Did I study enough for this test? Won’t my friends do better than me? If I don’t get an A now, I won’t do well on the next exam, and then will I even get into a good college?
Anxious thoughts such as these aren’t always just passing worries. They’re becoming deeply rooted, widespread mantras for young people across America. Anxiety is the most common mental health challenge that young people face, and it’s the top reason why students seek mental health services at college today. In severe cases, anxiety is stopping teens from doing homework, reaching out to friends, and even leaving their homes, and leading to depressive and suicidal thoughts.
Many anxious teens have some sort of trigger: a school subject that doesn’t come naturally, the cliques they face at school, or — hovering throughout their high school experience — pressure to apply and get into college. It can be tempting for the counselors and therapists who work with these students to remove as many of these instigators as possible, allowing students to simply walk out of class when the content gets tough, or eat lunch away from the chaotic cafeteria. But those solutions don’t usually get to the root of the problem, and in fact they can make it worse.