Have you ever wondered what anxiety is? We have all experienced it to an extent, some worse than others. It often starts with overestimating the likelihood of a bad situation.
I will give an example from my personal life. When I finished college I went out and got my first “career job.” I put that in quotes because it was the first job related to my field of study, and I saw it as a place I could possibly work for years. About four weeks after I began, my direct supervisor stepped down and an interim supervisor was put in place. As management started to settle into place, it became clear that the department head was a micromanager; she was also condescending and cold. As someone new to the staff, and as someone who has always confronted challenges in a personable manner, I struggled with the department head’s style. It got to the point where I had intense anxiety and dread course through my body every time I saw her extension on my caller ID. That progressed into me flinching whenever my phone rang because it might be her. She kind of reminded me of Cruella Deville (a very stylish dresser, but self-serving).
At home I began to think about work all the time. I started to hate my chosen profession. I began to search for ways to avoid the situation that I found so untenable. Worst of all were my beliefs about my future. I felt certain “Cruella” would fire or suspend me for any minor infraction or patient complaint. Given that I was working with drug addicts in their first days of detox, people whose physical misery means they do not tend to be a happy bunch), a complaint was inevitable. The point is, my fear of the worst case scenario was causing intense anxiety. Of course this fear never came to light.
If you find you or your teen is experiencing anxiety, then it is time to evaluate whether you are overestimating the likelihood of the worst case scenario. Try to understand that people are not good at predicting the future, and neither are you. While the worst case scenario could occur, whatever you are fearing will probably end up being just another mundane experience. How many times have you assumed something would turn out so badly that you just couldn’t bear it? And yet, you’re still here! Now we even call those times “growing experiences.”
Try very hard to examine EVERY possible outcome. While your teenage son might have intense anxiety that he will get an F on his next history exam, help him realize he also might get a D, C, B or even an A. Help him know that somehow others have passed this teacher’s class. You believe he will find a way to pass too. Remind him of all the times he thought he’d earn a horrible grade, but didn’t.
I worked with a girl for a long time who was certain she would never get accepted into any college. She thought her GPA was too low and her SAT scores were mediocre at best. In fact, her grades were a little above average and her SAT score was a little bit above average too. She was so surprised when she was accepted into 6 out of the 9 schools she applied to, and the one she chose even offered her a 75% tuition scholarship based on her grades. She just couldn’t believe it! Looking back she realizes she was terrible at predicting the future because her anxiety made her certain the worst-case scenario would come true.
Help your teenager look at the situation he is facing and be much more realistic about the possible outcomes; it will probably be better than he thinks.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT