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Anxiety

How to Deal With Teenage Anxiety

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health issue in the worldAmong US adolescents alone, an estimated 31.9 percent struggle with an anxiety disorder (38 percent of girls and 26 percent of boys). This is a significant portion of teens, and it doesn’t change much in adulthood. Currently, about 31.1 percent of US adults report experiencing symptoms of an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives.

What makes anxiety so common, why is it such a big deal, and how to deal with teenage anxiety? We’re all anxious about something at some point in our lives – but being anxious or worried is not a sign of disorder. An anxiety disorder differentiates itself from regular worry by being prevalent, irrational, and consuming. Anxiety disorders are characterized by choking and immobilizing feelings of worry that engulf and ruin a person’s day, day by day, to the point of interfering with their personal, academic, and professional lives.

Teens are affected by anxiety more heavily than adults, partially because the onset for most anxiety disorders is during the teen years – but for many people, these issues can persist throughout life.

Coping with teenage anxiety doesn’t just make life easier for teens. Learning to cope with anxiety problems as early as possible can improve symptoms and quality of life in the long term. These coping skills and stress management tools are vital, but they aren’t easily learned. It takes time, support, and access to the right resources to build a personal repertoire for dealing with anxious thoughts and avoiding cyclical behavior.

What Are Anxiety Disorders?

Anxiety disorders are characterized by different symptoms. While there are dozens of specific diagnoses, most people who struggle with anxiety generally have one of the following forms:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder – this is the most common form of anxiety disorder and describes a form of anxiety that is felt without any specific triggers or direction. 
  • Social anxiety disorder – a form of anxiety felt around social situations, feeling worried about being awkward constantly, worrying about embarrassment all the time, avoiding people and groups out of fear. 
  • Panic disorder – a condition characterized by frequent panic attacks following an overwhelming amount of stress. Panic attacks include feelings of tightness around the chest, shortness of breath, and hyperventilating
  • Phobias – phobias are irrational fear and constant intrusive thinking around one specific thing, such as concepts (crowds, enclosed spaces), specific animals, or situations (the dentist’s office, being injected with a needle). 
  • Selective mutism – this is a rare condition associated with anxiety disorders, wherein a person fails to speak, especially in social situations. People with selective mutism might not talk to strangers, even after an introduction. In general, selective mutism occurs the most in young children. But it can be an issue in older kids as well.

Some conditions are considered anxiety disorders, anxiety-adjacent, or were previously classified as anxiety disorders—these include stress-related conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder and separate diagnoses like obsessive-compulsive disorder.

While PTSD is a condition characterized by a constant fight-or-flight reaction to stimuli because of a traumatic experience, OCD is a severe anxiety disorder characterized by a cycle of unwanted, obsessive thoughts and temporarily soothing compulsions, which in turn fuel more thoughts.

In general, recognizing anxiety in a teen isn’t about trying to diagnose them with something right off the bat. It is enough to realize that your loved one might be doing worse at school or responding less to people around them because they’re struggling with anxious and unwanted thoughts. Important signs and symptoms to watch out for include:

  • Physical reactions to normal situations, such as flinching often, shaking, or trembling. 
  • Frequent unexplained headaches and stomachaches. 
  • Elevated levels of stress, even when things are normal. 
  • Worrying constantly about things that aren’t relevant, thinking back on scary situations even in a calm context. 
  • Talking about feelings of impending doom. 
  • A physical feeling of weight on the chest and shoulders. 
  • A mood that often varies, including high irritability and random bouts of sadness.

Alleviating Teenage Anxiety

Anxiety disorders are mental health issues, which means that the best way to deal with them is to seek professional help. But that doesn’t mean you’re powerless as a teen’s parent, relative, or friend. There are ways you can address their anxieties in addition to recommending that they see a professional. These include:

  • Driving them to an appointment with a therapist. Some teens don’t want to seek help out on their own, especially if their worries mean they feel they don’t deserve the help or that it wouldn’t improve their situation.
  • Being there to listen to them. Sometimes it can help to provide a space for a teen to be with someone else without necessarily saying or doing anything. Sometimes, that space is also a good place to bring up some anxious thoughts and feelings. While therapy is central to helping individuals find ways to combat anxieties in their own heads, there are ways you can help a loved one by lending them an ear.
  • Take charge of your mental and physical health together. Whether someone you know regularly feels anxious or has already been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, there are different ways you can help them. Go do things you used to enjoy doing together. Pick up new hobbies. Play some music. Make a commitment to eat better together. Share tips to make healthy living easier. Encourage sleeping at an earlier time and talking to a professional about sleep issues.
  • Creating a home environment conducive to healthy living. If you meet with a therapist, talk to them about what you can do to help your teen feel better at home, and continue their anxiety treatment over time. You don’t need to treat your loved one like a patient, but their therapist might have tips for how you can better recognize when something makes them uncomfortable and how to help them build their confidence through skills learning ample rest and recovery, and a focus on self-esteem.

Treatment Processes for Teenage Anxiety

Treating teenage anxiety often starts at home, but there are still elements of the treatment process that can require professional help. Anxiety medications might help reduce symptoms, particularly in teens with severe reactions to social or phobia-related situations.

A large part of the treatment process is one-on-one therapy. Talk therapy, usually in the form of cognitive behavioral therapy, centers around helping teens identify and change maladaptive and harmful thoughts and behaviors through thought exercises, logical thinking, dialectics, and working with a therapist.

If your loved one has been struggling with anxiety, getting them the help they need is crucial. If they’re already in treatment, then talking to their therapist (or to them!) can give you greater insight into what might help them feel better and how you can support them.

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Anxiety Stress

The Impact of Anxiety and Stress in Teens

Teens are worried. They’re worried about themselves, they’re worried about their chances in the world, they’re worried about the state of things. And between a pandemic, lockdowns, the news, and social media, teens have been getting more steadily worried in the past two years than perhaps ever before.

It’s normal to worry. There are many things in life that can be described as uncertain at best, and teens are caught in the middle of many awkward moments.

