Adolescence is defined as the evolutionary process in human life which begins with the physiological changes of puberty and ends with the final organization of sexuality. It is the period between childhood and adulthood. Adolescence consists of three phases: Early adolescence begins around age 11 and continues until age 15. The middle phase follows until age 18 and then the final phase until age 20.
Anxiety is a functional emotion that alerts the individual to face difficult situations. However, if the anxiety is persistent, excessive in intensity and out of proportion to the stimulus causing it, then it may be a sign of an anxiety disorder. The adolescent usually feels an uneasy feeling in the face of an unspecified or specific threat.
The first thing that seems to cause a lot of stress for the teenager is the rapid physical changes associated with puberty. Puberty changes include the maturation of sex characteristics. The changes in the adolescent body are among the most stressful factors that are likely to cause disturbance in the mental health of adolescents. Also, the effort to form an individual identity which includes autonomy and the creation of healthy relationships with peers is another stressful factor during adolescence. In this phase the adolescent goes through a second phase of alienation-individuation as happens in early childhood where the child is gradually removed from the close symbiotic relationship with his mother. Therefore, the teenager tries to distance himself from his mother and more broadly from his family, resulting in frequent conflicts between them. The teenager seems to experience this conflict very strongly and the resulting anxiety usually manifests itself in angry outbursts, which causes disruption in the family environment.
Common issues that are likely to be a source of anxiety in teenagers are :
- The normal changes in their appearance
- The many school obligations
- The big demands of the parents
- The quarrels with the friends
- The financial problems at home
- The divorce of the parents
- The changes school environment
There are some teenagers who can and do manage stress in a creative and evolutionary way in a more mature phase. But there are also teenagers whose anxiety can make them adopt a behavior that may put them at risk. Such behaviors can be:
- Substance abuse (alcohol, illegal substances) to relieve stress
- Constant comparison with others which opens a cycle of negative of thoughts
- The constant avoidance of conditions such as e.g. the avoidance of going to school
What the teenager needs is not to get rid of stress. What is needed is to be able to distinguish between helpful and destructive stress. Also, it is to be able to use mechanisms to transform destructive stress into useful stress which it will use as a motivational mechanism for creativity.
The best way to see if an adolescent's anxiety warrants further investigation is by assessing the effects it has on the adolescent's functioning. That is, if there are problems at school, if he isolates himself from everyone all the time or if he stops doing things that used to please him. Some of the effects of not dealing with stress in time in the teenager are depression, school refusal and failure.
Parents are called upon to deal with the challenge of their children's adolescence with calmness and patience all the possible changes that arise in the adolescent's life. Is it useful inform and emphasize to parents that adolescence is a critical phase and that many of the behaviors likely to result from stress that concern parents are transient and usually disappear by the end of adolescence. However, when parents notice serious changes in the behavior or emotional state of the teenager, it would be useful to be evaluated by mental health professionals.
Finally, in dealing with the anxiety of teenagers, they can help by being involved with the school environment i.e. teachers and school counselors.
Dr Monica Ioannou
Scientific Coordinator of the Department
KE.P.PSY. PA Larnaca-Ammochosto