Anxiety with Beginning High School

Starting high school is similar to starting a new chapter in your life. There is so much independence and responsibility that comes with maintaining grades, social interactions, etc. and it is normal to feel stressed over it. Langley was renovated a couple years ago, and the building is quite large so being a small freshman in the "big sea" can be overwhelming. As you progress in grade levels, you become more aware of the building and where your classes are. For me, by junior year, I know the building pretty well since I've had classes in various locations and in different nooks and hallways in the building. I know when it was time for me to start high school I was extremely stressed out. At the time I had a sister who would be a senior when I was a freshman, and I also asked my guidance counselor for help. Because I was so anxious, I worked with my sister, school counselor, and another teacher at Langley to try and come up with some strategies to somewhat relieve the anxiety. It didn't mean that my anxiety went away, but it was less heightened, which made me feel more at ease since I had been practicing certain things in advance before the first day of freshman year. Some of those suggestions included:

  • Before starting the school year, walk around the school using both your Green and Gold day schedules. Do both at least once, just to get a feel for the distances you might have between classes

  • While walking around, take note of where the gym(s), library, main office, cafeteria, etc. are​ located

  • At the beginning of each school day, there is a 5 minute bell before your first period class. It sounds the same as the bell(s) signifying the beginning and end of the classes throughout the day. If you hear a bell don't freak out, since it most likely is not the beginning of class bell, especially if you are in a popular area where there are a lot of other students

  • Be sure to know who your counselor is and how to get in contact with them if necessary. I attached a link below that provides which counselor you are assigned to based on your last name. You keep the same counselor for all 4 years, which allows them to get to know you better and build a relationship with. From personal experience, you are always able to go to your counselor at any point during the school day, whether because you need help with something, you are overwhelmed and need to calm down and take a short break, etc. Even if your assigned counselor is not available, somebody will be and you can go to them, there's no rule saying you can't. The only reason why the counselors are assigned is to differentiate the various last names and make it more organized. All of the counselors, as well as the staff at Langley are able and happy to help you.

  • If you have a friend(s) in your upcoming class, walk to class together and talk with one another

  • I Highly recommend joining a club or sport at Langley. It alleviates stress, make new friends, and have fun. There is even a special day called club day every September dedicated for students to learn about clubs and to sign up

You might've heard an upperclassman complain about the 25-minute runs in P.E. They are similar to the Ticket Runs that Cooper held, but more frequent. Once every week, freshman and sophomores are required to do the 25-minute run on the track outside. Each quarter of the school year, the number of laps increase, starting at 7 and going to 9. In the 25-minute time period, it is expected that you run the certain number of laps. The 5-minute runs are about 10 points each, and the number of laps that you do is your score. A lot of people just end up walking or talking with friends, and usually don't end up making the deadline. Anyway, this was a major source of anxiety for me, and now as a Junior, I can see that they make it a bigger deal than it actually is. Walk/run with your friends, it makes a big difference in distracting yourself. And what I did, ignore the clock. Just run/jog as much as you can and do your best, the teachers will appreciate that.

Additionally, I am lucky enough to have different resources at my fingertips. In order to give a better spectrum of anxiety, I have asked one of my therapists to explain the different types of anxiety present, and ways to work around. Below are some tips and information from her.

  • Stretching your body can relieve unknown tension while making you feel replenished

  • While you are waiting for your next class to begin, use the "Calm" app and do a quick breathing or mindfulness exercise. You can choose from different lengths of exercises and lay your head down on the desk

  • Don't be on your phone in between classes; either talk to friends, or use mindfulness to look around the room

  • Mindfulness: Maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, through a gentle, nurturing lens.

  • Listen to music, especially calm and relaxing music with little to no words stimulates your brain and relaxes it

  • On warmer days, have lunch in the courtyard, and listen to the nature and sounds around you not coming from other people

Anxiety and Adolescents

According to the National Institutes of Health, nearly 1 in 3 adolescents ages 13 to 18 will experience an anxiety disorder. These numbers have been rising; between 2007 and 2012, anxiety disorders in kids and teens went up 20%.

What things are causing this increase? Some include:

  • Today’s culture of high achievement and expectations, particularly prevalent in northern Virginia,

  • A world that at times can feel scary and out of control with mass shootings, non-stop negative news, now a pandemic

  • Social media dominating teens’ experiences, with constant comparisons and pressure.

Even without these influences, for some adolescents, “normal” experiences like going to school, attending a party, going on a field trip, talking to friends, interacting with teachers, ordering in a restaurant and more, can create discomfort – both emotionally and physically.