They’re not quite children, but they aren’t adults either, meaning they’re struggling to juggle newfound responsibilities while still facing an inevitable lack of agency. Becoming a teen also means accepting change on a near-daily basis.

Physical changes, social changes, societal changes. In addition to growing responsibilities, teens are subjected to new hierarchies and environments, a switch from middle to high school and college, thoughts about careers, and “adult” problems, from safe sex to avoiding drugs.

But anxiety is more than worry. There’s a difference between having a hard time and being paralyzed by fear. There’s a difference between moments of anxious thought and uncertainty, and a constant feeling that things aren’t right. There’s a difference between worrying about exams, or catching up to others in height and growth, and experiencing panic attacks, frequent self-deprecation, and difficult, intrusive thoughts.

It’s also very difficult for most parents to differentiate between anxious thoughts and normal teen behavior. Teens aren’t little kids anymore, and many of them are quite good at hiding their emotions. But there are still telltale signs that parents need to beware of and symptoms that require attention.

How Anxiety Can Affect Teens

Beyond the usual worries, an anxiety disorder can be a debilitating issue for a teen. Anxiety disorders are the most common kind of mental health disorder, affecting roughly 30 percent of adolescents.

Anxiety disorders are known for their characteristic symptoms of paralyzing fear or worry, but it’s worse than that. Many anxiety disorders are coupled with physical symptoms, as well, from hyperventilation to full-blown panic attacks.

Teens can learn to mask these feelings, hiding the fact that they’re struggling to breathe or feeling their heart racing in what would otherwise be considered completely normal circumstances. To a teen with anxiety, certain situations that are otherwise non-confrontational or dangerous can become an insurmountable source of stress.

Some teens deal with these overwhelming emotions by finding ways to avoid the things that cause them to panic, even indirectly, such as by complaining about headaches or stomachaches. In many cases, these somatic pain symptoms are real, caused by the stress associated with the anxiety.

These anxious thoughts can slow personal growth, as well. Kids diagnosed with anxiety disorders have a harder time concentrating and retaining information. They will have a harder time learning and understanding what they’ve learned. They may still be more than capable enough of passing classes and delivering good grades, but at a great cost to their mental wellbeing.

In fact, while anxiety can make it harder to learn, many anxious kids become overachievers to the detriment of their health. Caught in a cycle, they’re fueled by a fear of underperforming, which further feeds the anxieties that make it harder for them to perform.  

What Are Teenagers Anxious About?

There are many reasons to be anxious as an adult. Prices are skyrocketing, we’re in the aftermath of multiple successive recessions, world markets are still reeling from a historic pandemic, wages remain stagnant, and more. Yet teens can feel these anxieties as well, and many understand them the same way adults do.

Anxious teens are worried about the world they’re growing into, on top of their own pressures to perform well, get into a good college, find a great paying job early on, pursue their dreams, find their dream, be in a relationship, and juggle a million other perceived responsibilities and expectations – many of which they are placing upon themselves.

Expectations serve as a massive underlying foundation for teen worries and anxieties, especially unrealistic ones. Even supportive parents who work hard not to define their wishes for their teens may find an anxious teen grappling with massive expectations for themselves.

The body is another common source of anxiety for teens. Teens are worried about being too short. Too tall. Too fat. Too skinny. Not muscular enough. Not strong enough. Not fast enough. They want a smaller nose, or a bigger nose, or different hair, or better skin, or a different jawline, or a different voice.

Couple these anxieties with the fact that teens experience growth spurts at different points in their adolescent lives, and they become massively magnified. Some kids in school look like they’re 19 at age 15 and are naturally gifted athletes. Others might look like they’re 12 despite approaching senior year.

What Parents Can Do

It can be challenging to parent a teen with anxiety issues. They’re often much harder on themselves than you could be on them, and they might not be very receptive to praise or affirmation.

Offering your support is an important first step. Give your teen a safe space at home to talk about their feelings and their worries, to rant and discuss how they really feel. Talk to them about getting help together to seek effective ways to reduce the pressure they feel and help them thrive.

Group therapy and family therapy are good alternatives to one-on-one therapy if a teen feels uncomfortable going into therapy alone for the first few times. In addition to therapy, doctors can help your teen by prescribing medication that might reduce the severity of their symptoms, enough to help therapy achieve a greater impact in the long term.

The catalyst for change in many cases of anxiety is a teen’s own capacity to identify and correct their self-destructive or irrational thoughts. But it takes time, patience, and a lot of support to overcome the impulse to be self-critical or self-loathing and focus on the positives for a change.

Getting Help for Teen Anxiety

Teen anxiety issues can be co-dependent on other mental health problems, including depressive thoughts or teen drug use. A proper treatment plan encompasses a teen’s issues in their entirety, treating the person, not just the diagnosis. Be sure to find someone your teen likes working with, someone they trust and can confide in. Comfort is important.

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Anxiety Depression

How to Cope with Anxiety and Depression (Advice for Teens)

If you experience the debilitating symptoms of anxiety or depression, you may be interested in learning how to cope with anxiety and depression.

Do you have a hard time concentrating? Do you sometimes struggle with unexplained aches and pains? Does your mind keep repeating things to put you down, such as negative memories, self-deprecating comments, or self-loathing thoughts? Do you find yourself anxious and worried about everything, yet nothing in particular – or something in particular, but all the time, even when it’s irrelevant? 

Anxiety and depression are the most common mental health diagnoses in the world. Nearly one in five Americans struggles with an anxiety disorder, and about one in ten struggle with depression. Among people with anxiety, as many as 60 percent may have depressive thoughts. Finally, the most common onset for these mental health issues is adolescence, an already complicated time in our lives to begin with. 

Teenage anxiety and depression are still on a rise, and while teens need to learn ways to cope with their fears and thoughts, it’s important to realize that this is always a team effort. Whether you’re a teen, a friend, or a parent, learning more about how to overcome anxiety and depression is crucial, as is knowing how and when to provide support. 

In this article, you will learn how to cope with anxiety and depression.

How are Anxiety and Depression Linked?

The link between anxiety and depression is far more than tangential. These are often comorbid conditions, meaning that they frequently co-occur in patients. 

