Anxiety is a very common disorder and is a normal reaction to stress. though some teens react much more strongly to stress than others. When anxiety causes distress or interference in daily life and has lasted enough to be considered as a problem, it requires immediate intervention.
While all teens feel anxious from time to time, some feel it more than others.
What is Anxiety?
For teens or anyone else, anxiety is a normal reaction to stress. Things like tests, meeting new people, speaking in public, going on a date, and competing in sports can make us feel apprehensive or uneasy. But some teens react much more strongly to stressful situations than others. Even thinking about the situations may cause them great distress.
Anxiety can be a good thing when it helps you deal with a tense situation. For example, when you're studying for a test, a little anxiety can make you want to study hard so you do well. But at other times, anxiety can be harmful, especially when it is excessive and irrational, and prevents you from being able to focus.
Sometimes, the anxiety can come between you and your friends, especially when you avoid going out with them or calling them, because you're too panicked or tense. This level of anxiety is harmful and that's when you need to do something to feel less anxious, so you can fully enjoy your teenage life.
How can teens cope with anxiety?
Many teens find ways to cope with the high anxiety they feel. It's important to recognise your emotions, to know what you're feeling and why you're feeling that way. Recognising the types of situations that cause your anxiety is helpful as well.
Sometimes, just admitting that a situation is stressful and being prepared to deal with it can reduce your anxiety. If you try these simple measures and still have too much anxiety, getting treatment from a health care professional or therapist is the next step.
How much anxiety is too much?
Here are some of the signs of excess anxiety:
You feel anxious, worried, or afraid for no reason at all. Normally, teens feel anxiety because of something specific, like a test or going out on a date. But if there's no obvious reason for your feelings, your anxiety level may be too high.
You worry too much about everyday events or activities. Some worry is normal. But if you're constantly worrying about things that are not unusual, your anxiety level is too high.
You continually check whether you did something right. While it's normal to check something you did to make sure it's right, continuing to check it again and again is a sign that you have way too much anxiety.
You're so panicky, you're unable to function in certain specific situations like taking tests or socialising with friends.
What anxiety treatments are available for teens?
Finding the right treatment is an important first step in reducing your anxiety. Treatment involves seeing a psychiatrist, clinical social worker, or psychologist. Sometimes the counsellors at school may serve as a resource to find the appropriate treatment. Treatment can improve many areas of your life, including your performance in school and relationships with your family and friends.
Here are the most common treatments for anxiety:
Medication: Several types of prescription medications can be useful, depending on the kind of anxiety you have.
Generalised anxiety or anxiety in social situations are often treated with the same kinds of medication used to treat depression. These take 4 - 6 weeks to work best. Because of this, your doctor may also recommend another type of treatment such as cognitive-behavioural therapy.
Specific anti-anxiety drugs: called benzodiazepines, can also be added or used alone, depending on the circumstances. Specific anxieties, like panic about tests or public speaking, can also be treated by taking a single dose of a medication called a beta-blocker about an hour before the feared event.
New medications are being developed all the time. Your health care provider will work with you to find the one(s) that work best for you. Remember, if you are taking medications for anxiety, it is important to follow your doctor's instructions for taking it. Never stop taking any anxiety medication without talking to your doctor first.
Cognitive-behavioural therapy: You'll need to see a therapist for cognitive-behavioural therapy, or CBT. The therapist will help you identify what types of thoughts and beliefs cause your anxiety, and work with you to reduce them. It's important to see a therapist who has experience treating anxiety in teens, and to plan to see that therapist frequently. Keep in mind that any therapy can succeed only if you work on getting better. The therapist just helps by suggesting ways that may help you change and get better.
Biofeedback: This therapy uses electronics to measure how your body responds to stress. It's based on the idea that when people are given information about their body's internal processes, they can use this information to learn to control those processes.
During biofeedback, you'll be connected to a machine that tells you and your therapist when you are relaxing your body. With sensors placed over specific muscle sites, the therapist can read the tension in your muscles, your heart rate, your breathing pattern, the amount of sweat produced, and/or body temperature. Any one of these readings can let the therapist know if you are learning to relax. Biofeedback can be fun. It's almost like playing a computer game.
Relaxation techniques: Relaxation techniques can help reduce anxiety and negative thoughts and help you manage stress. Common relaxation techniques include deep abdominal breathing, meditation, listening to calming music, and activities like yoga and tai chi.
When should teens get help for anxiety?
If you have high levels of anxiety as mentioned above, it's important to seek treatment. About 13% of teenagers have high enough anxiety to need medical or psychotherapeutic treatment.