These days it seems everyone is in a panic. From young to old there is too much scary stimuli out there. Some kinds of panic stem from our mammalian fight or flight response. Others are more intense, more like a freeze response. Let’s see what teens and young adults can do about this paralyzing dilemma…

  1. A teen told me she panics at trying new things.  This keeps her very isolated and understandably anxious. What’s a teen to do when her friends are all going out, living their lives, even getting into trouble, while she sits in her room on her phone?  For one thing, it seems teens are learning phone etiquette instead of actual social etiquette. These are two different things.  This article states, “Nothing replaces the once-in-a-lifetime experiences and memories made in college, and believe it or not, even with modern technology, those moments and feelings can’t be tweeted, Facebooked or emailed.”
  2. Performance Anxiety – this is when you have to get up in front of people and you seem to just wither.  A great article on this describes how a musician (could be athletes as well) teaches you how to “center” yourself so that your performance USES the anxiety to greater effect; channeling it, instead of denying or suppressing it.
  3. Panic at the past, panic at the future.  This is when you are so scared you can barely risk trying.  Ever heard of, no pain no gain?  Or fake it till you make it?  Or whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?  Young people seem to have an aversion to failure before they’ve even tried.  They expect themselves to be perfect right out of the gate.  Don’t they know that all good things take time, practice?  They fall behind their peers when they don’t break through disappointment.  They lose out on important, if not crucial, life lessons by denying themselves a chance to learn.  You cannot learn if you don’t make mistakes.  This is axiomatic to growing up. But if you’ve lived your childhood in fear and shame, it’s hard to catch up later.  Loss of a love or a desire or a goal makes you human.  The despair feels like you’re going to die. But then you don’t!

Perfectionism, Generalized Anxiety, and Social Anxiety

Because of these things, perfectionism is associated with serious mental health problems, including various anxiety disorders. Two types of anxiety disorders commonly associated with the belief that nothing is ever good enough are generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and social anxiety disorder.

In GAD, the fear of failure or of not being good enough creates crippling worry over many aspects of someone’s life. Am I doing this right? Am I good enough to get the scholarship/promotion/raise? Will I get fired? Will I get into a good enough school? Will I succeed in life, or will I fail?

In social anxiety disorder, perfectionism causes people to worry excessively about being judged by others. Further, perfectionists tend to experience high anxiety about embarrassing themselves in front of others. And because the fear that they’re not good enough is strong, perfectionists can suffer crippling social anxiety.

I had a client who was afraid to cross a bridge.  She tried and tried.  When she finally broke through, her panic disappeared.  I believe a component of panic is holding in trauma.  And the research bears this out.  Whenever we are holding something inside us the body constricts over time.  The end result can manifest as physical illness or psychological despair.  Finding ways to release this through group therapy, yoga, DBT, mindfulness training, CBT or complementary therapies are all valid.  The great news about panic is that it’s fixable!

So take a deep breath in and out.  Release all worry.  You are good enough.