Hope for Teens with Anxiety Disorders

thoughtful med 300x200 Hope for Teens with Anxiety DisordersEveryone has times of feeling anxious, scared or fearful. In fact, our bodies have an innate ability to sense and respond to pending danger that helps us survive. Unfortunately, anxiety disorders can feel like a car alarm repeatedly sounding when there’s no real threat. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health concern for teens in North America, affecting an estimated 4% of all children, impacting their day-to-day life, friendships, school performance, physical health and their sense of well being. My colleagues and I at Shelterwood are concerned that in this modern, fast-paced, plugged-in world, anxiety disorders in teens are greatly increasing. We are seeing more teens than ever before that are constrained and made miserable by their fears when they should be feeling safe, secure, confident and happy.

Symptoms of anxiety include a rapid heartbeat, difficulty catching one’s breath, a sense of doom, sweaty palms, an upset stomach, and even nausea and vomiting. Focusing on the feelings can cause them to intensify, a vicious cycle. Anxious symptoms become a true anxiety disorder when anxiety leads to avoidance of the situation that is causing the anxiety and causes significant physical distress and disruption of daily life and functioning. An unresolved anxiety disorder can often lead to depression or substance use problems in future years.

Anxiety, however, exists on a spectrum. A certain amount of anxiety is normal and beneficial. It keeps our teens safe and conscientious; it motivates them to perform well. Teens who tend to be anxious are often model students: high achieving, diligent, analytical, sensitive, alert, creative and imaginative. Two little anxiety and a teen may take foolish risks or lack motivation to succeed. But too much anxiety and children become so paralyzed by fear that they may be unable to leave their parent’s side, leave the house, go to school, make friends or participate in normal life.

The good news is that anxiety can be very successfully managed or treated when required. Regular exercise and reliable routines in teens are often all it takes to quell mild cases. Mild and moderate anxiety is very responsive to cognitive behavioral therapy, which is a process of addressing in the unhelpful thoughts and actions that underlie anxiety. Other examples of types of therapy include stopping thoughts, talking back to negative thoughts, not believing everything you think, relaxation techniques such as breathing, mindfulness meditation, and gradual safe exposure to the things which one fears.

Teens and adults alike could benefit from learning simple techniques to turn off their body alarms that are sounding unnecessarily. In more long-term or severe cases of anxiety – such as panic disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder – treatment may include a period of anti-anxiety medication in addition to teaching the teen age-appropriate techniques.

If you’re worried about your teen’s anxiety, we would also love to visit with you and provide support.

Maybe Teens Should “Just Relax” and Not Parents

I read a survey today of 340,000 Americans that said that after we turn 50, we are generally happier. The 30-50 age was less happy and the most stressed out group was 20-30. The study didn’t survey teenagers, but I wonder if the 13-18 group would top all the age groups on feeling stressed. Today’s teens especially carry a pretty hefty load of issues on their shoulders every day. Of course, the load is relative to the degree that we learn to be content. That’s why the older we get, the more at peace we become. But teenagers are just beginning to deal with life’s up’s and down’s.

images 5 Maybe Teens Should Just Relax and Not ParentsSometimes your teen may seem to be overly sensitive. And the more you try to help them, the more he or she may cry or sob. The guys will be better at ‘stuffing’ and will tend to funnel all their emotions into the one they know best: anger. Girls tend to be more expressive and deliberate in their emotions.

I remember one night when Elizabeth came home from cheering at a basketball game. She made it to the steps coming up from our basement and fell to her knees sobbing. I thought she’d broken up with her boyfriend or been in a bad accident. She announced that someone had backed into her car in the high school parking lot. I looked at her car and it didn’t even do much damage. I laughed and gave her a big hug. Another time she called home from college in tears and upset. As she cried, I figured she’d been kicked out of school or arrested. She announced, “Daddy, I dropped my cell phone in the fountain.” I just started laughing again. I was so relieved. It made her laugh too. “It’s OK darlin,” I said. “We’ll get you another phone.”

The point is that a part of being a teenager is feeling things intensely. I probably shouldn’t have laughed with Elizabeth because what may seem trivial to us as parents is huge to them. But I was so relieved. As parents who have dealt with heavier issues, getting bumped by a car is small beans. But to our kids, these events are huge.

We need to be careful that we validate our teen’s emotions. As parents, we tend to trivialize events and happenings in the lives of our teens. Though dropping a cell phone or struggling with a friend at school or having a bad baseball practice or having a zit may seem small to us, to our kids, it’s huge and we need to feel the pain with them. The danger, if we discard these events, is that our teens will stop telling us about events in their lives.

Yes, hormones are pumping and our teens may seem irrational at times, but show your teenager that you love them by listening to them in the midst of the drama. Don’t offer advice or minimize the problem, just listen and sympathize.

Yep, you may have a drama queen (or king) on your hands. But be sure you take them by the hand and show them you love them by being with them through the problem.