Those who can clearly recall their teen years will remember the uncomfortable amount of anxiety they probably felt on a daily basis. While most teens suffer from anxiety from time to time, some children have more trouble dealing with the issue than others. Even siblings separated by just a year may have totally different attitudes when it comes to dealing with the pressures of school and their social lives. Understanding teen anxiety can give parents an idea of when they need to take a step back in order to let their child handle things on their own and when they should intervene to help their child deal with the issues at hand.
What is Anxiety?
For teens and adults, anxiety is the typical reaction to stressful situations and environments. Taking tests, new social encounters, speaking in public, taking a boy or girl out on a date, and participating in a competitive sporting event can all make a person feel slightly apprehensive. Some teens, however, have a stronger reaction to these kinds of stressful situations than others. To some kids, just thinking about any of these types of situations may cause them to feel a great deal of distress.
Anxiety doesn’t always have to be a bad thing, and can be beneficial when it helps someone deal with a tense situation. When studying for a test, for example, feeling anxious about how you might score could help you study a little harder so you feel better about your chances of receiving a good grade. Other times, however, anxiety can do more harm than good, especially when it becomes excessive or irrational, and prevents a person from being able to focus on the task at hand.
Occasionally, anxiety can cause a rift to form between your teen and their friends in instances where they avoid social situations because they feel too panicked or tense. Your child needs to take steps to feel less anxious once they begin to experience anxiety that threatens to disrupt their teenage life.
Signs that your teen is experiencing excessive anxiety can include:
- They feel overly anxious, worried, or afraid for no reason. Teens will generally feel anxiety about specific events, such as a big dance or upcoming test. Your teen’s anxiety level may be ratcheted too far up when no obvious reason exists for their anxiety.
- They excessively worry about daily events and activities. Again, some worry for teens is normal, but constantly worrying about events that don’t usually warrant such feelings indicates their anxiety level is too high.
- Your teen continuously double checks whether they did something right. While it’s normal for teens to double check their homework or make sure they remember an important test date or event, it’s unusual for most teens to repeatedly obsess over such small details.
- Your teen panics and cannot function in certain pressure situations, such as taking a test, giving a speech, or when hanging out with friends.
Coping with Teen Anxiety
Finding the right treatment for your teen is an important step in helping them to reduce their anxiety. Treatment can involve seeing a clinical social worker, psychologist, or psychiatrist. Occasionally, school counselors can help parents find the right treatment option for their child. Once your teen receives help, many areas of their life can begin to improve, such as their performance in school and relationships with friends and family.
The most common types of treatment for anxiety can include:
- Medication. Several types of prescription drugs can help your child deal with anxiety depending on their symptoms. Kids who suffer from social anxiety are often treated with the same types of medication used to treat depression. Because these types of medications alter a person’s body chemistry, they often take several weeks to take effect.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy. If you elect to send your teen to a therapist, one of the techniques they may employ is cognitive-behavioral therapy. The therapist will work with your child to determine what types of thoughts and behaviors cause their anxiety, and will work with your teen to help reduce them.
- Biofeedback. A type of therapy that uses electronic devices to measure how the body responds to certain stressful situations. The more information the body gives about its internal processes, the more information therapist has to teach a person how to control these processes.
- Relaxation techniques. Teaching your teen such techniques as yoga, tai chi, meditation, and deep abdominal breathing can help to reduce feelings of anxiety and negative thoughts.
While approximately 13 percent of all teens suffer from high enough anxiety that they need to seek medical or psychotherapeutic treatment, each child is different. By talking with your teen, you can begin to understand how well they deal with anxiety.
Timothy Lemke blogs about children’s health issues for Dr. Kirk Christianson, a dentist in Clackamas at Downtown Dental Care.