So, what exactly is anxiety?

Anxiety is our body’s normal reaction to stressful situations or perceived danger. Dubbed the “fight or flight response,” anxiety can help us jump out of the way of a speeding car, stay focused when needed, study for an exam, perform our best in sporting events, etc. Normal anxiety comes and goes in an expected way and helps us do what we need to do. Anxiety becomes a problem when it feels overwhelming or unmanageable, comes up unexpectedly, and impacts healthy daily living.

The components of problem anxiety include

· Physical responses to the anxiety including increased heart rate, sweating, stomach upset, shaking, etc.

· Distorted thoughts that become a source of excessive worry

· Behavioral changes, such as avoidance, that impact the usual way a person lives life and interacts with others

Problem anxiety may lead to or reflect an anxiety disorder. There are a number of different types of anxiety disorders that affect teens.


Social Anxiety Disorder

Social anxiety disorder is a bit of a misnomer because it isn’t just about social situations. People with social anxiety have an intense fear of being judged or evaluated. This can range from worrying that wearing particular clothing may cause people to judge them, to fears of handing in a test because the teacher might think they didn’t study, to feeling unable to eat in front of others. Social anxiety can create strong urges to avoid situations in which the anxiety might be present. Some people believe that teens with social anxiety are “just shy,” but the intensity of the fears of embarrassment, worry about what others are thinking, and levels of avoidance far exceed that of shyness.

Specific Phobias

A specific phobia is an intense fear of – or aversion to – specific objects or situations, for example, dogs or heights. The fear of the phobia is out of proportion to any actual danger that might be caused by encountering the situation or object. People with phobias go out of their way to avoid the subject of their phobia and may worry about it much of the time.

Panic Disorder

People with panic disorder have unexpected, recurrent panic attacks. A panic attack is a period of intense fear that comes on suddenly, most often with uncomfortable physical symptoms such as sweating, heart palpitations, trembling or shaking, shortness of breath, feelings of being out of control. People with panic disorder worry about when the next panic attack will happen and may actively avoid places, situations, or behaviors they associate with the attacks.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Generalized anxiety is not linked to specific situations or fears. It is ongoing, excessive worrying about several areas of life or about the future. People feel worried much of the time about what might go wrong or may feel tense without knowing what they are worried about. People who experience generalized anxiety often use the word “dread” to describe the experience.


Post-traumatic stress disorder is a set of symptoms that occur in response to experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event. Traumatic event risk factors include experiences that feel emotionally overwhelming, are unexpected, occur during childhood, create feelings of helplessness, occur when one is dealing with other instances of trauma or other major stressors. Symptoms of PTSD may include re-experiencing (flashbacks), nightmares, heightened startle response, self-blame, irritability, and other negative emotions that negatively impact daily life.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

People with OCD have thoughts, urges, or images that won’t leave them alone. The thoughts are intrusive and some common examples include: excessive concerns about exactness or symmetry, worry about germs and contamination, fear of causing harm to self or others, unwanted sexual or violent thoughts, concerns about morality or offending God, fears of losing control and acting on negative impulses, recurring thoughts about existence or death. These thoughts (obsessions) may be combined with actions (compulsions) that attempt to reduce the distress of the obsession. These include: excessive hand-washing, repeating activities or counting, mentally reviewing a situation over and over, mentally reassuring oneself or asking others for reassurance that things (or they) are ok, excessively checking that a mistake was not made, rearranging until things feel “right.”

Trichotillomania and Dermatillomania

These disorders are thought to be a subset of OCD and are called body-focused repetitive behaviors. Trichotillomania is compulsive hair pulling from anywhere on the body. Dermatillomania is compulsive skin-picking. People who suffer from these disorders may experience intense shame and distress as well as negative self-esteem. Both of these conditions may be the result of a genetic predisposition for creating habits that become self-reinforcing.

Okay, so I think I may have an anxiety disorder. What can I do to get help?

Anxiety disorders are treatable! Often treatment starts with seeing your primary care doctor who may recommend seeing a therapist who works with people who have anxiety disorders. Therapy alone may be enough, or the therapist may recommend a trial of medicine in conjunction with therapy.

Some things you can do to help right now if anxiety is a problem.

  • Tell a parent or trusted adult like a school counselor

  • Try to get enough sleep – lack of sleep makes anxiety worse

  • Exercise! Exercise has shown to be tremendously effective in reducing symptoms of anxiety

  • Practice deep breathing and meditation

  • Do things you enjoy

  • Try to challenge anxious thoughts

  • Stay connected to others

  • Don’t despair – seek treatment