Relationships between Anxiety, Fear, Self-Esteem, and Coping Strategies in Adolescence

Article excerpt


This study investigated the relationships between anxiety, fear, self-esteem, and coping strategies in a sample of 224 postprimary students (years 7, 9, and 12) in Australia. In particular, it sought to determine whether there were any significant changes between years 7 and 12 and, if so, whether these changes were gender specific. The results indicated that the girls had consistently low levels of self-esteem. The boys showed a significant decrease in both anxiety and fear by year 12. For the coping strategies, a three-factor solution accounted for 64.2% of the variance. Finally, the findings suggested that, by year 12, boys and girls were using different coping strategies, with boys more successfully reducing both fear and anxiety.


Although previous studies have investigated the relationship between anxiety and depression in adolescents, little has been done in regard to the association of either anxiety or self-esteem with fear, particularly in relation to coping strategies. Furthermore, most of these studies have not been conducted exclusively with adolescents, but have included preadolescent subjects as well (Bernstein & Borchardt, 1991; Moreau & Weissman, 1992). While there is little agreement in defining coping within a conceptual framework (Heppner, 1988; Lazarus & Folkman, 1984; Rohde, Lewinsohn, Tilson, & Seeley, 1990), there is agreement that relationships are an important element in adolescents' ability to cope with life stressors (Dean & Lin, 1977).

The means by which adolescents cope with life stressors are gender specific (Frydenberg & Lewis, 1993; Copeland & Hess, 1995). Females tend to use social support and emotional expression, while males generally employ more problem-focused strategies (Frydenberg & Lewis, 1991; Patterson & McCubbin, 1987). Greater understanding of the way in which anxiety, fear, and self-esteem are related to coping strategies is needed for male and female adolescents as they face changing life stressors during the maturation process.


Research on adolescents has been dominated by classical turmoil theory and more recent normality theory. Turmoil theory emphasizes psychodynamics, such as coming to terms with sexuality and identity, whereas normality theory de-emphasizes turmoil and conflict (Collins, 1991). Recent research into adolescence has been divided into psychobiological and psychosocial areas. Dusek (1987) offered two models to explain the effect of biological change in adolescence. The direct-effects model proposes a direct relationship between physiological changes and psychological development. However, the mediated-effects model proposes a much wider range of responsibility for psychological development, including individual, cultural, and social factors.

In trying to unravel the effects of anxiety, research has indicated that highly anxious adolescents engage in more problem behavior, are more disliked by peers, have poorer self-concepts, and have lower school achievement and aptitude as compared with less anxious adolescents (Phillips, 1978). Between 10% and 30% of schoolchildren have been found to experience anxiety severe enough to impair performance (Johnson, 1979). While low levels of anxiety enhance awareness and performance, high levels contribute to a variety of psychosocial problems among adolescents.

A number of studies have examined the comorbidity of anxiety disorders and externalizing disorders in adults, highlighting increased risk and shared risk factors, as well as their functional significance (Zoccolillo, 1992). Recent studies have been carried out with adolescents (Russo & Beidel, 1994). While the co-occurrence of externalizing disorders with anxiety have been found to range from 2% to 21%, this may be misleading when both preadolescents and adolescents are grouped together in the same sample (Russo & Beidel, 1994). …


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