Many people think that text anxiety is a joke, an excuse dreamed up by overprotective parents, pop psychologists, or entitled teens. After all, they say, everyone gets stressed about tests at school, so what? These teens just need to toughen up. This is the harmful message the world is communicating with teenagers.

But as mainstream society finally recognizes the mental health crisis in this country, the stigma around common teenage issues like depression is getting chipped away. Finally, the teenagers who struggle with test anxiety are being taken seriously.

What Is Text Anxiety? What Causes Test Anxiety in Teens?

A professional athlete at the peak of their game spends years training, which creates the muscle memory they need to perform under pressure. When LeBron James and Stephen Curry face off in the national championship, they don’t have to think about things like dribbling or passing. Thanks to muscle memory, their bodies know exactly what to do.

But have you ever seen an athlete choke? It’s a fascinating phenomenon. During moments of intense pressure, such as a championship game, athletes start thinking too hard about their performance. Suddenly, they aren’t relying on muscle memory, but instead thinking about every little move. It’s called choking, and it can happen to the best athletes in the world.

Something similar can happen to teenagers when they sit down to take a test, especially big tests like the SAT or AP exams. Even if they spent weeks preparing, even if they know the course material backwards and forwards, even if they’ve always been a straight-A student, suddenly they get inside their own head.

They choke.

Sometimes test anxiety is related to other mental health diagnoses, like ADHD, anxiety and depression in teens. While young people with panic disorders may also suffer from extreme anxiety before the SAT test, some kids only have a panic response to tests.

Communicating With Teenagers: Tips for Treating Test Anxiety in Teens

Getting nervous is typical teenage behavior, but this condition goes well beyond merely feeling nervous. Before and during a test, a teen with test anxiety can suffer from brutal panic attacks, sweating, shaking, nausea and vomiting, shortness of breath and more. There are also emotional symptoms, like an intense fear of failure, obsessive thoughts about failing tests, low self-esteem, anger, shame or depression.

Before parents dealing with teenagers can help them beat test anxiety, first they have to recognize it. Young people may be embarrassed to talk about it, while most teachers don’t know how to recognize the symptoms. This leads to teens blaming themselves as their grades get worse and worse. Rather than learning how to understand teenagers and their emotional issues, many parents actually punish them for bad grades!

Like other adolescent issues, there’s no single correct solution for parents. Many parents choose to find a counselor or psychiatrist who treats teen anxiety. As part of ongoing therapy, some parents choose to try medications designed to ease teen anxiety.

There are also things teens can start doing right away, like practicing breathing and calming methods. Some students take tests with a small item in their pockets, their own personal stress ball. Others learn mindfulness techniques, which can get teens out of their own heads when they start to panic. With the help of a counselor, your son or daughter may be able to receive special accommodations at school, like taking the test alone in a separate room.

And, of course, prayer has helped so many parents and teens cope with issues like anxiety and depression.

If you still don’t know how to help your son or daughter, ask them. While communicating with teenagers isn’t always easy, it’s the most important thing you can do right now to help text anxiety.

The Worst Thing You Can Do for Teens With Test Stress?

Nothing. No matter what you choose, the solution always begins with communicating with teenagers effectively. Anxiety, including test anxiety, is a medical condition that should be treated just as seriously. No one would tell teens to ‘toughen up’ if severe migraines were keeping them from taking tests, and yet teens with test stress hear this all the time from well-intentioned adults.

Panic disorders are both physically and emotionally painful, yet there is always hope. Countless people of all ages have learned to overcome panic disorders, and so can your teen.