At one point or another, everyone experiences the crippling sensation of anxiety — however, for some individuals, the harrowing symptoms occur consistently and without warning.
Anxiety, by definition, is marked by sharp feelings of nervousness, unease, and fear of future events or unexpected outcomes. People who suffer from anxiety attacks undergo heavy breathing, shaking, loss of control, lightheadedness and waves of panic.
“I had an anxiety attack when I was young and going through puberty,” senior Naudia Lopez said. “I had no idea what changes were going through my body while I was panicking; it felt like I couldn’t breathe or walk, and I felt like throwing up.”
Although there are a variety of factors that cause anxiety, it is often considered a product of one’s brain chemistry. According to the website “Medical News Today,” people with abnormal levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain are more likely to suffer from generalized anxiety disorder.
Additionally, if one’s neurotransmitters fail to work properly, the internal communication of the brain begins to break down, causing the brain to react inappropriately in certain situations — this can ultimately result in anxiety.
Many students are unaware that anxiety, depression and other mental illness are linked to a small set of neurons located in their brains called the amygdala. The amygdala controls intense emotions and emotional behavior.
The problem with an adolescent brain is that the amygdala and middle brain is not fully connected with the frontal lobe — the part of the brain that handles the rationality, long-term decision making and social behaviors.
“Your frontal lobe goes through one of the strongest growth spurts at this time period [teenage years], and is not finished depending on the person up to age 25,” psychology teacher Lana Gentry said. “It’s based on when you start puberty.”
If the amygdala is not fully connected to the frontal lobe, then teens don’t have that second part that comes in and calms them down when they are “losing it.”
“When I first started driving, the nervousness and pressure took over,” senior Chris Mak said. “I had no control over the wheel.”
Anxiety can also be triggered by traumatic events and personal issues in a teen’s life. Difficulties in school, family issues, financial troubles, and relationship problems cause an abundance of stress for teens. The result is frequent anxiety and even panic attacks.
“I had a ton of homework,” junior Daniel Barajas said. “I didn’t have time, I started panicking. I was just over thinking ‘what if I don’t get stuff done.’”
The media and society can also breed and contribute to anxiety, as teens find it overwhelming to conform to the idealistic standards of attraction and perfection.
“I think it’s ridiculous that teenagers set themselves to a certain standard,” senior Andre Albino said. “These ‘standards’ are what provokes anxiety because they feel as if they don’t fit in with what’s seen in the media.”
“Society is a lot more chaotic,” BCHS school psychologist Jennifer Shirron agreed. “People are juggling too much nowadays.”
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, a survey reported, “about 8 percent of teens ages 13-18 have an anxiety disorder, with symptoms commonly emerging around age 6…only 18 percent received mental health care.”
Gentry and Shirron agree that both the brain and how one is raised contribute to anxiety. However, Gentry leans toward the biological reasons behind anxiety, taking note of the various studies and research done to provide evidence that the adolescent brain remains undeveloped.
“True anxiety, it’s a neurochemical thing and you can’t really control your brain functioning,” Shirron agreed. “You do have a biological predisposition but environmental factors come into play as well.”
Teens can manage and cope with anxiety in a variety of ways. When feeling overwhelmed, seeking help from someone can provide relief and solace. Individuals can also take an hour out of their day and partake in activities that calm them down such as sports, walking, writing, or simply getting enough sleep.
So Bruins, during times of agonizing stress, take a moment to take a deep breath. Breathe in and breathe out. Repeat.