Middle school is a particularly significant phase in one’s development where teens build social skills and develop personal interests that help them discover who they are, however, it is also a prime environment for social pressure and social anxiety. Between hormonal changes, budding romantic interest, and an increased workload, many middle school girls struggle to feel like they fit in and may develop significant anxiety around these stressors.
We expect children to feel scared when faced with a new situation or when asked to do something by themselves, but when your child is worried all the time or when their anxiety is disproportionate to a particular situation, they might be struggling with an anxiety disorder.
If your teen’s anxiety is leading to social withdrawal and academic struggles, reaching out for professional help can help them challenge their fears and learn to better manage their stress.
The guide is meant to be comprehensive, but as such, not every section will be applicable to everyone. Instead, we invite you to click on the links in the table of contents to jump to the sections that most interest you.
What is Anxiety?
Most kids are seen as carefree and only develop a sense of cautiousness as they begin to understand consequences of some actions; however anxiety is becoming more common among younger children due to the pressure they’re under. They may either be self-conscious or care too much about what other people think or have specific phobias of animals, social situations, or death. Anxiety is based on a fear of something, but is expressed through physical symptoms. Some people may have panic attacks when they become overwhelmed with anxiety, while others may shut down emotionally, or talk in circles to defend why they are anxious. Anxiety is usually associated with ruminating about the past or worrying about the future.
Signs of Anxiety in Young Girls
Anxiety is typically characterized by persistent worrying, but it can be harder to pick up on signs of anxiety in younger girls if they struggle to articulate their thoughts and feelings. Often, children who express frequent physical complaints or seem withdrawn may be struggling with underlying anxiety.
- Expresses fears about a variety of situations
- Not being able to move on from the thing they are worrying about
- Being overly self-critical
- Suddenly avoiding social situations
- Difficulty participating in class and interacting with peers
- Needing constant validation or seeking approval
- Fear of being alone
- Trouble sleeping or nightmares
- Nail biting or skin picking
- Low self esteem
What’s the Difference Between Fear and Anxiety?
Anxiety and fear may be interrelated, but these feelings arise for different reasons.
Fear is usually a response to a specific situation or anticipation of negative events. It is a common universal emotion that arises when worrying about life transitions, watching scary movies, or getting into a confrontation or argument. Many children have specific fears about certain situations that they overcome through experience.
What are the Causes of Anxiety in Girls?
Anxiety is experienced differently by every individual and may appear differently depending on the situation. Some people experience anxiety as consistent hyperarousal, while others experience it in association with worrying about specific events. Family history of anxiety and adverse childhood events play a significant role in the development of anxiety disorders.
Types of Anxiety Disorders:
- Generalized Anxiety refers to ongoing, underlying self-doubt and hypervigilance that does not discriminate in situations
- Social Anxiety refers to uneasiness, insecurity, and fears in social situations and close relationships
- School Anxiety refers to specific fears about going to school that often reflect academic struggles, social struggles, and low self-esteem
- Performance Anxiety refers to specific fears about public speaking, in front of a crowd or even a small group based on low confidence
- Separation Anxiety stems from bullying or attachment issues with parents, related to a fear of abandonment or rejection
- Panic involves sudden, intense episodes of anxiety that result in full shut-downs, but may not include general anxiety between episodes
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Many people with PTSD also struggle with generalized anxiety, but anxiety related to trauma is specific to triggers that remind them of experiencing or witnessing an intensely stressful event.
- A symptom of Depression. Anxiety is often listed as a symptom of depression, as anxious thoughts can lead to feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness.
When Does Your Daughter Need Treatment for Anxiety?
Most teens are anxious at one point or another in their lives, but there is a difference between situational anxiety and a clinical disorder. People with anxiety disorders are more likely to experience panic attacks brought on by intense anxiety. The terms panic attack and anxiety attack are used interchangeably, but they are not the same. The physical symptoms often overlap, however anxiety attacks often build up after periods of obsessive and ruminating thoughts.
Types of Therapy
As anxiety is experienced both emotionally and physically, a clinical model that uses both traditional talk therapy and experiential therapy is a more effective way of treating the big picture of anxiety symptoms. Therapeutic boarding schools offer innovative therapeutic techniques, like recreation activities, mindfulness practice, and lifestyle changes that are difficult to implement in an outpatient setting. Our clinical model involves collaboration with the academic and residential teams to identify opportunities for growth.
Asheville Academy’s licensed therapists specialize in addressing school refusal, depression, anxiety, family conflict, low self-esteem, relationship issues using a variety of therapeutic modalities:
- Compassion-Focused Therapy. All of our therapists take a person-centered, strengths-based approach to working with young people
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy involves identifying negative beliefs that contribute to feelings of anxiety, discussing how those beliefs have been shaped, and challenging those negative thoughts
- Dialectical Behavioral Therapy teaches students a variety of coping skills to apply to different situations
- Neurofeedback targets brain waves in order to regulate brain activity and improve executive functioning
- Animal therapy is offered on campus with horses and other barn animals where students practice regulating their emotions in order to connect with the animals
- Group Therapy helps students practice relationship skills, like active listening and effective communication, and develop close relationships with their peers, which helps reduce social anxiety
- Play Therapy is a useful intervention for this age group to help them express themselves in creative ways–through activities in individual sessions and gteam building games
- Family Systems Therapy addresses how your child’s anxiety has been influenced by and has impacted your family dynamic
How Do Therapeutic Boarding Schools, like Asheville Academy,Help Girls Struggling with Anxiety?
Asheville Academy for girls uses a multidisciplinary approach to help teens with anxiety. Having a relationship-based milieu, daily mindfulness activities, and trauma-sensitive equine assisted therapy are just a few of the ways we help students learn to regulate their anxiety as well as increase self awareness of how anxiety impacts their mood, behavior, and relationships. We believe that therapy shouldn’t end when your child leaves a formal session with their therapist. Instead, everything we do from our school curriculum to daily activities to our residential milieu help them advance towards their next milestone.
Individualized Attention in Small Classrooms
By offering small class sizes, we can reduce academic anxiety by offering students more individualized instruction and opportunities to address their academic needs in an appropriate and compassionate way. Our goal is to help students discover how they learn best and focus on empowering them to succeed based on their strengths.
Psychiatry services are available for students that may need medications to manage their anxiety. While anxiety is felt on a physiological level, we acknowledge that our belief systems perpetuate feelings of anxiety. We help students reduce their symptoms of anxiety by addressing underlying core beliefs that are holding the student back, in order to build self esteem and perseverance in their goals.
By taking a holistic approach to managing anxiety that addresses underlying causes, therapeutic boarding schools work on setting middle school girls up for long term success. Adolescents that learn social and emotional skills and study skills at a younger age are more prepared to manage the stresses of high school without becoming overwhelmed by anxiety.