Teenagers, you know that anxiety is awful. You know how terrible it feels when you worry about what a friend thinks of you, or whether you’re going to get in trouble with your parents for something you did last week. Sitting, waiting, hoping for the best but dreading the worst is a really uncomfortable feeling!
Sometimes our anxieties (or worries) are realistic. We know we’re terrible at Spanish, and we’re having a lot of anxiety about taking the next Spanish test. Or, we know we did something really stupid at the part Saturday night and we’re dreading our return to school on Monday. This kind of anxiety is realistic and common to the whole human race.
For some of us though, anxiety starts to pervade our thoughts. It becomes this ugly overwhelming emotion that is hard to control. It is often based on things that aren’t very likely. Here are some examples of things I’ve heard teenagers tell me they’ve worried about, but know they shouldn’t worry about: 1) “I’m going to get cancer.” 2) “Everyone in the classroom will stare at me and think I’m an idiot if I raise my hand in class.” 3) “I’m going to fail my test.” 4) “No college will accept me.” 5) “My parents are secretly disappointed in me.” 6) “What if there’s a school shooter?” The list goes on an on. The things people worry about come in all shapes and sizes.
Something I’ve found helpful in the past, and you might like too, is the acronym F.E.A.R. It stands for False Evidence Appearing Real. This is really what gives us anxiety, or fear about a situation. We think there’s evidence proving what we worry about will actually happen. It makes us feel scared and nervous. Most of the time the situation turns out just fine because the evidence we used to support our fear was actually false.
Here’s an example. I once worked with a very bright client who was terrified of giving another class presentation. He felt completely certain all the other students were judging him and secretly laughing at him. When asked to provide evidence that supports his theory, he told me that everyone was looking at him. That’s a great example of false evidence appearing real. Everyone was looking at him, he was right about that! Where he was wrong is the reason everyone was looking at him. They were starting at him because he was in front of the class talking. Once he realized everyone started at each presenter, and stared at the teacher when she was talking, he recognized he had fallen prey to F.E.A.R.
Of course this tool isn’t strong enough to completely overcome all your anxieties. However, it is one example of the kinds of things we think about and work on to cope with adolescent anxiety in therapy. When you realize that many of the things you worry about aren’t totally true, it can sometimes be helpful.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT