Adolescence is a period of immense growth and change in a person’s life. A teenager is developing their identity apart from their parents, making decisions about their possible career path, and preparing to be an independent adult in a few years. Intertwined in all these changes is the development of self-esteem. While each individual is different, the trend is that self-esteem declines in the teenage years, but then increases as a person enters young adulthood. Self-esteem is influenced by many factors, such as education, family relationships, and life events. One major factor related to self-esteem is mental health; low self-esteem is considered a risk factor for depression and is linked to anxiety.
Maldonado and colleagues (2013) studied a large set of data gathered over 30 years. From this dataset, they wanted to better understand how anxiety disorders impacted the development of self-esteem over time from adolescence to young adulthood (measured at ages 13, 16, and 22). They found that individuals with any anxiety disorder experienced lower self-esteem than those without at each age, but that self-esteem increased at the same rate overall. So, a 13-year-old with an anxiety disorder will likely experience an increase in self-esteem by the time he is 22 years old, but it likely remains lower than his peers without an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety can manifest itself in different ways, as shown by the various types of anxiety, such as social anxiety disorder (previously social phobia) or specific phobia. Looking at specific types of anxiety, the researchers found that social anxiety disorder had the greatest impact on self-esteem; that is, compared with typical peers and peers with another anxiety disorder, adolescents and young adults with social anxiety disorder had the lowest ratings of self-esteem. The article states that “adolescents who experience positive relationships with peers or associate with groups perceived as having a ‘high status’ typically demonstrate higher levels of self-esteem and less social anxiety”.
Researchers also looked at self-esteem in individuals with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and found that unlike those with other anxiety-related disorders, self-esteem decreased from adolescence to young adulthood. Maldonado and his colleagues note that people with OCD often obsess about their negative qualities, which makes them more vulnerable to decreases in self-esteem.
It is important to note that the study has found that anxiety and self esteem are related, but not necessarily that one causes the other. Knowing that they are linked is useful when considering treatments for anxiety and making positive choices to boost the self-esteem of an adolescent. Fostering self-esteem with good peer and family relationships, success in reaching goals, and being entrusted with responsibility is likely to also have a positive impact in reducing anxiety.
By Kristi MacDonald
Maldonado, L., Huang, Y., Chen, R., Kasen, S., Cohen, P., & Chen, H. (2013). Impact of Early Adolescent Anxiety Disorders on Self-Esteem Development From Adolescence to Young Adulthood. Journal of Adolescent Health, 53, 287-292.