Anxiety in Teenagers

What is Anxiety

Anxiety can be characterised by the following symptoms:

• Irritability
• Racing heart
• Constant worry
• Striving for perfection
• Social withdrawal
• Dwelling on thoughts/over analysing thoughts
• Need constant reassurance from others
• Distress if mistakes are made or things don’t go according to plan
• Difficulty sleeping
• Trouble concentrating and maintaining attention
• Shortness of breath
• Sweating
• Shaking

Causes of Anxiety in Teenagers

Possible causes of anxiety are:
• Bullying
• Low self-esteem
• High expectations from parents or themselves
• Stressful event
• Significant change in their life (e.g. divorce or parents)
• Conflict with peers
• Academic issues
• Family history of anxiety

What Helps?

An Acceptance and Commitment Therapy approach is very helpful with regards to managing Anxiety in Teenagers (please see my page on ACT).

Useful strategies include:
• Understanding the cause of the anxiety (for example – is it low self-esteem, bullying, fractured relationship with parents etc.). Feedback I often receive is that when people have therapy sometimes the focus is mostly on reducing symptoms. However if you don’t address the cause of the symptoms and work at resolving it (e.g. bullying) often the anxiety will remain.
• Deep Breathing
• Mindfulness
• Talking about how they are feeling rather than internalising
• Improving diet and exercise (for example reducing caffeine and junk food)
• Relaxation techniques
• Learning to cope with uncomfortable thoughts and feelings as they are part of life
• Enhancing Self-Esteem (please see my page on Self-Esteem)
• Establishing their values and setting goals

It is also helpful for parents to gain strategies regarding how to help their teenager manage their anxiety. This is addressed with parents during therapy.

What about Medication?

This is a difficult decision for parents and one with mixed opinions. Medication is not a cure for anxiety; however sometimes teenagers suffer such severe anxiety that they are unable to utilise the strategies learnt and thus don’t gain much needed benefit from therapy alone. Medication can provide some relief of the severity of symptoms in order for the teenager to gain the most out of therapy. If the anxiety is persistent and severe, it would be worth discussing medication management with your child’s consulting doctor, paediatrician or Psychiatrist.

If your teenager is suffering from anxiety and you would like further information and support for them please feel free to arrange an appointment with me to address the above strategies in more depth.

Reference: Mash, E. J., & Barkley, R. J. (2003). Child Psychopathology. 2nd Edition. New York: Guilford Press.