Necessary Anxiety – What Teens Gain From Anxiety

Every living creature experiences anxiety. Anxiety is necessary for survival and adaptation.  Normal anxiety is common, and generally short-lived. In today’s fast paced world, however, we live in a culture that suggests any anxiety is bad and a person who struggles with any level of anxiety is weak or faulty. Society is so eager to diagnose a person with an official disorder.

Teenagers have been taught the need to be perfect. They have received participation trophies for their whole lives. Social media is used as a tool to present an edited/photoshopped sense of perfection. Many students get to retake their test in school to increase their GPA.  We have created people who have never experienced failure. When one has been protected and has never struggled to achieve, they are often unequipped to handle the smallest mistakes later in life. These first failures can be crippling and can lead to catastrophic feelings once the safety nest of parental protection is removed.  

Yet there are many positives once you learn to embrace your anxiety or face your nervousness. Studies have shown how the power of facing adversity can create resiliency. Resiliency is the ability to overcome challenges of any kind. The mastery of resiliency takes time and training. It is especially important for teenagers to have safe places where they can experiment with failing and facing their fears/anxieties.

3 Proven Ways to Build Resiliency

  1. SHARE INTENTIONALLY – Create a space for teenagers to share both successes and failures as well as opportunities to see others (more importantly adults) talk about their ups and downs. This expands a teen’s view of normal anxiety and overcoming failure, and can take place at the dinner table, a small group setting, or during prayer time.
  2. HIGHLIGHT STRENGTHS – Find ways to highlight a teenager’s gifts. Too often, teenagers can overly magnify their smallest perceived flaws. Highlighting strengths over weaknesses, teens learn how to overcome anxiety and stress brought on by a hyper focus on the negative. We all have many different talents that are unique to each of us. Helping a teenager name their gift(s) allows them to see more than the negatives. The second part of this step is to brainstorm with them ways for the teenager to use these gifts in their everyday lives. Be specific. Challenge them to find ways to engage with their gifts daily and celebrate them when they do use them, even if it does not work out as planned.
  3. NORMALIZE & FOSTER MENTAL TOUGHNESS – Remind teenagers that it is okay to have bad days and being mental strong is not about having it together all the time. Help them see past our society’s unhealthy need for perfection to learn that anxiety can be seen as an opportunity to grow rather than a threat or personal flaw. Mental toughness and resiliency are strengthened by learning to embrace anxiety/uncomfortableness and take action anyway.  The more often a person steps into their challenges, the stronger and more confident they can become.      

Kris Lott practices Marriage and Family Therapy in Nashville. His website is https://lottcounseling.wordpress.com.  Kris has also served as the youth minister at Calvary United Methodist Church since 2004 and coaches for the Center for Youth Ministry Training. In his free time Kris enjoy spending time at the lake with his wife and three daughters.