“Does My Teenager Have Anxiety?” (Guest Post By Noah Smith with Wellness Voyager)

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It is normal for your teenager to feel a little apprehensive about making a speech in class or learning a new school schedule, but sometimes these feelings cross the line into an anxiety disorder. Put simply, anxiety is “the body’s reaction to stressful, dangerous, or unfamiliar situations.” However, for some children, the anxiety they feel is debilitating, and could affect their sleep, concentration, ability to talk to others, school performance, and enjoyment of activities. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, adolescent anxiety has a lifetime prevalence of 25.1 percent in children 13 to 18 years old. What’s worse, if it’s not properly addressed and treated in childhood, anxiety could lead to other mental health issues like depression or addiction down the road. It is important that you and your child are able to differentiate normal worries from anxiety.

 

Recognize the Signs

Anxiety disorders will vary from teenager to teenager, but symptoms typically include excessive fears and worries, a feeling of inner restlessness, and a tendency to be extremely wary and vigilant. Even if there is no reason for your child to feel anxious and they are in a safe, calm environment, they may still experience continued feelings of nervousness, stress, and restlessness. Anxiety can cause physical symptoms as well, such as muscle tension and cramps, stomachaches, headaches, trembling, hyperventilation, nausea, dizziness, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, and sweating.

 

Anxiety Has Types

Anxiety describes the body’s reaction to a particular situation, but anxiety can be broken down into six different types of anxiety disorders: generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), separation anxiety disorder, panic disorder, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

GAD is categorized by excessive worry about events or activities, with the feelings being present almost constantly and floating from one situation to the next, such as fear of poor school performance or worries about what others think of them. Separation anxiety is worry about being away from the child’s parents, with fears often situated around parents not returning as promised or fear that the parent will be harmed. Although this type of disorder is most common in young children, it may be experienced by adolescents in response to stressful life events such as a divorce or deployment. If your child experiences sudden and intense periods of anxiety that come on unexpectedly, they likely have panic disorder, and may experience intense symptoms such as trouble breathing or feeling boxed in.

Fears or anxieties that result from something specific such as bugs, heights, or public speaking are referred to as phobias, and won’t affect your child unless they are directly confronted with the fear. OCD is a condition involving recurrent thoughts, impulses, or images that are hard to control. Compulsions are the behaviors the child partakes in as a means of distressing, such as hand washing or redoing an action or activity over and over again. The last category of anxiety disorder, PTSD, is the re-experiencing of a traumatic event via recollections, dreams, or associations.

 

Ways to Help

If your child is willing to talk about his or her fears and anxieties, be sure to listen carefully and be respectful of the way your child is feeling. Try to help your child trace their anxiety to a specific situation, experience, or fear in order to help reduce the anxious feelings. Keep reminding them of times when they were initially anxious, such as when they attended their first overnight camp or took their first high school exam, and help them to recall how everything worked out and their anxious feelings subsided.

It is important to recognize that sometimes outside help will be necessary. If the anxiety and fears last over six months, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) recommends seeking professional advice via a doctor or teacher, who can then suggest an adolescent psychiatrist or other professional who specializes in the treatment of adolescent anxiety disorders. Continue encouraging your child to be open with you about their feelings, while simultaneously seeking treatment to help reduce the symptoms of anxiety and the effect it has on your child’s daily life.

Anxiety is a common phenomenon that most children experience at some point in their life, but be attentive to feelings and fears that become intense and affect your child detrimentally. Keep the lines of communication open with your child, and if you notice a change in your child’s behavior, talk with them about it or seek the help of a professional.

 

-This guest post was written by Noah Smith with Wellness Voyager

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