Teenage anxiety is on the rise. A study by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) found that almost 32 percent of teens have an anxiety-based disorder. In terms of gender breakdown, 38% of female adolescents and 26% of male adolescents have an anxiety disorder.
There are various causes of anxiety in teens. As humans, we are vulnerable to both genetic and environmental factors that heighten our susceptibility for developing anxiety. Many teens may have a genetic predisposition for anxiety given their family history. This paired with environmental factors such as the burden of expectations, external influences, and peer pressure can create a perfect storm and lead to the development of clinical anxiety.
Overexposure to social media is another risk factor. Social media overuse can directly impact emotional and mental wellness. Many studies have found a strong link between social media overuse and an increased risk of anxiety and depression.
Complications from Untreated Anxiety
Untreated anxiety can impact a teen’s physical & mental well-being and quality of life. Substance abuse often accompanies anxiety as a co-occurring disorder as many teens with an anxiety disorder seek solace in alcohol, marijuana, and other elicit substances. As the adolescent brain is not fully developed when teens turn to substances to alleviate anxiety they are using substances to cope, rather than effective socio-emotional coping skills that help them effectively manage stressors.
Helping Teens with Anxiety
Here are some things you can do to help your child cope with anxiety.
➢ Encourage open communication: Engage in conversations around anxiety and mental health with your adolescent. Ask questions about how they experience anxiety through their thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations (e.g. rapid heartbeat, sweating). Point out observable behaviors and their impact on functioning. Be sure to validate their emotions, NOT unhealthy responses to their emotions (e.g. isolation, avoidance, withdrawing).
➢ Promote structure and healthy boundaries: Develop healthy evening routines, making sure that teens are getting enough sleep, putting down screens an hour before bed, and taking responsibility to set their own alarms. Without adequate rest, even small challenges have a significantly greater impact. Morning routines are equally important; waking up, getting dressed, and having breakfast before school is necessary. Make sure that teens have a mixture of socialization, academics, and preferred activities to fill their days.
➢ Encourage engagement in behavioral activation: Encourage engagement in activities that your adolescent enjoys and/or provide them with a sense of self-efficacy (e.g. biking, swimming, socializing, volunteering). When we engage in pleasant activity, we improve mood and decrease anxiety-based behaviors, such as avoidance.
➢ Help them overcome their fears about their lives and future: Different parts of the human body, including the brain, undergo several adolescent changes. These changes can trigger anxiety. Normalize your adolescent’s fears. Engage in problem-solving when able and encourage a tolerance for uncertainty and active coping when a situation cannot be “fixed”.
The OCD & Anxiety Center provides counseling for teenage anxiety in Orland Park. Once we assess the level of anxiety you are experiencing, we will develop a customized treatment plan. Our staff is experienced in treating a variety of anxiety-based issues and knows what signs to look for when it comes to helping those dealing with anxiety. To schedule a consultation, call us at (630) 522-3124.
Dr. Maha Zayed is a psychologist and owner of The OCD & Anxiety Center. The Center is located in two suburbs outside of Chicago. She has devoted her career to specializing in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy for anxiety, OCD, and anxiety-related disorders. She is comfortable working with children and adults and is able to provide treatment both in the office and outside of the office, wherever anxiety happens.