Comorbidity matters because the way these conditions affect each other can affect treatment – and it can affect the ideal treatment strategy, including certain coping strategies. 

Comorbid mental illnesses are particularly poorly understood because there isn’t as much research on them as physical comorbidities, and they can be harder to identify as it’s tricky to try and attribute each symptom to one or the other condition(s). 

But as far as mental health comorbidities go, anxiety and depression are still the most researched. We know that specialized treatment plans can be implemented to address both diagnoses, and we know that when anxiety and depression symptoms present themselves together, they can reinforce one another, so concurrent treatment – meaning addressing both anxiety and depression at once – is critical.

The elements that tie anxiety and depression together are multifaceted. For one, there may be a genetic component. Teens with both anxiety and depression may have a genetic predisposition towards either or both. 

The primary symptom of anxiety and depression is also very similar, in that both can be defined by negative or maladaptive thinking. A person with a mood disorder will additionally have a low mood and may have a much harder time cheering up. 

Environmental factors matter as well. Both depression and anxiety are common in high-stress environments, especially during childhood. People with post-traumatic stress disorder, a form of anxiety, are more likely to be depressed as well. 

These conditions feed themselves in a cyclical fashion. Anxious thoughts can trigger an irrational response to an insurmountable or uncontrollable problem, leading to inevitable failure and the inability to fulfill unrealistic expectations, which can trigger self-loathing, guilt, and depression. Similarly, depressive thinking can lead to more negative and worrying thoughts, and that fear feeds anxiety. 

Identifying Anxiety and Depression

Anxiety and depression have multiple hallmark characteristics, as well as more obscure symptoms. 

  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Oversleeping
  • Low energy levels
  • Physical response to stress (rapid heartbeat, hyperventilation, abdominal pain)
  • Persistent low mood
  • Repeated comments on suicide and self-harm
  • Unexplained pain
  • Sudden change in appetite (both gain and loss)
  • Sudden loss of interest in hobbies
  • Irrational fear

It can be difficult to differentiate between disordered behavior and normal stress response. Not every period of sadness is a depression, and not every pre-exam stress-related rant is an anxiety attack. 

Keep in mind that an important defining characteristic for disordered thinking or behavior is that it plays an active role in disrupting a teen’s day-to-day life, causing havoc on their responsibilities, interests, and relationships over the course of multiple weeks. If you’re not sure, it always helps to talk to your teen and bring up the idea of visiting a professional together. 

Identifying Useful Coping Skills for Teens

Coping skills are tools teenagers can utilize to reduce the impact that life’s stressors can have on them, and reduce the severity of their symptoms. Coping skills are not necessarily a replacement for therapy and treatment. They’re a supplemental tool to help improve a teen’s quality of life and resilience. Most coping skills revolve around: 

  • Helping teens build up confidence and self-esteem
  • Helping teens vent their emotions and thoughts in a healthy way
  • Helping teens have fun and feel better

Effective coping skills include: 

  • Journaling
  • Crafts and art projects
  • Drawing and painting
  • Walks in nature
  • Exercise
  • Social activities

An effective treatment plan for both depression and anxiety utilizes coping skills as a way to teach teens that they can affect their mental health in the long-term, in coordination with important treatment modalities such as: 

Can You Cope Alone?

There are a lot of topics surrounding mental healthcare and self-care, and it’s important not to misunderstand this trend as meaning that we all need to take sole responsibility for our mental health. 

Yes, how you feel and what you do obviously plays the largest role in your mental health.

But support is crucial. Many people fail to seek out the help they need without a push or intervention from their loved ones. Many fail to adhere to treatment schedules without their loved ones. And at the end of the day, whether or not we struggle with anxiety or depression, we all need friends and family to be around. 

You shouldn’t feel pressured to take the matter of treatment into your own hands, at all. Seek help. Talk to an adult. Get to a counselor. Schedule a therapist. Or, ask your parents or teachers to help you navigate available resources and do these things with you.

Coping skills are the same way. They aren’t necessarily a means for you to be self-reliant in treatment. They play a role in helping you reduce the impact of the stressors around you and improve your quality of life by reducing the severity of your symptoms. They might, but don’t necessarily need to replace therapy and medication.

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Anxiety

Coping with Social Anxiety During the Holidays

Social anxiety issues tend to peak during the holidays, alongside other metrics of stress, for a majority of Americans. 

While culturally, the holidays are all about family and making a good cheer, the reality is that different factors heavily contribute to increased unease and tension in the last weeks of the year – from tumultuous family behavior to economic unease, poor weather, weather-related travel delays, increased road accidents, and most recently, a new wave of pandemic cases

But for teens with social anxiety, the holidays also mean frequent get-togethers and more social contact than usual. It can mean Christmas parties, dinners with extended family members, and holiday drinking. It means catching up, talking about oneself, and being in a metaphorical spotlight. Understanding how social anxiety works can help us better understand why the holidays are a huge trigger for many teens and adults struggling with social unease. 

What is Social Anxiety?

Most people have a mild fear of being on stage or being the center of attention in a negative way. Many people, even among extroverts, might struggle to fit into an unknown environment or feel immediately comfortable in a new social setting. 

But social anxiety in the psychiatric sense describes a disorder wherein a person displays an irrational fear of public and social interaction, on the opposite spectrum of the everyday extrovert. Socially anxious people are more than just introverted – they become uncomfortable around new people, feel physically uneasy in crowds or within large groups, and are constantly worried about other people’s perceptions of themselves. Common social anxiety fears include: 

  • Fearing activities around other people, especially eating, sports participation, or public speaking. 
  • Fearing interaction with other people, with particular discomfort towards self-expression and intimate situations. 
  • Fearing physical contact with others, being worried about blushing and sweating, being too clammy, being shaky, breathing too hard or too fast, struggling with hyperventilation, heart palpitations, and lightheadedness. 
  • Fearing judgment from others for no particular reason, making up potential scenarios where things go wrong, playing past mistakes or potential mistakes in the mind, strongly fearing embarrassment as though it were inevitable. 

