Why the spike in teen anxiety?



Anxiety is a serious issue caused by excessive stress levels, and is very prominent in high schools across America. The anxiety rates in teenagers have increased about 70% in the past twenty years. Although there are very extreme cases on anxiety worldwide, many teenagers would agree they have some anxiety on a daily basis.

Studies have shown there are several factors driving these elevated stats in anxiety and stress in teens. School, sports, parental pressure, and college appear to be the most common roots of the spread of anxiety throughout American teens nationwide.

Curious as to how Gloucester High School students feel about their own stress and anxiety levels, I asked and interviewed several community members about their thoughts. It was not a shock to hear that most students feel they have high levels of anxiety in their lives, most prominently in honors and AP students. Many GHS students feel the need to balance their sports and academic lives, but lack the time and energy to do so because of the time commitments needed for both individually.

“The levels of anxiety and high school students have definitely gone up because the standards of students grades have compounded. I know within the past few years the required GPA average for National Honor Society when up from an 88 to a 90 grade average, so I definitely think the stress levels have increased in relation,” said sophomore Lauren Wood. “Along with trying to be a student-athlete there’s a lot of stress working the best you can in school and trying to perform just as well in sports. It’s difficult trying be the top of your team and top of your class, and I think there’s a lot of stress trying to balance everything out.”

GHS students also spoke out about the altered social pressures of being a teenager. Many students agreed with the fact that they feel peer pressure to participate in activities that they do not personally feel comfortable with.

The stereotypical high school life has been changed in the past few years to the point where students feel like alternative methods of self expression than the uniform aren’t even considerable in society.

One anonymous GHS sophomore summarized their belief in saying: “The social standard has changed so much. It’s so much higher and everyone now feels like they have to fit in”. Students acknowledge that  this discomfort and feeling of containment of self-expression in our modern society, is another root of the spread of teen anxiety.

Other students diagnosed with anxiety have explained that their anxiety is derived from internal thoughts and social situations/pressure.

“I mostly have social anxiety. I get anxious when there’s a lot of people in one place, if it’s really loud I have to go somewhere by myself or talk to people I don’t usually talk to,” said junior Emilie Orlando. “I also get anxiety out of nowhere, it can just happen. If I overthink something, I can get extreme anxiety or panic attacks.”

This cycle of overthinking, claustrophobia, and noise can cause an overabundance of thoughts, create stress, and therefore cause anxiety.

Another notable source of stress in high school students is the most predictable: college. GHS upperclassmen have explained that the majority of their anxiety comes from college in one way or another. Depending on the time of year, colleges always give seniors something to stress about whether it’s early applications, standard applications, scholarships, majors, or decisions does not change the constant anxiety it inflicts. The standards for colleges have risen since most American colleges are now accepting more international students than ever.

The root of senior Lauren Benchoff’s high anxiety, as for many others, is college.

“Most of my anxiety comes from the lack of time that I have to complete homework and well as juggling clubs, work and sports. Teenagers have so much pressure to shape our future lives,” said Benchoff. “The standards for college have us competing with kids around the world and for kids to be looked at by competitive colleges the requirements have increased, which means taking on a heavier workload and becoming more well-rounded.”

Although there are many teenagers dealing with anxiety, almost every case of anxiety is different.

“Anxiety can be biological or situational,” said health counselor Amy Kamm.

Anxiety is a hereditary trait, and can be passed down the families line uncontrollably. Anxiety can be developed at any point in a person’s life with, especially when there’s a lot of stress or pressure for a long period of time. Kamm also said she believes anxiety can be internal or external, in terms of the source of the stress.

Comparing some of the GHS’ students stories about their anxiety it is easy to see that both situations are common. Sometimes the root of one’s anxiety can be from high standards of oneself, causing internal pressure. More commonly associated with high school anxiety is external pressure, where the social and school pressures combine.

High school is a time and place of massive amounts of work, a plethora of club opportunities, sports teams, and conflicting social dynamics. As imperfect human beings, we students make mistakes more often than not and generate increased stress levels. The workload to time ratio of our lives is unbelievably high and for many students almost impossible.

The spread anxiety throughout American teens has not only compounded, the levels of anxiety in teens has gotten worse as well. Gloucester students believe that this stress comes from the sports, school work, social pressure, and college demands that they are facing in their high school years.

No matter how much anxiety and stress you may feel from all different parts of your life, remember to take a deep breath and know that everything will be just fine.