Being back to school for some kids means the excitement of reconnecting with friends, fall activities and sports. It may also mean increased stress and anxiety reaching beyond the worry of finding classrooms and opening lockers. For these young people, anxiety requires attention all year long.
The most recent Oregon Student Wellness survey shows many Oregon City youth are experiencing increased stress and anxiety. According to the survey, more than 18 percent of 11th – graders, 16 percent of eighth-graders and 11 percent of sixth grade students show high levels of psychological distress. The National Institute of Mental Health reports about 32 percent of teens experience anxiety disorders, with anxiety being more common among young women than young men. Teens who experience anxiety and distress use alcohol and marijuana two to three times more than other teens as a way to cope.
That is not surprising. While it’s hard to know exactly why we are seeing this increase in anxiety among youth, there are many possibilities. These include increased expectations for academic performance, peer pressure, social media, inability to effectively communicate, lack of ability to organize and prioritize, violence in our society, and pressure to meet perceived expectations of parents and others.
Symptoms can include worry, excessive stress, crying, loss of sleep, irritability, racing heart, difficulty breathing, sore muscles, exhaustion, difficulty concentrating, avoidance of school, activities and friends, sweating, dizziness, headaches, stomach aches and nightmares.
Parents can take several steps to help their kids manage stress and anxiety.
- Develop a consistent schedule and help kids be organized. Knowing what’s happening day-to-day can decrease anxiety.
- Support down time. School, activities, sports, friends, homework, family time . . . it can all be a bit much. Take some time to relax, stay in your pajamas, watch a movie and get a break from the busy schedule.
- Advise teens to take a deep breath. Like the body needs nutritious food, brains need plenty of oxygen. A deep breath refuels and allows one to slow down a bit, think and solve problems.
- Encourage kids to get outside. Even a short walk may help.
- Teach relaxation and mindfulness strategies. Apps such as CALM and Headspace are tools that can be used daily.
- Increase skills related to solving problems. Being able to solve problems builds confidence and decreases anxiety because kids know they can do it.
- Help kids develop coping strategies. Take a hot bath, listen to music, shoot hoops, play with your pet, journal, color, talk to a friend . . . the list is endless, but individual. Find what works best for your child or teen.