Signs of social anxiety differ from person to person, based on certain personality traits, the severity of the problem, and the situation they find themselves. It’s important to know that social anxiety symptoms are not just mental, but also physical. Social anxiety can lead to excessive sweating and shallow, rapid breathing, nausea, and panic attacks. 

Teens with social anxiety will behave awkwardly, struggling to make eye contact, will be largely passive (not interacting with others willingly), and are much more likely to turn to substances to help act as a “social lubricant”. 

Because the holidays are usually punctuated by more social gatherings and meetings with others than any other period of the year, beginning with the arrival of the Thanksgiving season, teens who struggle with social anxiety will feel more stressed out and may struggle to concentrate on their work or studies, function normally, or deal with their thoughts. They may be more likely to use substances, self-isolate and avoid all contact, or become emotionally distanced from others. 

Helping a teen cope with these issues is crucial, especially at this time of year. Effective coping mechanisms for social anxiety differ from teen to teen, but here are a few common and important tenets. 

Effective Ways to Cope with Social Anxiety

Goal setting is an important part of learning to cope with social anxieties. Coping strategies exist not to turn an anxious teen into a social butterfly, but to help them reduce the level of anxiety they feel on an everyday basis, especially in social situations. Naturally introverted teens may still prefer to keep to themselves and might not always open up to strangers on first meetings.

But through coping exercises, they can learn to accept that behavior, understand that others aren’t out to judge them at first glance, can handle silences in conversations, and know that they can’t be friends with everyone – and that they don’t have to be.

When coping with anxiety during the holidays, it helps to focus on harm reduction rather than trying to be someone you might not be.   

Set Healthy Boundaries

One of the most important lessons when coping with social anxiety is setting healthy boundaries. It is not healthy to coop up in your room all day, every day. But for an introvert, it is similarly not healthy to give way to everyone else’s desires for you to spend time around others, and have little to no time to yourself. 

Teens struggling with social anxiety tend to need more time to themselves, to reflect, rest, and recuperate. Because the holidays are punctuated by so many social events, it’s important to strike a balance between enjoying your own company and spending time with friends, family, and new people. 

Keep a Realistic Schedule

For teens who struggle with different mental health issues, especially anxiety, depression, or ADHD, the loss of structure is one of the most severe blows to their mental health over the holidays. 

Having a defined day-to-day schedule can help build consistency in a teen’s mind, keep thoughts from spiraling out of control, and will help them manage both their mood and their thoughts. 

But with the holidays comes a laxer approach to planning – long nights, late hours, waking up midday, eating at odd times, overeating, and overdrinking can all lead to a cascade of mood issues for teens who are used to the structure and balance that comes with a healthy schedule. 

Even while school is out and other concessions are made, it’s important to support your teen in building a daily schedule that helps them continue to cope with intrusive or unwanted thoughts and worries. Substituting classes or extracurricular activities for hobbies and exercise can be a good first step.  

Hands Off the Eggnog

Casual teenage drinking is a coming-of-age rite of passage, but it can be particularly destructive for teens struggling with anxiety. Social anxiety in particular can make it easier for teens to feel dependent on substances as they help them deal with their worries, push their thoughts into the background, and fight back against their inhibitions. 

But these perks are short-lived and come with the downsides of early drinking, including increased anxiety in the long term, a higher risk of dependency, risk-taking, and cognitive decline. 

Talk With a Professional

Shyness and introversion are normal personality traits, and while we can learn to become more assertive and comfortable in social settings, we shouldn’t necessarily strive to become radically different from who we are. 

But social anxiety is something else and can be destructive for a person’s chances in adulthood. Seeking professional help early on can ensure that your teen develops the kind of coping tools necessary to face the stressors of adult life, and exercise mastery over their negative thoughts. Consider getting help today.

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Anxiety

Things You Should Never Say to Your Teen with Anxiety

Teenage anxiety is on the rise, with many teens struggling to find their path forward through a tumultuous and confusing future. Some teens worry about their prospects in a post-pandemic world, while others are struggling with the stress of balancing remote studies and adjusting to a new social environment while preparing for an unknown future in a world beset by climate catastrophes, dangerous disease variants, and a global refugee crisis.

For teens without an anxiety disorder, growing up right now is a scary prospect. But for teens struggling with anxiety issues, it can feel all too overwhelming. 

Helping your teen come to terms with their condition and learn to cope with it is no small feat. Your teen may seem slow to adapt or learn given their worries and fears, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t sharp. They often know what’s wrong, and the self-doubt and frustration paralyze them even further. Like an ouroboros, it’s a self-cannibalizing cycle

True help from a friend or loved one cannot come through surface remarks, short tempers, or remaining uninvolved. Anxiety disorders are often long-term, which means your teen needs support in seeking the right resources to combat their thoughts and feelings, develop coping mechanisms, identify and avoid unnecessary stressors, and learn to live life to the fullest. 

Knowing what to say is important, but it’s just as important to know what not to say. Here are a couple of things you might want to keep in mind when talking to your teen with anxiety. 

Don’t Worry About It

Reassurance can be a powerful tool. But it doesn’t quite work for teens with anxiety in the same way it might for someone else. 

A person with anxiety, regardless of what kind of diagnosis they’re facing, will constantly be bombarded with intrusive what if’s that supersede logic, and even trust in other people. They may love you, believe you, and put their faith in you, but there’s still going to be an incessant grain of doubt deep within them that constantly undermines any effort on your behalf to provide them with simple reassurances. 

In fact, in certain situations, a simple reassurance can send someone with anxiety into a deeper panic, as they’re trained to know that that’s something people say when things have gone wrong

Depending on the situation at hand, you may want to try saying a few different things. If it’s something your teen has already handled in the past – like a difficult exam, a speech in front of the class, or a party – remind them of how they handled it last time, and that they held their own, overcame their panic, or even had fun. By recalling and relating to an earlier experience, a teen may be able to soothe some of their worries. 

Calm Down

We’ve all heard that one before. It’s a command, and one that dismisses your teen’s worries rather than addressing them. You might just want them to take things down a notch so you can breathe for a moment and address the situation logically.

