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Teens and Anxiety

The modern world surrounds us with increased comfort and conveniences, yet the potential for anxiety exists on a daily basis. According to the National Institutes of Health, nearly 1 out of 3 of all adolescents ages 13 to 18 will experience an anxiety disorder. The numbers have been rising steadily amongst both adults and adolescents, and the latest reported figures indicate that between 2007 and 2012 anxiety disorders in children and teens showed an increase of 20%.

Anxiety can interfere with the ability to focus, potentially affecting learning and behavior at school and at times causing lifelong impact. Chronic anxiety can lead to serious mental health problems such as depression, substance use, self-harm and even risk of suicide.  It can also lead to physical ailments, both long and short term, from headaches and digestive issues to heart disease later on. 

Common causes:

High expectations

In an interconnected world, competition and comparison is more prevalent than ever.  Young people today experience much more pressure to succeed than those in previous generations.  Normal academic stressors such as standardized testing and the college admission process can be intensified for those raised with a strong emphasis on the culture of achievement.

Social media

Today’s adolescents are deeply connected to the world of social media. It is difficult for them to avoid measuring themselves or their lives by what they see on social media, and with no measure of authenticity, expectations can be unrealistic and unachievable.  Additionally, self-esteem can easily become linked to one’s social media responses and interactions.

Current events

The world at large can seem scary and threatening, even when one is reasonably safe. Mass shootings followed by increased security measures, pandemic warnings and countless other real or perceived threats can leave young adults feeling vulnerable and anxious – especially when exacerbated by a constant newsfeed with sensationalized updates and analysis.

What you can do:

Check in with your children regularly and be mindful of any deviations in your typical interactions with them. Some signs to look out for include expressions of recurring fears or worries, avoidance of activities or social interactions, or changes in your child’s demeanor or mood.

Sometimes there are no overt signs. Chat with your kids about upcoming events and potential stressors. Be aware of the expectations you set for them. Talk with children and teens about healthy social media use and try to set age appropriate limitations. Increasing the amount of time spent in a relaxed atmosphere may go a long way in getting your child to open up. The potential benefits of a family outing or activity or having regular family dinner shouldn’t be overlooked.

If you are noticing signs of anxiety in your child, or are worried that some behavior could be related to anxiety, speak with your pediatrician. He or she may have insights to share and will be able to direct you in getting your child the help they need.

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