Middle School in particular is a unique and trying time for kids. It encompasses an incredibly important time of growth and development for children’s bodies and brains; physical changes alone can cause internal distress for kids, as middle schoolers want to fit in. As a result, they have increased awareness of anything that makes them feel different, and that might make them stand out to their peers. In addition, the adolescent brain is undergoing an intense period of “reconstruction”--growth and development of brain cells that can cause increased and intense emotions.
Other external factors that contribute to increased anxiety in middle schoolers include increased academic and social pressure. Harder classes, more homework, and increased autonomy with managing the accompanying responsibility is a natural and necessary part of growing up, but adds to the stress that adolescents may be feeling. Social connection is a key part of adolescent development, and kids may experience internal turmoil as they navigate forming new friendships and maintaining or possibly leaving childhood friendships behind. This can be further complicated by social media, the primary way kids connect with each other outside of school. While there are benefits to social media, there are also downfalls. Kids have access to each other 24 hours a day--there is no “off” button. As a result, they may feel the pressure of needing to be “on” at all times. They are acutely aware of their peers’ activities and whereabouts, given aspects of technology that allow them to track one another. And with the ability to hide behind the screen, cyberbullying has become more prevalent and has a significant negative impact on kids who are targeted.
No wonder Middle Schoolers are stressed!
Often, symptoms of anxiety may manifest physically, which is a powerful indicator of the mind-body connection. Many adolescents develop headaches, stomach aches, nausea, and dizziness. They know they don’t feel well, but can’t pinpoint the reason why. They don’t think they’re nervous; in fact most of the time if you ask a student, are you worried about anything? Do you think that might be why you have a stomach ache? They immediately say no, they’re not worried. Or yes, they do have a test, but they studied and are prepared. Yet, that stomach ache is still present, still causing a LOT of discomfort. It looks a lot like sickness; their brain can’t wrap itself around feeling nervous, when what they really feel is a bad stomach ache.
So what can we do? A good starting point is helping students identify whether their physical symptoms could be related to stress or anxiety. Research has shown that relaxation techniques, such as meditation or mindfulness, can reduce both the mental and physical symptoms of anxiety. There are many apps available today that are helpful to establish these practices. If you have concerns about your child, reach out to someone. Your child’s doctor, as well as school resources (school counselors and school nurses) can provide additional information and support.
For additional strategies to reduce anxiety: https://www.verywellmind.com/tips-to-reduce-stress-3145195
Submitted by Jamie von Freymann RN