But your teen isn’t in the mindset to do that right now. Telling them to calm down when they aren’t capable of doing so as a direct result of their condition only serves to frustrate them, on top of feeling panicked. In the same way, telling someone to just breathe is also unhelpful. Breathing exercises don’t work for everyone, and it’s just as commanding. 

Instead, you can suggest to breathe together, or try out different grounding exercises to help someone find their way out of a moment of panic. 

Just Get It Done

Frustration hits us all eventually, and there will be times when we’re asking a teen with anxiety to take on a task for us – only to run into an issue when they’re overwhelmed by said task. But we need it to get done. So, we tell them to go and “just do it”. 

Tough love never works. It might feel like it does, sometimes, but it just leads to your teen hiding their symptoms, bottling themselves up, and feeling far more stressed out and alone than ever. They become defensive and hesitate to talk to you about their problems. 

You’re Seen and Heard

We see messages like this everywhere on social media – calling attention to a mental health condition, and telling people that they’re heard, felt, seen, or understood. But these words are just words – even when they’re coming from a loved one. 

If you’ve had anxiety issues in the past, these words can be powerful, provided they’re backed up with past experiences. It can and truly does help to hear from someone else with anxiety and get an insight into what it was like for them. 

But if you didn’t, then relating to your teen in that way – or worse yet, providing an empty platitude – can be condescending at best, and insulting at worst. 

Understanding Teen Anxiety Better

There are a few important tenets to keep in mind when talking to a teen with anxiety issues. 

  • Reassurances rarely work. Instead, try to empower your teen, or remind them of past experiences where they’ve overcome similar issues. 
  • Berating or being tough on a teen with anxiety makes things worse. Yes, exposure therapy can work in certain cases, but that’s a much more gradual and nuanced process than crudely “facing your fears”. 
  • If you can relate to your teen, then that can be a big help. But if you can’t, tell them you can anyway – or relating their stress to the stress you might be facing, such as going “yeah, well I’m having a hard time at work too” – will just alienate your teen. 

Last but not least, consider professional help. It’s not easy coping with an anxiety disorder alone and developing the tools needed to combat these intrusive and frustrating thoughts and feelings. 

Getting Real Help Together

Anxiety disorders can be treated through a combination of talk therapy, group therapy, family therapy, and medication

Different therapeutic modalities help address anxiety in different ways – from identifying physical and creative coping mechanisms, to learning to communicate better with your loved ones, handling anxiety in the long-term, seeking vocational training and skills training to prepare for the workplace at one’s own pace, and much more.

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Anxiety

How to Help Teenagers with Anxiety

Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health issues on the planet. An estimated 18 percent of the world population struggles with anxiety symptoms, and among adolescents in the US, it’s estimated that about a quarter are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.  

Anxiety is much more than just worry. It’s a gnawing and overarching set of symptoms that eats its way into every thought, leaving many teens consistently thinking up worst-case scenarios, struggling with sleep and concentration, and feeling mentally and physically exhausted.  

However, anxiety is not untreatable. While common, there are many ways you can help teenagers with anxiety.  

Types of Anxiety Disorders in Teens 

Anxiety disorders come in different shapes and sizes. The most common diagnosis is a generalized anxiety disorder, a condition characterized by overarching worry and panic.  

Teens with a generalized anxiety disorder will expect the worst, maybe worried about things they have no reason to worry about.  

Social anxiety disorder is another common form of anxiety among teens. In this case, their symptoms revolve around fears and worries of public perception, being talked and gossiped about, struggling to make friends, not being able to open up to others, shutting down around strangers, and panicking at the idea of being in an unfamiliar group, or in the center of attention.  

Phobias are another common type of anxiety. Whereas generalized anxiety and social anxiety cover broad feelings of fear and worry, phobias are an intense and overwhelming fear towards one thing, be it an animal, a scenario, or a concept.  

Coming face to face with triggers may cause a panic attack, a combination of physical and mental symptoms such as nausea, difficulty breathing, sweating, heart palpitations, inability to concentrate, and numbness.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is also a type of anxiety disorder or stress disorder. In cases of PTSD, a specific traumatic event or series of chronic stressors creates a mental wound of sorts.

PTSD occurs most often as a result of violence, particularly sexual assault, but is also common among people who experienced the horrors of war, including soldiers and refugees. PTSD is characterized by changes in the brain that include an increased sensitivity or hypervigilance, and mental consequences of trauma, such as re-experiencing the fear and dread of their trauma, developing extreme measures to avoid any memories of it, or dissociating completely from it.

Other anxiety disorders include panic disorders, which are characterized by frequent and unprovoked panic attacks, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, which couples an intrusive, irrational, and discomforting thought (the obsession) with a tic or behavior that provides a very short-term feeling of relief (the compulsion).

Among all these conditions, the overarching similarities and combined characteristics of an anxiety disorder are intrusive fear and irrational worry. Teens who struggle with some form of anxiety typically won’t respond well to attempts to explain their worries away, or worse yet, being told to “stop worrying”. Their thoughts feel uncontrollable and recurring.  

Dealing with Anxiety at Home 

Teens with anxiety are more sensitive to external stressors, and their symptoms become worse with compounding pressure. This can come from home (a troubled marriage, frequent fights, poor relationship with parents, bullying siblings), from school (pressure to perform, bullying at school), or elsewhere (worrying about the future, medical problems, poverty, depression).  

Identifying and relieving some of these stressors is one way to help fight back against anxiety. Work with your family to create a better environment for your teen. Help them create a sanctuary for themselves at home. 

This can be especially difficult if your teen has overbearing or aggressive siblings. They might feel isolated and lonely due to how they’re treated by others, which can worsen their symptoms.  

Talking to your teen about their specific worries and fears also helps, even if it doesn’t always make them go away. Having someone to explain things to, and go over each worry together, can help make them feel not quite so threatening. While teens with anxiety may require more reassurance than other teens, it can help them in the short term.  

If anxiety runs in the family, then retelling your own experiences as a teen struggling with worries and feelings of inadequacy or panic may help your teen understand that they aren’t alone. That in itself can be a huge deal. Teens with anxiety issues are generally aware that their own thoughts and worries are holding them back, and it can be yet another source of loneliness and frustration. Knowing these are things many people fight with on a daily basis, with success, can give them hope and comfort.  

