Performance Anxiety in Teens

Adolescents, and especially teenagers, suffer from performance anxiety more often than parents, teachers, or even professionals realize. This is true, in part, because when teens begin to experience emotional issues, they are much less likely to seek out support for their problem.  Many times, they don’t know who to turn to or they may not be willing to risk teasing from peers.  Consequently, many suffer in silence.

Is Anxiety Normal?
Anxiety is a natural part of the emotional make-up of human beings and everybody becomes anxious from time to time.  When the outcome of any situation is uncertain, it is not unusual to experience a certain level of worry or concern.

Like adults, it is common for adolescents to suffer from anxiety when they are being evaluated in some way.  Normal levels of anxiety can cause teens to perform better and anxiety can actually help people improve their skills and hone their abilities.  Taking tests, trying out for a sports team, or applying for a job are typical circumstances that can cause spur anxiety.

Anxiety becomes problematic when it starts to infringe upon other areas where it may not be necessary or desirable. Undue generalized anxiety can trigger social phobias and irrational fear, and can leading to lowered self-esteem, decreased motivation, reduced effort, and poor performance in school.

The Anatomy of Anxiety
Basically, teens suffering from performance anxiety will have the same symptoms that adults have.  The chief component of unhealthy anxiety is an intense feeling of losing control accompanied by an agonizing state of constant worry.

Even though worrying is common to most people, the teen that worries about performance does so unceasingly and with intensity, causing a chronic detriment that prevails throughout everyday life.  Thus, anxious worry often affects an adolescent’s normal function in social situations, as well as personally. Unhealthy anxiety can result in depression, panic attacks, and may increase the likelihood of alcohol and drug abuse.

Excessive anxiety causes teens to view benign situation as hostile, frightening, or threatening.  Frequently, a person’s thought life is plagued with catastrophic thinking to such an extent that they feel powerless to manage situations properly.  Oftentimes, even though there may be adequate basis for the anxiety, the overwhelming feelings escalate and become disproportionate to the situation.

How Parents Can Help
Of course, cognitive behavioral counseling is an effective means for overcoming and managing symptoms of anxiety.  But short of hiring a professional, there are many steps parents can take to help their anxious teen.
* Lower expectation.  Whether they realize it or not, many parents set the bar too high for their children.  They expect them to make the best grades, make every team, and come in first in every event.  This is not only unreasonable, but it can be very harmful to their children’s present and future lives.  Encourage your teen to do their best and then be accepting of that level of performance.
* Don’t forget the compliment your teen.  Many schools of thought underscore the effects of praising children and de-emphasize drawing attention to shortcomings and failures.  However, there is one thing that all professionals agree upon:  without a doubt, children thrive on the affirmations of their parents.
* Be an example.  Adults who learn the necessary coping skills and then effectively model that behavior have more well-adjusted teenagers.  One of the primary ways that children of all ages learn is from what they see demonstrated.

Performance anxiety can negatively impinge upon many areas of a teenager’s life. Parents can help by simply becoming more aware of the problem of and taking a few steps that are sure to result in emotional relief for their teens.

About Melissa J. Murphy

Melissa Murphy is in the business of building self-esteem, instilling confidence, and restoring hope in those who have given up on life. She is currently completing her degree in psychology, and has worked as a life coach and faith-based counselor for more than a decade. By bringing her personal life experiences into her work, Melissa is able to help others survive their wounds, heal their pain, and live a life of success despite having incurred overwhelming emotional scars. For the last few years, she has discovered the joys of writing and has published a growing number of articles. Melissa currently resides in the Houston area with her husband and her two wonderful children.

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