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.

Healthy Food = Healthy Lives

DSC9015 copy 200x300 Healthy Food = Healthy LivesThis spring and summer our students have had an amazing opportunity to work in our new garden, which was built last fall.  We have been able to see one growing season all the way through from planting to harvest.  We have grown tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, okra, herbs, squash, and more.  The flowers have been beautifully arranged to provide even more color in our garden and throughout campus.  Students have had a part in each step of the process.   Daily, the kitchen proudly uses the produce to create some nutritious and creative dishes.

Not only do we enjoy the delicious and beautiful provisions of the garden, but we also are very aware of the therapeutic benefits, as gardens can be an amazing avenue of healing.  Here are some of the therapeutic aspects of our garden:

The ability to take ownership

Gardens require ownership and need careful tending.  Teens we work with often struggle with feelings of loneliness, not belonging and a lack of purpose.  As seeds are planted and life is created, students quickly take on the role of caretakers and get to experience the responsibility, even if in a small way, of maintaining life.  Pulling weeds in an effort to protect and nurture life starts to become a requirement for success and provides immediate feedback as to how well they are doing.  And with the harvest, teens experience fantastic tasting food and the satisfaction of a completed task.

Empowerment to make decisions

Decisions are always difficult for teens as they struggle to feel confident. Perfectionism can often paralyze behavior and their ability to process information.  Fortunately, plants are flexible and forgiving. Making choices and decisions in caring for them offers avenues for trial and error as well as recognition that there is not always a “right” way to garden.

Communication of Emotions

Emotions can often get the best of us, but for teens emotions are often expressed in unpredictable and in unusual ways. We find that our garden provides many fantastic metaphors, which enable teens to express emotions in deeper and more appropriate ways.

Shelterwood Rd2 459 copy Healthy Food = Healthy LivesGood Food

Those with eating disorders often view food in a different way.  Research suggests that food often takes on a “bad guy” persona.  Food actually becomes an object of fear.  Those who struggle with eating issues often detach themselves from food and have difficulty feeling safe around it.  Being involved in the production of food ties teens back to food.  Because of the teen’s investment in the food, they are able to slowly change the way they view the purpose and intention of it.

We are thankful for the garden at Shelterwood and are excited to see its therapeutic benefits continue.