Finally, it’s also important to discuss the option of seeking professional help.  

When to Get Help  

Feelings of fear and anxiety are normal responses to stress, and it’s no wonder that teens and adults alike are experiencing more anxiety as a result of the pandemic, alongside other societal and global issues.  

But once these feelings are elevated to the point that they consistently impede and hinder your teen on a daily basis, and present themselves alongside physical symptoms, even without triggers, then your teen might be struggling with more than just a healthy response to stress.  

Does Medication Work?  

There are many different medications for anxiety, and it’s rare that a doctor will prescribe them without concurrent talk therapy and behavioral treatment. Treating anxiety, both in the short-term and the long-term, is often more about finding healthier ways to cope with these thoughts.  

Certain forms of anxiety – such as OCD and PTSD – require very specific therapies to overcome certain behavior and intrusive thoughts. When medication is prescribed, it can take the form of beta-blockers, anticonvulsants, antidepressants, and more.  

How to Help Teenagers with Anxiety in the Long-Term  

For many teens, an anxiety disorder or certain symptoms of anxiety are more than just the result of temporary environmental factors and may become a lifelong issue.  

It’s in these cases that life-long protective factors, family support, and therapeutic habits become the backbone of treatment. Teens with anxiety will learn to cope with their condition in ways that best suit them.  

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Anxiety Depression Parenting

What Parents Should Know About Teenage Depression and Anxiety

Teenage depression and anxiety are on the rise, and parents need all the help they can get to address and confront these conditions alongside their children. Understanding how and why mood and anxiety disorders can develop remain key to treating these issues in the long term. While expert help and professional care are a big part of the treatment process, the support coming from friends and family should never be underestimated.

Understanding Teenage Depression and Anxiety

Long-term recovery involves repeating and practicing therapy methods together, training coping mechanisms, and knowing when to call in professional help. Teens with anxiety and depression will have good days and bad days, like anyone else – but the bad days can be especially bad, while the good days might feel far and few between sometimes. Here’s what you need to know about teenage depression and anxiety.

What Teen Depression Looks Like

Adolescence is a common point of onset for symptoms of depression, the most commonly diagnosed mood disorder. Like other mood disorders, depression is primarily characterized by abnormally low mood, for long periods of time. Some people mistake depression for sadness or feel like psychiatry tries to equate the two. It is normal to be sad, and it is important to feel sadness when appropriate. The appropriateness is also entirely subjective, where some people would feel sad when most wouldn’t, or experience sadness in different shapes and sizes. 

But when sadness becomes a normal state, when deep sorrow and poor mood are elicited by nothing at all, and when a teen repeatedly expresses pure frustration at the fact that they cannot pinpoint a reason for their thoughts and feelings, then you and your loved one may be dealing with a case of depression. The biopsychosocial mechanism behind major depressive disorder and other mood disorders is complex, and it’s difficult to blame any one thing for how and why depression occurs.

Genetics definitely play a part, and the condition is hereditary. That means people with multiple family members with a history of depression have a greater risk of developing the condition at some point. Not all cases of depression are life-long or permanent. Some come and go, are stronger during certain phases of life versus others, or only last for a few harrowing months. Persistent depressive disorder describes a less severe form of depression which can last years, or even become a life-long condition. Then there are forms of depression which may be tied to illness or other physiological conditions, such as:

  • Depression caused by chronic pain.
  • Depression caused by thyroid illnesses.
  • Depression tied with premenstrual symptoms and hormone issues.

Environmental factors cannot be ignored either. Good food, good sleep, and a good relationship at home all reduce the impact of depression, reduce symptoms, and act as protective factors against it. The opposite, however, can greatly exacerbate the condition. Like an ouroboros, it’s also much easier for people with depression to suffer from poor diets, lack of sleep, and relationship troubles, as they struggle to provide for themselves during deep episodes, oversleep or can’t get to sleep, and inadvertently push their friends and loved ones away. 

Depression and Self-Harm

The most severe symptoms associated with depression are self-harm and suicidal ideation. Self-harm is commonly seen in the form of cutting, but can also take on other forms, such as burns, biting, and scratching. Non-deliberate self-harm, or reckless behavior, can be another sign of depression. This includes substance use and high-risk activities, such as unprotected sex and drunk driving. 

Suicidal ideation, or intent, includes other signs and symptoms than a history of suicide attempts. Frequently discussing and romanticizing death, making dry jokes about one’s death or suicide on a regular basis, discussing and considering the idea of dying or passing away, talking about being useless or unnecessary for the happiness of others, and talking about feelings of meaninglessness are common forms of suicidal ideation. 

What Teen Anxiety Looks Like

Anxiety describes a series of mental health issues characterized by excessive or overwhelming worry, and an oppressive sense of dread or fear. It may not always be deliberate or targeted, but might instead feel like a heavy weight pressing down on one’s shoulders or chest, both metaphorically and physically. Anxious teens will feel less sure about themselves, more likely to contemplate failure, more likely to entertain negative “what if” scenarios, and will have a harder time calming down, or even breathing properly

Anxiety Is Common

Anxiety disorders are some of the most diagnosed mental health conditions in the world, and it’s estimated that at least about 18 percent of Americans struggle with anxiety disorders. Generalized anxiety disorder is one of the most common types, characterized by symptoms of overarching anxiety and worry in life. Teens with anxiety are more likely to develop panic attacks in moments of stress, have a hard time concentrating on anything, will obsess over problems, and might constantly worry about failure.

More specific anxiety disorders include social anxiety disorder, agoraphobia, and other phobias. These are conditions characterized by such an immense fear of something that it leads to irrational behavior. While we are all prone to do irrational things in the face of fear, anxiety disorders set themselves apart by allowing and provoking intense fear, even without any triggering stimuli. This can cause anxious thoughts and worries even in the most calming of times.

