How 15 Teens Experience Anxiety Isn’t So Different From How Grown-Ass Women Do
I can still remember what I typed into my pink iPhone 5C from the bathroom after my first AP exam, after I ran out of time: “Can you die from sweaty palms, a rapid heartbeat, and dizziness?" Google had some ideas. As I scrolled through all the possible ailments I could be facing, my stomach started to ache, too. My limbs were suddenly taken over by butterflies until the walls started spinning, and nausea set in. I drank water, looked at myself in the mirror and repeated, “I am fine.” I reminded myself again that the test was over. So why was my body still acting like I was still sitting in that classroom, in front of an exhausting multiple choice test that could, I thought, decide my entire future?
Unfortunately, this wouldn’t be the last time my teenage anxiety would challenge me. My last year of high school was filled with more trips to the bathroom where I meticulously analyzed Yahoo! Answers. After-school hours that should have been spent absorbing the last moments of high school were instead spent in the fetal position in my bedroom. I had to constantly remind myself that they were just multiple choice tests, and my self-worth was by no means defined by my ability to ace them. But, no matter how many times I repeated to myself over and over again that it would all be fine, my body couldn’t internalize it.
Over one-third of teenagers report that they that they experience anxiety that interferes with performance, schoolwork, and relationships compared to 19 percent of adults, but that doesn't mean that adults aren't held back by these same symptoms of anxiety. Especially in the work force, women are more likely to experience symptoms of anxiety, which in turn can affect their ability to advance professionally as quickly as their male counterparts.
I was lucky that my panic attacks stopped when I went to college and grew to better understand my emotions, but both teens and grownups alike are susceptible to feeling worried, stressed, and uncertain about the themselves and the world around them. These 15 teens shared what their experience of anxiety is like, and even if you're no longer a teen, you may just relate to what they have to say — they show that anxiety during adolescence is not all that different from the way young women experience anxiety, too.
1. Kiara, 17
I get anxious every single day. To me, being anxious feels like a spiral that I can’t get out of. My mind fixates on the one thing, and then I can’t focus on anything else. I get incredibly warm, flustered, and my stomach begins to churn. Normally when I get incredibly anxious, my eyes begin to sting and I feel like I can no longer control my emotions. The type of anxiety differs — occasionally it will be one big burst of anxiety, but more frequently it’s little spurts throughout the day caused by multiple things.
When I’m anxious, I try and take deep breaths to calm myself down. I also cry a lot. I let myself feel sad and anxious as opposed to trying to repress the feelings. Sometimes I’ll write, draw, and organize as well. I do anything that makes me feel like I have the control back over myself, my thoughts, and my actions. I don’t think adults really understand new age anxiety that extends from technology. There’s a constant knowledge of what your friends are doing and who they’re doing it and constant fear of missing out that adults didn’t have to deal with in high school.
2. *Haley, 19
I was really anxious until I came out to my parents. I think my anxiety was a result of my inability to be fully myself in front of them. I never felt seen or heard even when they were involved in my life. I think it’s because I was simply not the person they thought I was. I also felt like I couldn’t fully exhale ever, and my stomach was constantly full. However, after coming out, which I acknowledge is a privileged conversation for most, I feel much more myself and less anxious all the time.
3. Diva, 18
I can't remember the last day I didn't feel anxiety. Blushing, overheating, sweaty palms, disorientation. When I am anxious, I can't be present, and I get lost in my mind and lose my surroundings. I am constantly trying to ground myself by being aware of my body, which makes me unaware of the situation I'm in — this can be a curse and a blessing. I feel most anxious when things are out of my control. When I go to a new place or meet new people, I am always counting the minutes until I can leave. There is nothing worse you can say to an anxious person than ‘calm down’ or ‘you're fine’. It doesn't matter what is actually happening in a situation... being anxious is rarely a choice.
4. Lily, 19
As I’ve gotten older, my anxiety has become more severe. I am definitely someone who has really high standards and expectations, so I am constantly anxious about failing. I spend a lot of time worrying about letting myself and others down. I think it is hard for adults to comprehend how someone young could have so much to be anxious about. But anxiety is not logical and that is what makes it so difficult. When I’m anxious, I first start to feel nauseous and claustrophobic, and then need to leave the space I’m currently in. I’ve find that the best way to calm the waves during anxiety is to try and figure out the thought that is making me anxious. Then I take that thought and see if I’m being realistic or catastrophic in my thinking. After a couple seconds of processing, I usually can then create a more reasonable thought, and feel a lot less anxious.
5. *Nate, 18
When I feel a panic attack coming on, I almost always call certain close friends who know about it and they will do their best to help me calm down. I normally try and sort things out on my own. I’m naturally very independent. However, when it comes to panic attacks, being just as independent is almost impossible. My anxiety has made me more of a planner because if I know when and where everything is happening, who’s going to be there and what I need to bring, I feel much better.
