Here’s the thing about life—there’s no one telling you how to gauge if what’s on your plate is too much on your plate. Whether or not you’re living with depression and anxiety, life can feel relentless. Life shouts: Push! Go! Thrive! Prove! Post it! Pics or it didn’t happen! Perfect pics or it didn’t happen worth any likes! And yet life seems to have nothing to say when it comes to being overwhelmed, stressed, or pushed to the edge. No wonder so many teens find themselves looking for anxiety relief or a way out of living with depression but are too afraid to let their friends know.
We know teens feel pressure to be amazing, award-winning. “Good enough” feels like an insult to the emerging generation. It can lead them to a place where they become their own worst critics, biggest discouragers, hardest judges, and meanest coaches. Too many teens find themselves stressed out, anxiety filled, and living with depression—but are too afraid to admit it. They may become defensive about or flat-out hide the things they’re still trying to solve on their own. Wondering if a teen you know and love might be secretly getting close to the breaking point? Here are 5 things teens with anxiety and depression tend to hide from their friends.
5 Things Teens Living with Depression and Anxiety May Be Hiding
- Eating Habits – Food is one of the easiest ways to find pleasure or exert control. When teens are dealing with excessive stress, anxiety, or depression, they may turn to food rituals and habits in an attempt to self-soothe. From eating things in secret to starving themselves in secret, changing food habits are usually kept hidden when possible. If you notice a teen you love is eating in secret, leaving the room soon after meals, or engaging in binge-eating behavior, it’s time to gently help them. Help them talk about what’s driving them to limit or over-indulge. It’s often best to start with medical advice or professional counseling to help them learn not to treat food as a way to manage their pain.
- Sleeping Habits – Insomnia from an overworked, anxious, or depressed brain causes teens to lie about how much rest they really need—and sometimes brag about how little rest they can get by with. But more often, teens will stare at their ceiling until the wee hours of the morning, doze off a bit, and then pretend everything’s fine in order to keep peace and avoid worrying those around them. If a teen you love is having trouble getting rested sleep, it’s time to ask them what’s on their mind when they’re trying to sleep. Help them know they’re not alone, and pray with them.
- Shifting Cultural Appetite – Sometimes teens hide new tastes in music that might be counter to their morals as a wild attempt to help to mediate their numbness or help them redefine themselves as someone they think is worthwhile. They may seek counter-cultural stimulants like blogs and vlogs they wouldn’t normally visit, stores they don’t typically shop at, or shows and series with darker themes. Misery loves company. Some teens may decide it’s best to hide amongst the company of other wounded people. It can feel that they’re the only ones who truly understand their struggle. If a teen you love has suddenly changed into someone you don’t recognize, it could be that they’re hiding feelings of self-loathing. Help them understand that their tastes should be based on what’s healthy for them in God’s eyes. That’s when they’ll begin to find their true self—the unique person God’s created them to be.
- Isolation – As much as misery loves company, when teens have found enough validation amongst a new group of people, the other tendency can be to seek isolation. Teens may prefer to be alone with their thoughts, only to fall deeper into the spiral of validating how misunderstood or utterly alone in the world they are. But they still try to hide their isolation so as not to worry others, or look like they don’t have a social life. Maybe they’ll just say they’ve had a busy day and want alone time. Maybe they’ll tell you they’re on their phone, texting, making plans for next week, studying, or otherwise fine alone—when they’re not. If you notice a teen seeking more solitude than usual, it’s time to make sure they’re okay. Invite them out. Ask them if you can hang out with them. Ask them if they’re feeling worried or anxious about spending time with their friends. Help them to find a healthy social connection.
- Their Real Feelings – A teen might begin to make jokes, including insensitive or mostly self-deprecating ones, in order to hide the fact that they feel hollow or afraid inside. When they’re slipping into a stressed, anxious, or depressed state, it can become common to volunteer themselves as the butt of the joke. You might even hear them casually say, “I must be depressed,” only to half-smile, shrug, or even laugh it off. Sometimes, showing an overly funny, jokey side is just an act. If you hear a teen joking about depression or anxiety, it’s time to get them one-on-one and make sure it’s just a joke. (Then help them understand it’s not something to joke about!)
These are easy things for teens to hide from their friends, parents, and siblings because they’re easy to mask in our everyday lives. If someone is saying they’re stressed, need anxiety relief, or are down, take them seriously. Tell someone who can help them if you can’t. Find a pastor, a doctor, a counselor, a mentor, a teacher, a coach. Find someone who will listen—without judgment. Help them find their way back to God’s care for the health that their body, mind, and spirit are lacking. If you wonder if a teen you love might be hiding feelings of overwhelm, anxiety, or depression, talk to them and help them get it out in the open. Living with depression and anxiety is something no one, especially not a teen, should face alone.
How can God help a teen when it seems like the walls are literally closing in on them? Psalm 118:5 NIV says, “When hard pressed, I cried out to the Lord, and he brought me to a spacious place.” Moving your teen’s hope for a solution away from their own strength and toward God is a guaranteed way to begin to experience true peace.*
*If you or someone you know is in a mental health crisis, get help immediately. If it’s a suicidal crisis, go (or bring your friend) to your nearest Emergency Room or call 911. Try calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) if you’re not sure what to do.