Helping Kids Change Stress to Success

In today’s world, trying to succeed is tough enough for adults. Imagine what it can do to those who haven’t reached maturity. 

“The expectations on our teenagers are so high in academics, athletics, and the other extracurricular activities,” said Anna Karen Arwine, LPC-S, Group Executive Director for Connections Wellness Group’s four Tarrant County locations. These lofty expectations and pressures are often self-imposed.”

High-achieving students are prone to packing their days with dual credit or AP level courses, are active in one or more extra-curricular activities, hold part-time employment, and squeeze in time to socialize. Such a tight schedule leaves little room for downtime, making students susceptible to elevated stress levels, which can lead to mental health challenges. This can be especially true in rapidly growing, affluent areas. 

Being a high achiever can be a positive trait. However, as teens’ brains are not fully developed, these pressures can be detrimental. Signs that a teen has been negatively impacted by stress can include increased irritability, extreme sensitivity to comments or criticism, trouble concentrating, intense fear of failure, withdrawal from social activities, and sleep disruptions. 

“We have high achieving teens who are used to succeeding and being the best of the best, but when confronted by something difficult or they don’t achieve at a level they think they should, their entire world begins to crumble,” Arwine said. 

When that happens, anxiety can take over. That is when professional help often is needed. 

“When teens and their families come to us, we work together to help them recognize these unrealistic expectations and help them accept that it’s okay to not be okay, to not be the best at everything,” Arwine said.

“We’re all insecure at times. Just because you didn’t get a certain grade in a class or say something in a certain way doesn’t mean you are a failure. It doesn’t mean you won’t get into the college you want. It doesn’t mean you are a terrible athlete. It doesn’t mean your family would be better off without you.”

Whether self-induced or due to pressure from family or friends, the thought of having to be the best or better than others is not always healthy. It creates pressures that teenagers do not need to be experiencing. 

“All kids need time to rest. Their bodies need time to rest. Their brains need time to do nothing,” Arwine said. “It’s okay to be bored. It forces us to learn how to manage in uncomfortable situations.” 

To address these issues, Connections Wellness Group employs strategies ranging from individual and family therapy to medication/dietary management to an intensive 8-10 weekday-treatment program. 

Referrals can come from school counselors, doctors and other medical personnel, parents, or the kids themselves. Sometimes when parents bring their children in to address one stressor event, counselors discover other things bothering them – things their parents may not even know about. 

“We are a team. We ask our parents to regularly communicate their concerns so we can add that to the child’s side of the story,” Arwine said. 

Fortunately, today’s youth are more attuned to mental health issues than previous generations. 

“Tik-Tok and other social media apps like it have brought greater awareness of the reality that many folks are struggling with anxiety and depression,” said Vianey Reinhardt, LPC, and Connection Wellness Group’s Divisional Director of Business Development. “Sometimes it’s significant enough that it becomes a disruption to your daily living while at other times it’s something less complex such as, ‘how do I deal with this particular stress in my life right now?’ It’s made it more acceptable to talk about. Our youth are much more comfortable talking about their mental health struggles. There’s less shame associated with it.

“This has become our new reality and part of that reality is that support and help is available for families dealing with these valleys of life. Coping is something that can be done alone but is so much easier when you have someone there to walk alongside you on your journey to wellness.”

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