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Is Your Teen a Worrier?

Teens have been described as tightly wound springs, kept at constant tension by their phase of life and physical development. Navigating adolescence is challenging, but some teens have a way of piling on additional pressures. On the one hand is the overachieving teenager who is determined to grab as much of life as possible in as short a time as possible. These teens have incredibly high expectations for themselves; they are perfectionists. Failure is not an option, and when failure happens, as it inevitably does, it is greeted as a catastrophe.

These teens have the type of schedule it takes a computer to calculate, plotted out to the minute, in order to shove in as many activities as possible. They gobble up responsibilities, tasks, and duties with abandon today, heedless to the overindulging consequences tomorrow. They cheat sleep, nutrition, relationships, peace and quiet, and a chance to recharge and reset. They are adolescent Energizer Bunnies; and, as long as they get juiced with whatever they can find or devise, they’ll just keep going and going, doing and doing, until something breaks.

That’s the worker teen. On the other side is the worrier teen. These are the teenagers who can’t seem to finish anything. They worry about everything — whether it will be good enough, whether they should have tried it in the first place, what it will mean if they can’t get it done. They constantly worry about girlfriends, boyfriends, the lack thereof, tests, how they look, what they wear, what other people think. They hesitate starting things or taking risks because they’re worried about how it will turn out. You can’t get them to make a decision to save their life. Even after a decision is made, it’s constantly reevaluated and second-guessed.

The overriding theme for both of these types of teens is anxiety. The worker teen creates a life of anxiety by demanding an extraordinarily high level of personal achievement and perfect outcomes. This state of anxiety, whether manifested in the compulsion to go-go-go or in the hesitation to wait-wait-wait, can result in an anxiety disorder. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and is a state of being anxious all the time about nothing in particular. GAD is living life tightly wound. this isn’t being worried about the test on Tuesday or what to where to the dance on Saturday. Instead, this is waking up day after day with a sense of impending disaster, without really knowing why. It’s just a sure feeling that something terribly wrong is going to happen and being worried about it, tense and alert. The symptoms of GAD include:

  • Living in a state of constant worry, jumping from little thing to little thing, without any relief
  • Trying to stop worrying but unable to
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Feeling fatigued, sweaty, light headed, irritable, nauseated, out of breath, shaky, having trouble swallowing, getting headaches or bodyaches

GAD is a diagnosable and treatable disorder, determined by severity and duration of symptoms as well as impact on daily functioning. Overly anxious teens can be taught skills to combat persistent negative thoughts and coping strategies for mitigating worry and fear. This is a pattern of thinking or behaving that neither you nor your teen wants perpetuated into adulthood.

The above is excerpted from Chapter 6 of my new book, The Stranger in Your House. I’ll be posting more excerpts from it here in the weeks to come, but you can receive a FREE copy of the book itself between now and December 15, 2011. To participate in this book giveaway, simply share some of your own thoughts or experiences about raising teenagers – in the comments section of this or future blog posts, or on the Facebook or Twitter pages linked to below.

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