Coping with Stress and Anxiety: You Are Not Alone

Ms. Greta Powers, Reporter-at-Large

With finals just around the corner, there is a lot of stress to be found at high schools everywhere, and CVU is no exception. Although students are salivating at the sweet realization that the school year is almost over, there can still be anxiety about final grades, schedules, and the future. This stress can quickly become overwhelming. It’s not just high school students who are feeling the pressure; parents can get caught up in stress about their children’s tests and futures, too. Not to fear though because there are specialists on just this problem that students and parents alike are facing these days.

Lynn Lyons is a nationally known expert on anxiety. She has written three books detailing how to cope with anxiety for parents and children, and has appeared on NPR, in The New York Times, and on Katie Couric’s morning show. More and more high school students are suffering from anxiety, and Lyons teaches how the large, heavy mass that is stress can be relieved.

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Author and therapist Lynn Lyons and one of her books

Lyons provided a view into why high school students are more anxious than ever. “I think it’s that this generation of parents are the post 9/11 generation and one of the things that makes children more anxious is when parents perceive the world as a dangerous place,” she states. “Since 9/11 there has been a lot more talk about danger of the world, danger about childhood, danger about adolescence, and danger of becoming of an adult,” she continues. This, of course, is true. The world can seem like an awfully dangerous place, and when parents reinforce this perilous perspective on their children, an already scary world can seem downright nightmarish.

A unique attribute of “Gen-Z” is the abundance of technology at teenagers’ fingertips. Technology at one’s demand means news, data, and facts at one’s demand, also. “Anxiety demands certainty, and with technology and social media there is this weird dichotomy of believing you can know everything ahead of time and at the same time getting too much information that is really hard to process.” Today’s teenagers are a generation in the midst of school shootings, and a confusing, controversial political environment where any sort of certainty is less achievable than ever. With heartbreaking tragedies popping up on the news frequently, it’s easy for one’s mind to be uncertain whether they are safe or not. Anxiety can creep into a constant restlessness that can translate into a lot of worries about one’s state of being.

Competition can bring up a lot of worries, too. Constant comparison in both real life and social media feeds the hungry notion of being enough or being as good as someone else. This lifestyle of competition doesn’t just consume teenagers, though. Unfortunately, parents get absorbed in it, too. “I think there’s a lot of competition between parents, and again this social media thing and how much people share about their lives and parents generally say, ‘We are not putting pressure on our kids; we only want them to be successful,’ but they’re conveying something much different,” Lyons adds. Although it’s most likely all out of love, parents need to be aware of their actions and how unintentional pressure can affect their kids. “Parents talk a good game and they don’t mean to stress out their kids, but it is very contagious. It is contagious from parent to child, from parent to parent and from child to child,” Lyons says. Anxiety is a bacteria rapidly growing and spreading, with the petri dish being an environment of comparison and judging. Luckily, there is a way to stop the growth of this bacteria, and the first step is to acknowledge that it’s normal.

Lyons says, “It’s very normal to feel a certain amount of stress. Unfortunately high school is a setup for stress because you’re being judged, you’re being evaluated, you’re competing, and there’s a lot of pressure to do things a certain way.” To remember that everyone is probably also feeling a certain degree of stress helps to normalize the nervousness, too. “It’s very helpful to be able to step back from your thinking and step back from your worry and just notice that it has consistent messages and the messages are usually: you can’t handle this or there’s nothing you can do. And what we want to be able to say is this is stressful or this is uncomfortable but I can figure out how to get through it,” Lyons continues. Further advice includes, “Don’t believe everything you think, and just because you think it doesn’t make it so. And to give yourself a really wide path of figuring things out. This is not a narrow path, this is a wide path of experimenting and making mistakes and being a human.”

And as for parents? “Parents have to be really careful about the language they use,” Lyons states. “Parents need to allow their children in high school to figure things out for themselves while they are right there to support, encourage, love, and connect, but not dictate. So it’s not parents saying ‘hands off I’m not going to pay any attention,’ but it’s being there.” She  adds that parents should really stop comparing their children to other children, even if they claim they aren’t. It’s also important that teenagers can sometimes take a step back when realizing there is too much comparison going on. While taking a break from social media can be unthinkable for some, it can be a good way to take a breather from news and observation of others, and it may just lift some stress off the shoulders.

Practicing self care is important. May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and everyone deserves to feel healthy and happy. If you’re feeling overwhelmed in school, consider talking to a guidance counselor, teacher, or parent to get help. For more information about Lynn Lyons, visit her web page here

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