Finally, anxiety disorders also include conditions like OCD. Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a mental health issue in two parts, first characterized by unwanted and intrusive thoughts, followed by ritualistic, compulsive behavior meant to soothe those thoughts. It feeds into itself, creating a destructive, anxiety-ridden cycle. 

More Than Just Therapy

First-line treatment for teenage depression and anxiety disorders depends on the diagnosis, whether they have multiple concurrent disorders, and a few other factors. Common teenage depression and anxiety treatments will include antidepressants (usually SSRIs), certain anti-anxiety medication, beta blockers, and talk therapy (often in the form of cognitive behavioral therapy).

In the longer term, a doctor may recommend family therapy and continued group therapy to help teens discover and find out how other people cope with their disorders, form new friendships, and develop a better relationship with their family members. Getting informed about your teen’s condition – through their doctor, and through reputable sources of information online – can greatly help them get better, through your support.

Categories
Anxiety Depression Holidays

Helping Your Teen Navigate Holiday Depression and Anxiety

While we usually consider the holiday season a time for joy and cheer, that feeling is not universal. Among people with mental health issues, over half (64 percent) report that the holiday season negatively impacts their condition, with 40 percent reporting that they feel somewhat worse and nearly a quarter (24 percent) reporting feeling much worse. One respondent in a survey for the National Alliance on Mental Illness stated that the “holiday season beams a spotlight on everything difficult about living with depression.”

While millions of Americans are doing their best to find the right time and space to spend with their family, the looming threat and ongoing destruction caused by COVID-19 further weighs on people’s hearts, raising anxieties about seeing friends and loved ones, and reopening fresh wounds caused by the loss of family members. There’s also seasonal/holiday depression, which affects up to 20 percent of people with major depressive disorder (MDD) and worsens depression during the winter months.

If you feel that your family, and especially your teen, are taking things quite hard during this year’s holiday season, then know that you are not alone. Millions of Americans are in mourning this year. The financial impact of a pandemic only further heightens anxieties around finances and finding work, not to mention the pain of missing family during one of the most important social occasions of the year. Understanding how the holidays might affect your teen and make them feel can help you identify the best way to help them.

Understanding the Highs and Lows of Holiday Depression

Seasonal/holiday depression, also referred to as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is a mental health condition that affects about 3 percent of the general population. Between 10 and 20 percent of people are affected by MDD, and nearly 25 percent of people are affected by bipolar disorder. Seasonal/holiday depression is a mood disorder characterized by symptoms of depression, especially during the winter months, usually tied to a combination of factors including:

    • Everyday holiday stressors around family.
    • The pressure to be social.
    • Financial stress.
    • Drastically lowered levels of daylight, which can affect the brain and induce a negative mood.

Only about 10 percent of people with seasonal/holiday depression experience symptoms during the spring and summer months, rather than the fall and winter months. Seasonal/holiday depression should not be confused with the winter blues, a separate phenomenon involving a mild dip in mood during the holidays. People with seasonal/holiday depression experience more severe symptoms, including:

    • A marked decrease in self-esteem.
    • Noticeable signs of hypersomnia (excessive sleep).
    • Intense cravings.
    • Rapid weight gain.

While the causes are not entirely laid out, research indicates that the holiday season’s stressors may be exacerbated in some people by disrupted body clocks (circadian rhythm issues) and a lack of sunlight leading to lower production and release of important mood controlling neurotransmitters, like dopamine and serotonin.

If your teen’s mood dips severely over the holidays, then know that their low mood and irritability might not just be in response to recent events but also the winter months’ general effect. Certain protective factors and condition-specific treatments (like light therapy, utilizing artificial UV light) may help them cope better. Unlike the winter blues, seasonal/holiday depression must be diagnosed and treated by a professional.

An Especially Difficult Year

Regardless of whether your teen’s mood is significantly impacted by holiday stressors and a different day-and-night cycle, no one would argue against the fact that this year is filled with extraordinary circumstances. We could all stand to have a little more support during this challenging year.

While some of us might be keen to see it end and are eagerly looking forward to celebrating the coming of a new year and new opportunities, others reflect on the past 12 months’ events with sorrow and pain. Your teen might be reminded of a close friend or relative’s death whenever they feel the “holiday spirit,” or they think your stress from months and months of anxiety and back-to-back bad news, and it is wearing on them as well.

It takes time to recover from loss and pain, in any shape or form. But if the holidays serve up a final stinger rather than a soothing balsam, acting together could help you and your teen find some peace and make the best of things. Here are a few tips for seeking emotional stability and overcoming low moods during these next few months.

Establishing and Maintaining a Healthy Routine

The holidays can feel massively disrupting for many, especially for teens who rely on a steady routine to keep their feet on the ground and manage feelings of anxiety or loneliness. Maintaining a healthy routine even throughout the holidays might feel like it is not doing a special occasion any justice, but it may help your teen feel stable. Elements of a healthy routine might include:

    • An hour or two of exercise.
    • Limited screen time.
    • Working on a project individually or together (like fixing up an old car, learning to cook new meals, finishing a book, or practicing an instrument).
    • Continuing to work or study (or find an equivalent activity).

Having Things to Look Forward To

For many teens who are feeling down during the holidays, these next few weeks might serve mainly as a reminder of what could have been or of the sorrowful events that had come to pass in weeks prior. Having something to look forward to can help serve as a reminder to move on or focus and be grateful for future opportunities. The next date with a friend, a new graduation day, the first day of a new life at school, or even just the new year and what it might bring. Holding onto the hope of something better is essential.

Making a Difference Over the Holidays

The holidays aren’t just a time for gift-receiving – they’re also a time for gift-giving, and sometimes, that gift doesn’t need to be a new phone or a fancy necklace. If your teen is feeling down, helping those in need during the winter months (and during a pandemic) can help them reap the benefits of kindness and gratitude. There are many ways to help, from donating unwanted old clothes to volunteering at kitchens and handing out supplies. See what is being organized in your local neighborhood and pitch in with your teen any way you can.

