways to spend time with your teenager doing activities they enjoy like learning a new video game or playing their favorite sport. Volunteer in your child’s school so you get to know their teachers and the support staff. Offer to assist them with homework or with studying for a test. Watch their favorite tv show as a family.

What to do When Anxiety is Persistent

Your teenager may not be able to cope with their anxiety on their own or even with your help. Make sure they know it is okay to ask for professional help. If you know that school anxiety is affecting your child’s health, reach out to your school nurse or to your teen’s physician. There are many online counseling resources as well. Some examples are listed on Healthline.com.

You can also contact the behavioral health professionals at Elk River Treatment Program for assistance. While we may not be able to get your teenager excited about waking up early for school, we can help your teen recognize anxiety and take action to stay mentally healthy.