Handling the Effects of Stress and Anxiety

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Photo Courtesy of Help Guide

Anxiety can be debilitating in teenagers. How do we identify and overcome it?

Danyale Schlender, The Scroll, Features Editor

As of June 2020 the Center of Disease Control and Prevention Center has recorded that  “7.1 percent of children aged 3-17 years, which is approximately 4.4 million children that have diagnosed anxiety.” Teenage years are typically depicted and meant to be filled with joy, trial and error, and discovering oneself, however, too many student’s days are filled with anxiety. 

There is not one single reason why teenagers are filled with anxiety, but Adam Bratt, a psychology teacher at Saugus High School, believes that, “The one biggest thing, in my 29 years of teaching, is social media. Social media can cause you a lot of stress.” It has largely been concluded that social media can create a lot of pressure, whether it be from seeking validation or not truly understanding what drives a student to be on social media.

Additionally, Bratt stated, “There’s so many healthy things you could be doing and sitting around checking your Snapchat and Instagram [continuously] is not one of them.” Stress and anxiety can sink in and thoughts of not being good enough, not getting enough likes could develop from the moment one opens an app or posts a picture. 

Ira Rounsaville, Saugus High School’s social worker, said “I wouldn’t dare say there is a single [stresser for anxiety], it differs from males to females and from age, but I think teens are most anxious about where they stand in this world, and how they associate. Not necessarily if they are accepted but more how they are valued or if people see them as having value. Being concerned about not being equipped for becoming an adult can also cause a lot of [anxiety].”

Stress and anxiety are sister symptoms and one disease unfortunately comes with the trials of everyday life. There are, however, differences between what is referred to as stress and what is known as anxiety, that disallow them from being used interchangeably. 

Stress differs from anxiety because stress is inevitable. Stress is momentary panic, worry or frustration. “We’re all human beings,  we all have daily stressors, what crawls in between our ears does cause us stress, sometimes we’re not even aware we’re stressed out,” said Bratt.

Anxiety tends to be longer lasting. An existential feeling of dread or dire apprehension in situations that are seemingly calm or unthreatening. “What if” statements perfectly depict anxiety. 

Rounsaville explained that “some people can feel just fine in the moment, you could literally be in Disneyland having the time of your life. Then the next moment you could have a panic attack or an anxiety attack and have no idea why it came.”

Anxiety and stress both can take on drastic tolls on the human body. Bratt shined light on how it can cause learning helplessness. Very Well Mind, a mental health media site reviewed by psychologists with medical doctrines, reported that, “learned helplessness occurs in animals that are repeatedly subjected to a situation in which it cannot escape. Eventually, the animal will stop trying to escape and behave as if it is utterly helpless. Even when opportunities to escape are presented, this learned helplessness will prevent any action.”

This learned helplessness is one of the many side effects anxiety can have on students. Consistent anxiety and pressure can also allow the body to feel physical pain. Stated by Harvard Health publishing, “the body can mimic and inflict irritable bowel syndrome, low back pain, headaches, and nerve pain.”

While stress can cause the body to fall into a three step process called general adaptation syndrome, spotlighted by Bratt. Step one being the “alarm reaction stage” when the body starts to react to the stress, speeding up heart rates and increasing blood pressure. Stage two is the resistance stage; it’s when the body starts to lessen the amount of stress and tries to return to normal. However if you don’t resolve the stress the body remains overworked and eventually the body learns how to adapt to this higher level of stress. This leaves students more irritable, more easily frustrated and can also cause a lack of concentration.

The final stage is called the exhaustion stage or the burn out stage. This is the result of continuous, nonstop stress when the body is struggling with balancing amounts of emotional and physiological impacts stress has on students’ brains and bodies, to the point where your body no longer has the stamina to fight the stress. The student’s body becomes so fragile when in contact with stress that it can produce learning helplessness as well as fatigue, burn out, depression, anxiety and decreased immunity. 

Along previously stated negative mental effects both stress and anxiety can impact your sleep as well as heart function. A study conducted at Johns Hopkins states that stress and anxiety can both cause “a rapid heart rate, tachycardia, and in serious cases, can interfere with normal heart function and increase the risk of sudden cardiac arrest. Increased blood pressure and if chronic, can lead to coronary disease, weakening of the heart muscle, and heart failure and decreased heart rate variability. Which may result in higher incidence of death after an acute heart attack.”

This can all be avoided or at least severely reduced in likelihood. Be realizing the following:

Rounsaville voices, “being a teenager isn’t easy, especially in this day, in 2020 and in this time. It’s even more challenging because students can be exposed to way more than necessary. It’s hard because you’re still trying to figure out who you are, where you are and why you are. Looking ahead can be overwhelming but there are adults that can support you.”

Rounsaville carries on with saying “don’t feel like you’re in it by yourself because even the adults, myself included have experienced it, lived through it and overcome it. It’s hard but it’s doable and you don’t need to get through it alone.” 

Bratt advises “Sometimes you don’t have the life experience to pull you through, and sometimes it can get a little scary and a little threatening but you’re not alone. On top of that nowadays everything is so fast paced. STOP and smell the roses! We don’t take the time to stop and smell the roses. I have a saying, ‘life is in session.’”

He resumes, “And also the idea is if you concentrate too much on the past you can get depressed with regrets. If you concentrate too much on the future that’s what causes anxiety, things that may or may not happen. But if you stay into today and don’t think too much past today, you can enjoy [life]. Todays an adventure!” 

Mr. Ira Rounsaville can be reached at [email protected]

Mrs.Holt Wellness Coordinator can be reached at [email protected]

You are not alone, you are loved, you are a centurion. If you need someone to talk to, a list of resources can be found on the Saugus High website under Unity of Community.  https://www.sauguscenturions.com/apps/pages/unityofcommunity