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Anxiety in Teenagers: Fuelling the Need for Mental Health Awareness

What is anxiety? Anxiety is subjective, what makes a person anxious doesn’t necessarily have to be the same as what makes their friend anxious. Common signs of anxiety include lip biting, nervousness and restlessness, insomnia and perspiration, but these signs can also be different for different people. Teenagers are increasingly being associated with anxiety because this age often happens to be a period wherein there is increased uncertainty, confusion and social burdens like career choices or even the choice of dropping out of the education system. Adults may be anxious about different aspects of their lives, but this blog is going to solely address anxiety in teenagers.

There’s no definitive data about why teens are more anxious or worried however it’s a fact that it’s a condition with today’s young adults. Teenagers frequently feel judged by people around them which refrains them from pursuing things that they want to, or do them in a discreet way. As mentioned earlier, they face a lot of pressure which can be social and academic, and they lose themselves as they try to fulfill expectations to feel accepted in society or even in their families. The fact that they live in a protected bubble for most of their childhood and are hardly exposed to the harsh realities of the real world also contributes to anxiety in teens because this is the time when they want to go out and explore the world outside the private sphere of family or cultural groups that they have grown up in. This time of exploration opens up hundreds of doors for them, making them feel intimidated and worried about making the right decisions that would decide which path their life would go towards.

Social media can be a significant reason for growing anxiety in this age group. Social media and its effects on teens can be seen through two perspectives. Firstly, it is a fact that access to the internet gives teenagers access to unlimited knowledge and cultures. Social media is also a platform that showcases certain things to be ‘ideal’, while others are socially unacceptable. This leads to teenagers getting anxious because they ‘are not a certain way’ and the fear of social disapproval and exclusion makes them want to fit these ‘parameters’ of being ‘perfect’, making perfection look more like it’s objective, which is not the case. Moreover, social media is accessible to anyone and everyone, which is why the fear of getting involved with something or someone shady is why parents often restrict teens from interacting with people online that may have ulterior motives and intentions.

A different perspective to counter how social media leads to anxiety is that online groups may actually be way more accepting than real life friendships and relationships. A lot of teenagers find a group of like minded people on interactive sites and apps like Instagram, Reddit or Twitter, and they turn to these groups for assistance and comfort. By electronic means, teens are able to connect with people who are going through or have gone through similar situations. Technology exposes them to different cultures and practices, giving them the opportunity to be free to pursue whatever they feel is right instead of what is imposed on them by parents or schools. Communities on the internet are more democratic and understanding, and there is always the choice of maintaining anonymity online, which gives another layer of comfort. The internet has become more of an escape from the burdens of the real world, in turn, helping in reducing anxiety.

While teenagers read and hear about violence, suicide, climate change, separation of families and reports of sexual harassment, and nowadays about the pandemic and its negative effects almost every day, they need a ray of positivity and ease. The issues of anxiety and depression far exceed concerns about drugs, alcohol, poverty, bullying which were at the forefront of issues a decade ago. Teenagers need to be served with help and solutions, they need conviction that it's okay to not be okay in various situations. The world around a teenager must empathize with them and help them explore new ways to create calming effects and not hesitate to have external interventions through digital medium. It's about holding a teenager from bottling a feeling and instead create balance and clarity of thought.

The teenagers’ grapple with mental illnesses seems to have more to do with the lack of emotional education rather than developing a system of preventive measures. Teenagers can immensely benefit with more and more educational institutions willing to add social-emotional learning as a curriculum rather than it considered as an optional, and in many societies, a stigmatised and unimportant subject matter. It's always true that knowledge is power - so arming teenagers as well as adults with the knowledge about mental wellness early in life seems like an appropriate service.

Overall, anxiety is an extremely subjective thing to deal with, which is why, instead of trying to provide solutions, people need to be empathetic and make teenagers feel a sense of belonging and affection as opposed to being objective and unemotional towards their emotional needs. Anxiety in teenagers cannot be categorised because every teen has their own personal identity, it is the social identity of teenagers that needs to be changed from ‘teenage is just a phase’ and ‘it’s not a big deal’ to ‘I don’t understand but tell me more’ and ‘I hope you’re okay, I’m here if it gets too overwhelming’.

Photo by Christopher Ott on Unsplash