How Overachieving in Teens Can Lead to Depression

Alyssa is 16-year-old with a bright future. She’s a sophomore in high school and is taking several advanced placement classes in addition to a couple of honors courses. She’s also on the dance team and a member of several clubs. She intends go away for college and is planning to tour several over the next months. She strives to get straight As but got a couple of Bs during the past school year. This upset her greatly, and she was really down on herself for a while.

Alyssa has trouble sleeping at night. She feels tired a lot. With her workload from her courses, she stays up late most school nights working hard to finish her homework, projects, and papers. Alyssa’s mom is worried about her. She seems more withdrawn lately. The bright light of her personality seems to have dulled a little.

This is not an unusual story. Your child is bright and capable and excels at school. She or he has big goals and dreams and is following the path that he or she has been told to in order to be “successful.” The problem is that not always, but sometimes, it’s just too much for our teens. In efforts to follow this path they feel they need to because their school has told them to and/or their friends are doing it, they end up pushing themselves too much. When this happens, they may begin experiencing symptoms of a mild-to-moderate depression and/or anxiety such as:

  • Sad mood
  • Sleeping more or less than usual
  • Loss of appetite or overeating
  • Loss of interest in activities they usually enjoy
  • Withdrawing/isolating
  • Questioning their self-worth
  • Frequent worry

If you notice your teen is displaying some or all of these symptoms, here are a few suggestions:

1. Define success. Sit down with your teen and talk about your concerns. Have an honest conversation about success and how it is not “one size fits all.”

2. Make changes. What changes can your teen make in their schedule to alleviate some of the pressure they’ve been feeling? Can they change one of their advanced placement classes to an honors class? Can they opt not to be an officer in one of their groups but just participate? Is there one activity they can put on hold for now in order to focus more fully on the others?

3. Encourage self-care. This is a great opportunity to talk about how we are all simply human and can only take on so much before we break. What may help your teen take better care of herself? See below for a few self-care tips.

Ways to foster self-care in your teen

Seek a counselor so your child has an extra outlet to vent to. Even teens who have fantastic support systems can benefit from an unbiased, nonjudgemental ear to listen to them.

Consider meditating as a family. This may be a great activity to do together, as it is helpful for parents just as much as our kids. There are many great apps if you’re just trying this for the first time. I personally like Calm. Sit down with your teen and do a 10-minute guided meditation to help you both feel relaxed.

Have your teen take 1-2 nights “off” each week from doing homework late to just relax and have some fun. To help them, you could do a family movie night or game night or go for a leisurely walk around your neighborhood.

Suggest a sleep routine. Having a sleep routine is so important for our teens to learn as they move into adulthood. Work with them about establishing a bedtime that ensures they get a good night’s rest. Our high schoolers, especially, have to get up so early on school days. Getting in bed earlier, even if it means you instituting a cut-off time for phone use, is crucial for our mental health as well as our physical health.

We, as mamas, want the very best for our children. We want them to be happy and to reach for the stars. If you have concerns, communicate them to your child. Then help them to re-evaluate their schedule, make positive changes, and increase their opportunities for self-care. In reaching for the stars, it’s important we ensure they learn to enjoy the journey there.

About the Author

Maria Inoa is a local licensed clinical social worker and owner of Full Potential Counseling. She specializes in issues surrounding depression with teens through adults in their 40s, with an emphasis on self-love. She has a passion for people and believes that everyone has a story to tell.

Maria is a native Floridian, who is newer to the Jacksonville area. She’s a proud Florida State University grad and mother to a 5-year-old and 2-year-old. Like most Floridians, she enjoys being outside, especially in and around water as well as cooking, dancing, and napping.

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