Parenting Teenagers

High Achiever High Anxiety Students

In my Grand Rapids counseling office, I see a lot of stressed out teens who worry about their futures. They try to get the best grades they can and do all sorts of extracurricular actives to create a portfolio that will impress colleges. They worry about not getting into the right college and ruining their chances for a successful career. These stress out teens often try to plan things out well in advance. Normally, this approach works well and helps them get good grades and plan for their high school assignments and exams. However, there may come a time when this normal anxiety becomes unhealthy anxiety.

Does This Sound Like You?

If you are one of these high school students, you may often have anxiety and then start judging yourself harshly for being anxious and not being able to control it. After all, you usually manage to control many aspects of your life and stay on top of things. You may notice having trouble falling asleep because your mind races when you first go to bed. Maybe you wake up with anxious thoughts in the middle of the night and not be able to fall back to sleep.

You may worry because you don’t know what you want to study in college or where you want to go to college. You may not want to go to college but want to have a good career and not know how to make that happen.

If this sounds like you, then you’re in good company. Many high school students worry about not knowing what they want to do with the rest of their lives after high school. Sometimes, you worry because you want to do something meaningful, you just don’t know what that means for you yet.

What to Do About It

There is time to figure it out. Many people change their minds during college and switch majors when they find something they like better. Many people get their degrees in college and end up changing careers to something totally different after being on the job for a figure years. An example is teaching. Many teachers get their Bachelors degree in teaching and get tired of dealing with the stress of teaching after a few years. They end up changing careers or getting trained in something else.

Of course, not worrying about it may not be an option either because telling yourself not to worry is as effective as telling yourself not to think about purple cows. As soon as you try not to think about something, that’s all you think about. So, the trick is to allow your mind to think these thoughts without judging yourself for thinking them or not being able to stop thinking about them. Just accept the thoughts as “that thing I do when I don’t know the answers” and remind yourself that you don’t have to have the answers right now.

Other Strategies

It may help to think about this in terms of “clarity”. You’re trying to gain clarity about your future. You can put your level of clarity on a scale from 1 to 10. If 10 stands for complete clarity about what you need to do and 1 stands for having no idea at all, where are you now? When you can say you’ve gone one number higher, what are some of the things you might know then that you don’t know now? This can be a useful trick to help gain some clarity about your future plans.

Gary Watson is a Solution Focused Therapist in Grand Rapids Michigan.  He provides counseling for couples, counseling for teenagers, and adults.  He provides counseling for anxiety, depression, stress, college and work stress, and relationship problems.  For more information, please visit the website at