By Micah Schlittenhardt

It’s been a few years now, but I remember enjoying the animated film, “Inside Out.” In an artful and entertaining way, the main character Riley experienced a disconnect with her emotions and had difficulty controlling them. The emotional flurry in this movie was probably the first time I began to understand the concepts and complexities of mental health. 

Mental health has a negative connotation. Teens often view it as a problem of an “emo kid.” The truth is, a high percentage of Americans live with a variety of emotional disorders including anxiety. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates nearly one-third of teens in the United States live with some form of an anxiety disorder. For Generation Z — people born mid-1990s to mid-2000s — anxiety is common, but it doesn’t define us as weak or crazy. 

Adolescents will find their anxiety provoked by a variety of sources. With the ever-changing lifestyles of Generation Z, adolescents are exposed to a number of things no demographic cohort has experienced before. This is more than just stressing over a GPA and good admissions essay. According to a 2018 survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, we stress about school safety, the future of our country, grades, the lure of drugs and alcohol, social media likes, and paying for college.

Regardless of the generation, it is normal to feel anxious on occasion. Most are able to work through stressful situations and anxiety quickly subsides. Stress and anxiety are generally temporary matters and often make people more successful. Society suggests that we should combat these feelings without help; however, for some, the symptoms linger and don’t just magically disappear. Sometimes, I think of it as an “upside down” dimension where a portal exists but we can’t return to the other side; the harder we try, the faster we breathe, the harder our hearts race, and the more we panic.

Unfortunately, society falls short on educating and offering support to those with anxiety. We have high expectations for ourselves and we don’t always know how to handle an emotional derailment. Anxiety can have a tight grip on our goals and plans. 

Just like in the movie “Inside Out,” remind yourself that we are all emotional creatures and this is healthy. It is normal for us to embrace our emotions rather than suppress them. We will live emotional lives. We will have emotional reactions. Rather than getting caught up in the drama of our anxiety, let’s observe our emotions and our mental health; let us be kind to our minds and bodies and seek help when we need it. 

So what can we do?

Exercise our brain (also known as mindfulness). Let’s be present instead of worrying about the future. Check out the app Smiling Mind. It’s managed by a not-for-profit organization and designed for teens!

Exercise our bodies. A little physical exertion sings a sweet lullaby to our overexcited neurons in our brain.

Eat well. Nourishing our bodies with healthy foods influences our moods. Heads up, that means we might have to pace ourselves with postgame half-priced appetizers!

Love ourselves. We are a smart, generous, and courageous generation. Let’s face it, the world needs every one of us to run their technology. Right, Mom?

Talk to an adult. Our parents, school counselors, and church leaders are a good place to start. Sometimes, we might even need to visit with a qualified professional who will help us navigate through our thoughts while maintaining our confidentiality.