Teenage worry, anxiety and depression
Working or living with a teenager you would be familiar with the roller coaster of emotions in the process of growing up. These episodes of worry brought on by negative feelings and situations are a normal part of life but it can harbor the danger of translating into anxiety and depression. Anxiety is an apprehension of things that have not happened and an anticipation of a danger that might not even be real. A recent study done by the Amen clinic indicated that 1 in 8 teenagers struggle with anxiety. Furthermore they state that girls tend to be more prone to mood disorders and 1 in 3 girls are affected by it. Boys are less likely to seek help but 60% overall will not seek assistance with dealing with anxiety and therefore run the risk of it turning into depression.
There are many reasons why adolescents won’t seek help, but often the main reason is that they do not want to be perceived as weak and they try to deal with issues themselves. The difficulty occurs that they are so overwhelmed by the perceived problems that they are unable to step back and look at the issues in context. Adolescents will often confide in a friend who may notice that their behaviour is changing.
Signs of anxiety could include the following:
- Excessive worrying about everyday things.
- Problems with sleeping habits, either sleeping too much or trouble falling asleep.
- Generalized or specific irrational fears of things that have not happened but in their minds potentially could happen.
- Prolonged muscle tension of the neck, back, jaw and even hands.
- Physical problems such as headaches or stomach cramps (indigestion/ nausea).
- Heightened self-consciousness and self-doubt.
- Feelings of helplessness and loneliness which could coincide with panic attacks (shortness of breath, racing heart and tingling of hands or feet).
- Recalling past negative experiences.
- Prone to an obsessive mindset (perfectionism) and concern if everything does not work out as intended.
- Avoidance of activities that they have enjoyed in the past and isolating themselves.
- In girls they can be overly tearful.
Once the warning signs of anxiety is identified it is important to find ways of reducing the harmful effects:
- Seek professional help from a psychologist or counselor to talk about the triggers that cause anxiety and how to find effective coping mechanisms.
- Consider revising the teenager’s diet. Foods that contain gluten and sugar can trigger “brain fog” (the feeling of going ‘blank’) which leads to an inability to think clearly and rationally. The Amen clinic has done some extensive studies on this topic.
- Consider natural products to lessen the physical affects of anxiety such as Rescue, Biral and Tissue salts (Kali Phos). However if the physical symptoms do not improve please consult a Psychiatrist.
- Identify the triggers that lead to bouts of anxiety and actively do something different to change what is not working.
- Challenge the “what if” questions. On reflecting on past experiences where there was a specific fear and these questions arose, remember that the fear often did not become a reality. FEAR- “False Evidence Appearing Real”.
- Challenge negative self-talk and beliefs. The whispers of negative messages that flood the brain need to be directly challenged and measured if it is true or real. Actively replacing the negative thoughts with positive ones- think of what is going right in your life. Brain research indicates that the brain is not able to think on negative thoughts and positive thoughts at the same time (neuroplasticity). It is like walking on a path in the forest, the more you walk on the same path the larger it becomes. Therefore focusing on the positive and practicing it daily will lead to the strengthening of those neural pathways.
- Focus on personal strengths and accepting of their own uniqueness. Perfection can never be obtained and it is like trying to catch a cloud. Set realistic achievable goals.
- Changing the way life is seen…. as an adventure with uncertainties that have an equal chance of having positive results and not just negative consequences.
- Practice relaxation, breathing and calming visualization.
- Participate in meaningful activities that bring joy and connectivity with others.
- Learn to live in the “now”. Being thankful for all the small things and relationships you have in your life.
- Be an observer without judging your emotions. Be compassionate to yourself, we are all human and we need to be kind to ourselves.
- It is also important to remember that although worrying can have very negative effects it can also be used to an advantage. Worry can lead to motivation to act and change things that are not working, help avoid dangerous situations and act as a trigger to prepare for difficult situations by utilizing your resources and solve problems.
“Worry does not take away tomorrow’s troubles, it takes away today’s peace”