In the increasingly busy and stressful world, many teenagers and young adults have been diagnosed with anxiety. Its direct causes are not completely known, but a serious struggle with anxiety is becoming a reality for more and more adolescents.
Alexandra Ahmad, a 2016 Granite Bay High School graduate and current University of California at Santa Cruz student, struggled with anxiety throughout high school.
Ahmad’s anxiety began developing her freshman year of high school, as she had just moved from Atlanta. As she adjusted to public school in Northern California, strived for good grades and made new friends, the anxiety started appearing.
“My anxiety became something I had to address my sophomore year,” Ahmad said. “I was missing lots of school because I was having debilitating panic attacks. All I wanted to do was stay inside my house, and that really isn’t a way to live.”
At the beginning of her sophomore year, Ahmad began seeing a therapist to help with the anxiety. The therapist suggested she see someone who could prescribe medication, but Ahmad was initially against this idea.
“Once I was prescribed (medication), my mental state almost instantly changed,” Ahmad said. “Of course, I didn’t just stop there. I continued going to therapy up until I left for college. I am still on Prozac today.”
As the medication marked a new beginning in her life, something special happened – a dog showed up on her front porch.
“She became my guardian angel,” Ahmad said. “She showed up just when I needed her!”
Ahmad expressed great gratitude for the support from her family and friends during this time in her life.
“My family and friends were super supportive and were willing to take me to all my appointments, encourage me when I needed it, and push me to confront my fears,” Ahmad said. “I appreciate them all endlessly.”
Today, Ahmad still takes medication but no longer is in therapy. She is on an accelerated path toward graduating from college, and says she is doing much better.
“I definitely still have bad days, but in the grand scheme of things I am doing much better,” Ahmad said. “(I) would not have been able to get here without asking for help.”
In any situation, it is extremely important for those who are truly struggling to ask someone for help.
“I think if I could say one thing, it would be to reach out,” Ahmad said. “I know it’s scary to make yourself vulnerable, but sometimes it’s necessary.”
Crissy Starosciak, a senior at Independence High School who attended GBHS through the fall of her sophomore year, has had anxiety heavily impact her life for the past few years.
“When I was younger, my anxiety would affect me emotionally,” Starosciak said. “As I got older, my experience with anxiety became very different. … Once I got into high school, and even now, my anxiety affects me mentally and physically. I get disoriented and start feeling panicked.”
The summer before seventh grade, Starosciak moved to Granite Bay from the Bay Area. This is when her anxiety became more prominent.
As Starosciak entered high school, she developed an eating disorder, and everything seemed to be giving her anxiety.
“I was nervous about going out in public, seeing people at school, going places where food was involved (and more),” Starosciak said. “My family and friends were extremely understanding and supportive.”
In the spring of 2017, Starosciak began seeing a therapist and psychiatrist and was admitted into an Eating Recovery Center.
“There, I was given the tools to seek proper help,” Starosciak said. “I started taking anti-anxiety medication, and it helped dramatically! Medication isn’t for everyone and I was skeptical about it at first, but once it started reducing my stress and anxiety, I felt free.”
Today, Starosciak is feeling much better, but she still struggles with anxiety. She recently had another panic attack that was unlike any she’d had before.
“I felt nauseous, my heart was racing, and I (had) a kink in my neck as if someone was breathing right behind me,” Starosciak said. “It was very scary, and it was so bad I started to cry. Usually my anxiety doesn’t bring me to cry, so this was very challenging for me.”
Starosciak prays and says she sends her troubles up to God, and she recommends this as a way to bring peace to anyone dealing with anxiety.
“Anxiety is totally normal and you are not alone,” Starosciak said. “I believe everyone has anxiety, it just depends on the intensity of it.”
When AP Psychology and peer counseling teacher Natalie Elkin realized the stress students were dealing with in their personal lives, she decided to become a licensed therapist to help people through issues. She says this experience has enhanced her teaching of psychology and allowed her to learn different ways to interact with students and those around her.
“That was actually what prompted me to go back to grad school and get my license in family and marriage therapy,” Elkin said. “It was the reason I started the Peer Counseling program here … I alone couldn’t help all the kids that I wanted to help.”
Elkin says depression is the main reason people come in for therapy, followed by anxiety.
“In some cases it’s very situational, they’re just in a really difficult place in their life and its circumstances outside of their control,” Elkin said. “For some people its chronic. They have a genetic predisposition, (and) even though things in their life are actually under control and going fine, there’s just constant ongoing anxiety.”
With the rise of technology and social media, people easily start comparing themselves to others based on the posts that go up.
“People put the most extraordinary picture of themselves up and (it’s only) the most beautiful dress or just the right angle, and we haven’t seen that they’ve taken 500 selfies to get the one that’s perfect,” Elkin said. “We can’t help but compare.”
Elkin also says the culture and pressure from high-achieving schools can contribute to anxiety for students.
“The pressure is absolutely overwhelming and frankly absolutely ridiculous,” Elkin said. “I know the burden and the pressure that kids feel to be perfect at everything, to be involved in everything, to look amazing while they’re doing everything perfectly, and getting into the right colleges and all of this – we can’t do it.”
Teenagers are now being asked to do the impossible with ease, and they feel isolated when there is a sense of struggle.
Elkin noted how common it is for students to feel they are alone with their issues because it is so often looked over and ignored. People commonly act as if nothing is wrong, even when they are suffering inside.
“Kids don’t know because they’re not armed with the information about how to take care of themselves, how to get the tools they might need (or) even simple tools to help deal with anxiety and depression,” Elkin said. “Even just to know they’re not alone and know that probably most of the people they see every day feel exactly the same way they do (helps).”
Elkin emphasized the benefits of having someone to talk to about the stress they are dealing with.
“You have to find someone who doesn’t feel overwhelmed by the information you’re sharing and can … listen and give you the time to hear what you’re saying,” Elkin said. “We generally in our culture don’t do that, especially with friends.”
If anxiety is affecting someone’s ability to function normally and affecting their sleep, appetite, focus, grades or feelings about themselves, Elkin says it is time to seek the help of a professional.
“(For anxiety), there are an unbelievable amount of tools,” Elkin said. “It’s one of the really treatable disorders… (and) medication is no replacement for therapy, especially for something like anxiety where there are really amazing cognitive behavioral tools that are proven… (to help).”
Medication can help by giving people enough relief to learn skills to improve, but Elkin doesn’t recommend going straight to medication first. She does, however, recommend some personal reflection on the values that really matter.
“The idea of pursuing … and achieving, making money (and) buying stuff… doesn’t actually create contentment in your life,” Elkin said. “I feel like on a much broader cultural scale, we need to shift our values away from youth, beauty and money to relationships, connection, leisure and pleasure where you’re doing what you love.”