Feeling anxious is as much a part of adolescence as first dates, final exams and acne, to name just three perennial sources of teenage anxiety. In a 1999 survey of eight thousand young people, conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan, two-thirds claimed they felt stressed out at least once a week; one-third reported being on edge at least once a day.
Anxiety is a normal reaction to the stresses of life. A case of the jitters isn’t necessarily harmful; in fact, it can spur us to be at our best. Ordinarily, stressful situations prompt a flurry of brain and hormonal activities, in what is called the fight-or-flight response. Body systems mobilize to meet the challenge, and a person feels more alert, focused and energetic.
An anxiety disorder, by contrast, can be incapacitating. It is an illness, one that frequently runs in families. The anxiety may be overwhelming—and at times terrifying—or it may be relatively mild but incessant, often with no apparent cause. A young person has nearly a one-in-seven chance of developing an anxiety disorder, which is the most common mental health condition among all age groups.