Warning Signs and Getting Help

Sometimes, the best thing you can do to help your teen is getting them the help they need. Suppose your teen has been making frequent references to self-harm and suicide, has changed drastically in terms of personality and interests, has become entirely recluse and intensely irritable, and is generally unresponsive to all attempts to help reincorporate them into family life. In that case, it might be best to call a professional and ask for help. Convincing your teen to come to see a specialist might be difficult, but they may also be waiting for you to take notice and offer serious help as their thoughts and behavior spiral towards depression.

Categories
Adolescence Anxiety Mental Health Stress

Living With Anxiety

Life can be challenging enough without being affected by something that throws off your emotions, disrupts time with friends and everything about your internal universe. Living with anxiety is one of those conditions that affects nearly 18% of the population; that’s a large percentage that deals with acute stress from anxiety on a daily basis. It may not seem that serious to people who never experienced it before, but for those of us that have it, anxiety can change everything.

Understanding Anxiety

Think about that 18%, and think about who is a part of that number—your friends, daughters, sons, mothers, brothers, wives, boyfriends, sisters, etc. To understand what people living with this disorder go through it’s a good idea to know what anxiety is, so that when they experience an event you can be there for support. Anxiety is a stress-related disorder that is considered a mental health condition caused by intense feelings of worry and fear about a variety of things like health related concerns, social situations and more.

One small thing like a pain in your left arm, to someone with acute anxiety, can feel like a heart attack when it’s just a nerve. These little things escalate quickly because our minds, and in that moment, it’s all real. Can you imagine feeling like that all of the time? People that live with anxiety, often don’t have any idea when an event will happen or what the intensity of the event will be. So you can imagine how difficult it is to prepare for, constantly in a state of worry about a future anxiety or panic attack.

We say the event because they are considered disrupting to our daily activities and can make it difficult to engage in anything else other than what’s happening in our heads. Some people will experience similar symptoms that tell them an episode is coming that allows them to be prepared for the experience; others have no idea or are not entirely sure what they’re experiencing until it’s happened enough times to see a physician and be correctly diagnosed.

Common symptoms of an anxiety attack:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Increased heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Numbness
  • Tingling in the hands and feet
  • Clammy palms and sweating
  • Irritation
  • Restlessness
  • Racing thoughts
  • Nausea

Anxiety is Managed, Not Cured

The problem with anxiety is that the feeling of nervousness and paranoia cannot be avoided, you just learn to work through them or manage them differently. Unfortunately, those with anxiety have to experience an attack multiple times before they understand something is wrong. Medications have been used to tone down symptoms or calm the mind, but counseling is the best method and to figure out what works best for you when you experience an attack. There is no cure, but it’s manageable.

Famous People Suffering from Anxiety

Whether you realize it or not, many famous people suffer from anxiety every day. These celebrities deal with bouts of nervous feelings and fear as they’re performing, presenting or walking around the city. Some of the names you may be familiar with are Emma Stone, Kristen Stewart, Adele, John Mayer, Johnny Depp and Charlize Theron! These people are A-lister’s and are in the public eye every day, no matter what they’re doing. It is possible to live with anxiety and do amazing things, but it takes strength and mindfulness to know yourself and how you react. Be inspired to share your story!

At Visions Adolescent Treatment Centers, our clients come to us with a variety of preexisting conditions in addition to their addiction, and we’re here for them every step of the way. Call Visions today to learn more about our addiction recovery and dual diagnosis programs at (866)889-3665.

Categories
Addiction ADHD Adolescence Anxiety Bipolar Disorder Depression Mental Health Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) Personality Disorder Recovery Social Anxiety Stress

Mental Health and Substance Abuse

Mental illness is a frequent partner of substance abuse and addiction, although the cause-and-effect between the two isn’t always clear. However, the issue is a prevalent one that needs to be considered anytime treatment is sought for substance abuse, because diagnosing both correctly is a key component to a healthy recovery process. There are a number of different types of mental illnesses that are often seen in combination with substance abuse and addiction.

Depression
Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses associated with substance abuse. In some cases, substances may be used to mask the symptoms of depression. Other times, substance abuse may bring on the depression symptoms or make them worse. Symptoms of depression might include:

  • Feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness
  • Persistent feelings of sadness or guilt
  • Loss of interest in or ability to enjoy activities
  • Diminished energy levels and fatigue
  • Difficulty thinking clearly or concentrating
  • Changes to sleep or appetite
  • Suicidal thoughts or ideations

Anxiety
Anxiety disorders are also a frequent problem for those struggling with substance abuse. There are different types of anxiety disorders, including obsessive-compulsive disorder, social anxiety and panic attacks. Substances may be used to lessen the symptoms at first, which often only serves to make the symptoms more intense over time. Symptoms of these conditions might include:

  • Feelings of restlessness or nervousness
  • Excessive and ongoing worry and tension
  • Irritability and fearfulness
  • Sweaty palms, racing heart, shortness of breath
  • Headaches, dizziness or nausea

Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
ADHD is a disorder often diagnosed in adolescents and frequently associated with substance abuse. This disorder is characterized by three basic components:

  • Hyperactivity – difficulty sitting still, excessive talking, always seems to be “on the go”
  • Inattention – disorganization, lack of focus, forgetfulness, distraction
  • Impulsivity – impatience, blurting out answers, guessing instead of solving problems

Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a mental disorder characterized by extreme swings of mood and energy levels. During the manic phase, the individual exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Excessive irritability
  • Bursts of energy, requiring little sleep
  • Distracted easily
  • Engage in impulsive, high-risk behaviors

Manic phases are typically followed by depressed states, which may include the following symptoms:

  • Extended periods of sadness or hopelessness
  • Low energy, excessive fatigue
  • Significant changes to appetite and sleep patterns
  • Thoughts and ideations of suicide

When mental illness accompanies a substance abuse disorder, it is imperative to address both disorders simultaneously to give the patient the best odds for a successful recovery. At Visions Adolescent Treatment Centers, we are experienced in treating both of these conditions at the same time, a situation known as dual diagnosis. Our team of healthcare professionals is equipped to work through both disorders and give our patients the best odds of successful sobriety and improved mental health. To learn more about dual diagnosis or our treatment programs, contact Visions Adolescent Treatment Centers at 866-889-3665.