How to Deal with School When You’re a Depressed or Anxious Teen?

Person standing in front of school bus

It’s a common trope that you’re supposed to be moody and stressed out as a teen, but for many of us, any “normal” angst turns into serious problems when combined with anxiety or depression. In fact, according to one study, up to 20 percent of teenagers experience depression, while other research found almost 32 percent of teens suffer anxiety.

Of course, school is a major stressor. It takes up your entire day, then requires long hours spent on homework or extracurricular activities. For most teens, school is a requirement — if not exactly required by law, then at least required by the parents or people you depend on. Anxiety or depression make school an even greater challenge.

How Depression and Anxiety Affect Teens at School

When checking in on yourself to make sure depression and anxiety aren’t affecting your performance at school, here are the major signs to look out for.

Irritability/Anger

As your patience wears thin, it gets difficult to deal with kids you don’t like or put up with teachers hounding you. Irritability can make you lash out at teachers or other kids.

Self-esteem problems

If you’re filled with self-doubt, it’s tough to get through the day or your work that revolves around achievement. You’re expected to perform well in class, in sports, or in social situations. If you criticize yourself constantly, being “always on” at school feels overwhelming.

Decreased motivation

When you’re feeling down and tired, it’s hard to make yourself do things you don’t want to do. Grades and attendance can suffer.

Sleep problems

Sleep disturbance is common with both anxiety and depression, making it hard to focus in class, think clearly and quickly, and keep up with your multiple responsibilities.

Perfectionism

Especially for anxious teens, the need to be perfect can affect everything you do. You begin to expect too much, do too much, and criticize yourself too much. Even minor mistakes can be devastating when you’ve lost a more forgiving perspective.

Substance Abuse

It’s natural for adolescents to experiment with alcohol or drugs, but for teens with depression or anxiety, the temptation, or pressure, to feel different or escape your emotions can lead to addiction.

Social Problems

If you’re feeling down, you might isolate yourself from friends. If you’re anxious, you might avoid social situations because you worry about embarrassment or rejection.

How to Cope with Depression or Anxiety

The best way to cope with depression or anxiety is to talk with someone else and, if you need it, get specialized help. We all have our “off” days (or sometimes weeks), but persistent or severe anxiety or depression often require professional help. Still, there are things you can do on your own to cope better with school when you’re dealing with these disorders.

Cut back

It might seem everything at school is a must, but this usually isn’t true. Can you take a semester off from a sport? Do you really need a full load of AP courses to get into college? Talk with a trusted friend, parent, or adult at school to see what you can drop from your busy schedule.

Identify social supports — and distractions

Take a hard look at the people in your life. Who’s always there for you? Who makes you feel good? Who makes you feel worse? Try to spend more time with those who love you and let go of the ones who don’t.

Avoid avoidance

Although you might need to cut back on some responsibilities to ease your stress, don’t let fatigue or fear make you avoid essentials. Skipping class makes it harder to go back later. Isolating yourself too much can worsen feelings of sadness or worry.

Blow off steam

As much as you might not feel like it, do things you enjoy, especially if they involve a little physical activity or time outside. As you pare down to the essentials, replace some stressful activities with things that make you feel good.

When to Get Professional Help

Feeling down or worried happens to people of all ages, but when those feelings get in the way of your everyday life, you might need extra help. If your grades drop significantly, you can’t face beneficial social activities, you’re using alcohol or drugs to cope, or you‘re having any thoughts of harming yourself or others, consider seeking therapy or treatment.

If you need extra help, talk with your parents or guidance counselor if possible. If you don’t feel comfortable doing that, you can call the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill Hotline, or if you’re thinking of harming yourself, the National Suicide Hotline. The best way to cope with school while you’re feeling depressed or anxious is to get help for those symptoms as soon as possible.

Published by

Tamara Stevens

Clinical Psychologist