Background Information

Anxiety is a natural emotion experience by everyone. However, anxiety can sometimes become an unhealthy response. Research shows that there is a significant increase in the prevalence of anxiety among teens. The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) notes that sometimes, anxiety can become chronic, interfering with a teen’s ability to attend school and perform academically. Research also shows that chronic anxiety can lead to serious mental health issues―depression, substance use, and even suicide (American Academy of Pediatrics).

The National Institute of Health highlights the following statistics regarding U.S. adolescents aged 13-18:

  • An estimated 31.9% of adolescents had any anxiety disorder.
  • Of adolescents with any anxiety disorder, an estimated 8.3% had severe impairment.
  • The prevalence of any anxiety disorder among adolescents was higher for females (38.0%) than for males (26.1%).

There are various causes for the rise of anxiety seen in youth. The American Academy of Pediatrics highlights some of these causes below:

  • High expectations and pressure to succeed. Between standardized testing and a culture of achievement, today's youth can feel pressure to succeed in ways previous generations did not.
  • A world that feels scary and threatening. We've seen an increase in school shootings, with resultant drills and lockdowns in schools. We've seen shootings in public places. There have been terrorist attacks here in the US and around the world taking many lives. From just watching or reading the news, it is reasonable for anyone to feel afraid in public spaces that previously might have felt safe.
  • Social media. Today's children and teens are constantly connected to social media. It's not surprising that their self-esteem―and worldview ―becomes connected to responses to social media posts. It's hard for them not to compare their life and social connections to what they see others posting on social media.

Best Practices and Implications for Professional Practice

Anxiety can look different for each student. However, the AACAP notes that general symptoms include excessive fears and worries, restlessness, and extreme stress. There are ways to help students facing the challenge of anxiety. The American Academy of Pediatrics provides these practices to help:

  • Be aware of the signs of anxiety. Sometimes children may say that they are anxious, but other times it is less clear―especially as they may not even realize it themselves. Signs can include:
    • Recurring fears and worries about routine parts of everyday life
    • Changes in behavior, such as irritability o Avoiding activities, school, or social interactions
    • Dropping grades or school avoidance
    • Trouble sleeping or concentrating
    • Substance use or other risky behaviors
    • Chronic physical complaints, such as fatigue, headaches, or stomachaches.
  • Talk with kids about potential stressors. Try to see the world the way they do—and help them to keep perspective and find ways to cope.
  • Be mindful of the expectations being set for children and teens. High expectations can help children reach their potential, but they need to be realistic ones. Remember that children and youth need time to relax, play, and be with friends—all of which are crucial for their social, emotional, mental, and physical health. It's also important for all of us to remember achievement is only one part of a healthy balanced lfe.
  • Talk with kids about their social media use. Help them take breaks—and help them think critically and rationally about the effect of social media on their lives. See How to Connect with Your Teen about Smart & Safe Media Use.

Suggested Resources

Safe2Help Illinois Website Resources:

  • 99 Coping Skills lists 99 skills students may use to manages moments of high anxiety.
  • Depression This resource provides common symptoms of depression and actions youth can take in getting help.
  • Your Safety Your Plan Worksheet This worksheet allows students to think through things that makes them sad and/or anxious and create an action plan for coping with these feelings.

Other Resources:

Sample Classroom Strategies

IL SEL Standards:

  • Goal 1: Develop self-awareness and self-management skills to achieve school and life success.
  • Goal 2: Use social-awareness and interpersonal skills to establish and maintain positive relationships.
  • Goal 3: Demonstrate decision-making skills and responsible behaviors in personal, school, and community contexts.


These activities can be used to address the Illinois SEL Standards.

a. Classroom Prevention and Intervention Teachers can employ a variety of activities to help prevent test anxiety in their classroom as well as address concerns students may have with taking tests. Many of these activities can be used on any given day in the classroom, and these strategies can be adapted and utilized for all developmental levels of students.

  • Morning Meetings- Morning meetings can be used by teachers to implement an environment of safety and prevent an environment of anxiety.
  • Mindfulness- Learning mindfulness skills can:
    • Bring teens into the present moment through a reduction of focus on the past or future and more attention on the here and now;
    • Reduce rumination, “distorted” thinking, worries, negative self-talk, and judgments;
    • Increase letting go, empathy, patience, being with what is, and kindness toward self and others; and
    • Help focus on the self-regulation of attention, thoughts, and emotions.

b. Coping Skills- Anxiety

  • This activity helps students question the thoughts that contribute to anxiety. Ask:
    • “Is my thought based on facts or feelings?”
    • “How would my best friend see this situation?”
    • “How likely is it that my fear will come true?”
    • “What’s most likely to happen?”
    • “If my fear comes true, will it still matter in a week? A month? A year?”