Anxiety in Adolescence: Expert Tips from a College Psychologist

Amongst the fluctuating rhythms of adolescence, it is crucial to emphasise the significance of mental health on par with academic accomplishments and extracurricular engagements. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS, 2022) illuminates this concern through its findings, which identify anxiety as the most prevalent disorder, impacting 17.2% of the population between the ages of 16- 85. In this blog, we chat with Sarah Hmood, College Psychologist, as she shares her knowledge on coping with anxiety and stress, alongside sharing her recommended strategies.

About Sarah

Sarah is a provisionally registered psychologist, and is currently undergoing training via the Psychology Board of Australia’s 4+2 Internship program. Joining Santa Maria College in June 2023, she holds a Bachelor of Honours in Psychology from the University of Western Australia. With a wealth of experience spanning various age groups, she specialises in anxiety, trauma, and eating disorders. Intrigued by human behaviour since her early years, Sarah finds immense satisfaction in being the primary support for students throughout their school day, addressing issues ranging from stress, anxiety and friendship conflicts.

In her leisure time, Sarah indulges in baking, tackling intricate 1000+ piece puzzles, and embarking on holidays to explore the world around her.

What are some of the first signs of stress and anxiety, and what coping strategies do you recommend for managing these emotions?

Some really common signs of anxiety and stress are difficulty focusing, changes in your sleep, changes in your diet, motivation for things you used to enjoy, feeling on edge or easily irritable, fidgeting and feelings of a sore stomach or tight chest. 

Managing anxiety and stress can be different depending on how long you’ve been experiencing it, the intensity of your symptoms and the cause. Some great immediate coping strategies are: 

Breathing exercises: There are so many of these, but a simple one to start would be slowly breathing in and even more slowly breathing out for about 1 minute. 

Muscle relaxation – Practicing consciously tensing, then relaxing different muscles in the body. Taking time out from what you are doing and spending some time doing a safe activity that you enjoy. 

From your perspective, what are some prevalent psychological challenges or issues that today’s students commonly face?

Today’s students are dealing with a much more rapidly changing world than we have ever seen before. Social media is still one of the biggest contributors to psychological challenges we see among students. Constant exposure to images and videos, ideals, and stereotypes puts so much self-image pressures on today’s high school students and leading to other issues such as anxiety and depression. Having constant access to friends can increase the chances of friendship conflicts, as well as the pressures to perform at certain levels to peers. 

How does incorporating mindfulness practices aid in reducing stress levels among students?

Mindfulness does a great job at fostering wellbeing by encouraging inner peace, resilience, and a greater sense of satisfaction with life. By incorporating mindfulness practices, students can support themselves in reducing their body’s stress response and instead activating the body’s relaxation response. These practices enhance self-awareness, emotional regulation, and concentration, providing students with effective coping strategies to manage academic pressure and daily stressors. 

Which mindfulness techniques are your favourite for students to incorporate?

There are so many! But my go-to’s are:

  • Body Scan: This is a type of meditation where you are practising bringing attention to each part of your body, noticing any sensations without judgment. This practice enhances body awareness and helps students release tension held in their muscles. YouTube has some great videos to get you started!
  • Mindful Walking: This one is great because it can be done between classes. Mindfully walk to your next class by paying close attention to each step you take, the sensations in your feet, and the movements of your body.
  • Mindful Eating: Practicing mindful eating involves paying full attention to the taste, texture, and smell of the food, as well as the act of chewing and swallowing.

In what ways can students seamlessly integrate mindfulness into their daily routines? 

Practising mindful walking in between classes or mindful eating during lunch or recess can be a great start and doesn’t require a lot of your time.

Are there any mindfulness apps or resources specifically designed to cater to the needs of students?

Check out the SMC Wellness Connect tile on Seqta for some more resources on mindfulness and many others.

Smiling Mind is a free and easy to use app for anyone wanting to have a go at some mindfulness exercises.
Calm is also a great app that uses mindfulness techniques that are easy-to-follow.

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