Anxiety: Is This Normal?
SPMS "TRAIN YOUR BRAIN" COUNSELOR
This is a common question when it comes to anxiety as well as the range of moods tweens and teens often experience. Our child experiences distress and we wonder, “Is this normal?”. It makes sense that we have been exploring this question as a society, considering the rates of anxiety (and other mental health concerns) in children, adolescents and adults have been on the rise for some time, with a dramatic increase following the Covid pandemic, and it’s not just the pandemic. Our youth today are concerned about a myriad of issues, including the climate crisis, school shootings and the war in Ukraine, to name a few.
So, if you have wondered whether your own child’s anxiety levels are normal, you are definitely not alone. Anxiety in and of itself is, of course, normal. We need a certain amount and stress and anxiety to accomplish the things that need to get done. However, there is a saturation point in which anxiety can take over and reach levels that make it difficult to get anything done. Considering that anxiety is not only normal, but even necessary at times, exploring its normalcy may not be as effective as assessing whether the anxiety is helpful or unhelpful. In other words, is the stress or anxiety leading to helpful action, or is it interfering with functioning?
Your child wants to attend the upcoming dance, but isn’t sure if they want to go because they don’t know if any of their friends are going?
This sounds like a very typical experience for a middle schooler. Even adults can feel a bit nervous to attend a party when they are unsure as to whether they will know anyone there. How is the child’s anxiety affecting them in this situation? On one end the stress may motivate them to communicate with friends to ask whether they are going to the dance. On the other end, the anxiety could lead them to feeling despair that paralyzes them from reaching out to friends and instead the child chooses to isolate and not attend the dance, despite wanting to go. Even the latter response is in the realm of normal because middle schoolers are just starting to navigate the social world independently. However, it doesn’t sound very helpful if the child can’t move past the worry at some point in their social development and isolation becomes a pattern, rather than the exception.
In reality, it’s difficult to deduce how critical a situation is from one event and more often than not we need to look at the bigger picture to get a better understanding.
Given that each child and each situation is unique, it can be helpful to ask yourself and/or your child some questions:
Has the anxiety led to a marked change in my child’s mood/behavior?
If there’s a change in my child’s mood/behavior, and am I or is my child concerned about this change?
Was there a recent event that contributed to the increased anxiety?
Does there seem to be a pattern of anxiety and avoidance?
Is the anxiety persistent (e.g., more days than not; happening throughout the day)?
Is the intensity of the anxiety moderate to high?
Is the anxiety impacting my child’s academic, social or home functioning?
If the answer to one or more of these questions is yes, then it could be helpful to get additional support. Support can include a school counselor/social worker/psychologist, a pediatrician or a licensed mental health professional in the community. The first step is to talk to your child to discuss how they are feeling, explore the impact of their mood and behavior, and discuss the need for additional support in order to 1) prevent worsening and 2) focus on improving the child’s overall wellbeing and functioning.
If you have specific questions about your child and their wellbeing, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, so we can discuss your unique situation.