6. *Sam, 16
I get panic attacks when I’m out with friends and it really affects my mood and friendships. I get panic attacks maybe twice or three times a month. Being out with my friends, especially at night, can make me feel panicky. Not knowing what’s about to happen leads me to get carried away with my own thoughts and this often makes matters much worse. This makes it ‘hard’ to be a teenager at times because everyone is so social and ‘good’ at going out around me.
7. *Holland, 16
I always feel uncomfortable talking to my parents about my anxiety because I’m scared that they will take me less seriously [...] if I admit to any form of mental illness. I find it easier to keep things to myself. However, it’s hard, because talking to someone about my anxiety always makes things easier. Sometimes my anxiety manifests in a way that limits the fun I have when I’m out. For example, it makes me the first one home from parties and formals. Having anxiety as a teenager is really hard because it’s impossible to have fun without doing everything your anxiety is stopping you from doing.
8. Emma, 19
My anxiety is very focused on my head and my chest, so when I experience it, I have a tightness in my chest and a hard time breathing, and I usually get a bad headache and become very shaky. I feel anxious on a fairly regular basis, and at least a few times a week. It is more common during the school year or when I’m working than when I’m on a break and have time to relax. I think the one thing adults sometimes don’t understand about anxiety is that there is a difference between “being anxious,” which we all experience at some point or another, and “having anxiety,” which is usually tied to the actual anxiety disorder. [Adults] have to be careful not to lump the latter category into the prior and assume that we are just being dramatic.
9. *Tessa, 14
As I’ve gotten older, I have become more anxious. Recently though, I have been most anxious about school, the future, and disappointing my parents. When I feel anxious, I try to remind myself to breathe and then just try to think about my sister. I think having someone older to talk to is the most helpful thing you can do for your anxiety.
10. *Mae, 13
There is something about the noise of chewing that literally sends me into an inexplicable spiral mentally. This can make it really hard to eat at school. It’s hard because I watch my friends approach lunchtime at school with ease, while for me it’s scary and daunting. Recently, I have been talking about my anxiety more and seeing a therapist. Even in the short amount of time when I have been talking about my anxiety out loud, I’ve already noticed a difference in how I understand it myself. I think, for me, the only way I will ever get over this fear of chewing is if I continue to talk about it. But that too can be scary and hard.
11. *Jean, 19
I spend so much time at school thinking about how much my body is perceived by everyone around me. Social media definitely doesn’t help. I wish I was more confident, and less anxious about my appearance but it’s really hard for me. My body makes me anxious when I enter a room, and makes me think that people are always talking about my body. It’s all consuming and definitively distracts me from doing the things I actually care about in life.
12. Charlotte, 15
Thinking about the future makes me [the] most anxious. There are so many things I want to do and so many places I want to see, and I just have so little time. I’m a big thinker, and my anxious thoughts tend to go from ‘I didn’t eat breakfast’ to ‘I’m never going to get anywhere in life.’ If I wasn’t as anxious, I would be a different human being.
Our mental illnesses don’t define us, but they do impact our lives and the way we act. Anxiety makes me uncertain at times, which is hard when you’re trying to figure out who you are. I’m sure that lots of people with anxiety struggle with who they are, as they have another voice in the back of their head that’s making them question every step they take. Anxiety also helps me though, because I spend so much time learning about myself. In a way, I’m thankful that I have anxiety, because I’ve learned to accept myself as a quiet, soft person that drinks too much coffee and wears colorful grandpa sweaters.
13. Dajana, 18
I feel most anxious about my future right now. I’m one month before graduation, and I really don't know what I want to study at University. I feel anxious because at 18, I’m considered an adult, but I feel like I don't know many things about real life. I also feel anxious because I'm really curious how my life will be after high school. When I’m anxious, it feels like my mind is talking to me, but time is passing and there is not enough time left, and in the stomach it feels like I have a million butterflies.
14. *Grace, 13
School and grades make me the most anxious. I am the most scared of failing. After I take a math test, I literally go home and look to see how well I did by trying to remember all the questions and doing them with a calculator. I want to be successful and do well in school, but sometimes I can't control my success and my grades and my friendships and that makes me very anxious.
15. Fahim, 18
Social media is something that causes me a lot of anxiety. I also feel much more anxious when I'm alone because having no one to share my happiness and sorrows with makes me anxious. I feel like things would be 1,000 times better if there was someone to just pat on my shoulder and say, ‘you'll figure out things.’ Growing up can be really hard. I was much less anxious before college, but now every single decision feels so much bigger. I’m nervous about my career, health, love life and everything as a whole.