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If Your Teenager Has Been Diagnosed with an Anxiety Disorder and How to Help

IMPORTANT NOTE: This is not written from a professional but simply what I have found in the research. If you feel concerned about your teen with mental health, contact a psychiatrist or counselor to get them professional help. These are tips and general information from research that may help if your teen has been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder by a professional.

Anxiety, Symptoms, Signs, and Research

Anxiety is characterized by chronic and excessive worry and fear. Anxiety can be about anything such as health, work, money, social life, etc. For teens, friends at school, grades, and driving are good example of possible anxiety-provoking situations.

Symptoms of anxiety vary, but common symptoms include:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Sleep problems
  • Fatigue
  • Uncontrollable worry and intrusive thoughts
  • Irritability
  • Feeling of being on-edge and restless

Anxiety can affect your teen in ways you may or may not see as an anxiety symptom. Irritability and aggression, especially in early-middle adolescent boys, can be signs of anxiety (Meeus, Van de Schoot, Hawk, Hale, & Branje, 2016). Research has shown that self-blame, rumination, catastrophizing, and impulsive behaviors are possible signals of anxiety (Young, Sandman, & Craske, 2019).

Another symptom not commonly seen as an anxiety symptom is emotional sensitivity (Zimmer-Gembeck, 2016). This is very relevant to teenagers because teenagers seem to be more prone to sensitivity to rejection. Social rejection can be a factor in emotional sensitivity, which is like having severe mood swings and intense emotions. Emotional sensitivity is where an individual feel intense, strong emotional reaction in response to an event.

Studies and statistics show that shifts in behavior occur around age 12 and an increase in anxiety/depression around ages 15-18 (Cohen, Andrews, Davis, & Rudolph, 2018). This age is a major developmental stage with puberty and gaining more independence; this is the age where they start to learn more about themselves.

This is can be an awkward and stressful period in your teen’s life, and that can make them susceptible to anxiety and depression. This can explain why research has shown the increase in anxiety and depression during puberty and high school because that increase in stress can also lead to an increase in anxiety/depression. Poor grades, problems with interpersonal relationships, and even physical pain have been shown to be related to anxiety.

How Can I, as a Parent, Help?

Helpful Things to Say and Do:

  • Support- simply be supportive and let them know you are there for them and love them
  • Help them get professional help: psychiatrist and psychotherapy
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has been shown to be effective for anxiety
  • Encourage them to partake in activities or hobbies (be careful not to push or pressure them)
  • Validate their feelings (ADAA)
  • “I see how you feel that way”
  • “I’m sorry you are feeling this way, how can I help?”
  • Do not punish/criticize lack of progress or mistakes
  • Point out the victories and positives- it will help them learn to focus on the positives
  • Do not compare them to others
  • Anxiety displays and affects every person differently
  • Stay calm when child is stressed or upset
  • Children and teens are very observant and receptive of others’ reactions and responses

Helpful Links for more Information

Helpful Assessment Tools


IMPORTANT: Not Meant to Replace a Professional Assessment and Diagnosis

 

References:


Anxiety and Depression Association of America (2018). Screening tools. https://adaa.org/living-    with-anxiety/ask-and-learn/screenings

Anxiety and Depression Association of America (2018). Tips for parents and caregivers.     https://adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/children/tips-parents-and-caregivers

Center for Disease Control and Prevention (n.d.). Children’s mental health: Anxiety and     depression. https://www.cdc.gov/childrensmentalhealth/depression.html

Child Mind Institute (2020). https://childmind.org

Cohen, J. R., Andrews, A. R., Davis, M. M., & Rudolph, K. D. (2018). Anxiety and depression     during childhood and adolescence: Testing theoretical models of continuity and discontinuity. 

Abnormal Child Psychology, 46(6): 1295–1308. doi:10.1007/s10802-017-0370-x.

Meeus, W., Van de Schoot, R., Hawk, S.T., Hale, W.W., & Branje, S. (2016). Direct aggression     and generalized anxiety in adolescence: Heterogeneity in development and intra-individual change.

J Youth Adolescence, 45(2), 361-375. doi: 10.1007/s10964-015-0388-8.

National Alliance on Mental Illness (n.d.). Family members and caregivers.     https://www.nami.org/Your-Journey/Family-Members-and-Caregivers

National Institute of Mental Health (n.d.). Anxiety disorders.     https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml

University of Washington Medical Center & Seattle Children’s Hospital Research Foundation     (2020). Screening and surveillance.     https://depts.washington.edu/dbpeds/Screening%20Tools/ScreeningTools.html#section4_    textarea26_heading

Young, K.S., Sandman, C.F., & Craske, M.G. (2019). Positive and negative emotion regulation     in adolescence: Links to anxiety and depression. Brain Sciences, 9(76). doi:     10.3390/brainsci9040076.

Zimmer-Gembeck, M., J. (2016). Peer rejection, victimization, and relational self- system     processes in adolescence: Toward a transactional model of stress, coping, and developing     sensitivities. Child Development Perspectives, 10(2), 122-127. doi: 10.1111/cdep.12174.

 

 


WRITTEN BY Laurel Zwick