Anxiety is becoming more prevalent with teenagers, especially teenage girls. Heredity, social media, online gaming, and pressure to succeed are only a few contributing factors. Although, anxiety is a normal response to dangerous situations, it only becomes a complication when it is occurring during non-threatening times. Stress is causing more problems for teenagers today than ever before.
Teenage girls are more likely, than teenage boys, to develop anxiety. “Before puberty the prevalence of mood disorders is about the same in boys as it is in girls.” (Steingard) Girls mature, emotionally, more quickly than boys do, which may be the reason girls are more susceptible to anxiety. There may also be an evolutionary component as to why anxiety affects teenage girls more often than it does teenage boys. Steingard explains in his article, that since the dawn of time it has been the job of the female to look after the children and for the male to hunt for food and protect his family. In order for a mother to form a strong bond with her children, she must be emotionally available. However, for a male, who is hunting and protecting, such emotions could be detrimental. An article from the Nation Institute of Mental Health discusses a study that exposed teenage girls to “emotionally loaded images and situations”; the teenage girls became more emotional than did younger children of both sexes.
Studies show how different the physical brain of a teenager is, to that of an adult or child. According to an article titled, “Teen brain: Still under construction”, brain scans showed that the brains of a teenager does not look the same as that of an adult until the early 20’s. So, not only are teens emotionally different from children and adults, on the outside, but their developing brains are also visibly different on brain scans. Teenagers are dealing with hormonal changes, as well as, dealing with a developing brain, and their emotions are in a constant state of chaos. This is very important for parents to understand and to remember when trying to deal with, what seems at the time, an irrational human being. However, remember that the brain of an adolescent is not finished forming, so one can hardly expect to reason with someone who has not developed that ability yet. “Genetics, sex, childhood experiences, and environment all shape the way the brain develops.” (Teen Brain).
The anxious adolescent feels alone and different from everyone else. The emotions they are feeling do not seem normal, as opposed to their peers. Family support and school involvement can be very helpful and supportive for a developing teenager. The school can put many accommodations into place for the youngster that will help them to succeed. Support groups are also a good idea and worth looking into; they are popping up all the time and are a good place for the teen to feel like they fit in and are not alone.
Although there are many different types of anxiety, teens are generally diagnosed with Anxious Attachment Disorder, Social Anxiety, and/or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. “Anxious Attachment Disorder” is thought to be the “result of when a parent behaves inconsistently, so that the child is not sure if he or she will be accepted or rejected, praised or ridiculed, at any given time. That child may then develop an expectancy that those they are close to cannot truly be counted upon at a time of need.” (Nowinski). Another type of anxiety is Social anxiety; this usually occurs around the age of 13 and can continue into adulthood. “Current research supports the idea that [social anxiety] is caused by a combination of environmental factors and genetics. Negative experiences also may contribute to this disorder, including: bullying, family conflict and/or sexual abuse” (Higuera). Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is characterized by doing the same thing repeatedly trying to reach perfection and gain control of the surroundings. “Some of the most common obsessions include addictive behavior, repetitive washing, checking, recounting, arranging, ordering, confession, constant demands for reassurance and hoarding. By acting out compulsions, people with OCD feel a sense of control.” (Dark side). This anxiety disorder is difficult to cope with in multiple ways but the obsession aspect plays a huge roll in addictive behaviors, such as online-gaming, internet addictions, and substance abuse, just to name a few.
“Anxiety is treatable; however, 80% of teens diagnosed with anxiety are not getting treatment” (Children and Teens). The most encouraged remedy for anxiety is the combination of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and medications known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Medication nor talk therapy alone is usually enough, but the combination, in most instances, is successful (Children and Teens). The longer anxiety goes untreated the more difficult it is to treat, mainly because poor coping skills are developed. In most cases of teenage anxiety, it is not chronic and is alleviated with a short course of treatment. In some instances, however, the teenager can break free from the anxiety on their own without any treatment, but it is best to seek the advice of a professional, especially if the anxiety lasts for six months or more. (NIMH).
The Mayo Clinic list herbs, on their website, that are being used to treat anxiety naturally. Before taking any medication, natural or otherwise, it is best to speak with a medical doctor or a naturopath. Kava, is one of the herbs that is being debated, it is helpful but can cause liver damage even with short-term use. Passionflower is a more favorable choice, it is useful but it has a few side effects, as well, such as drowsiness, dizziness, and confusion. Valerian is another, studies have shown that people who take Valerian report less anxiety and stress after a short time of use. The side effects of Valerian are minimal and can be headaches and/or drowsiness. Chamomile is also helpful, although, there is not much more information provided on this website. Finally, Lavender can be used orally and/or as aromatherapy; it does reduce anxiety in most cases. However, if lavender is used orally it can cause constipation and headache. Exercise, is also known to help people dealing with anxiety as well as the use of Omega 3 and vitamin B supplements. Getting an adolescent to take medication, natural or otherwise, can be a difficult task. If the teen is reluctant to begin talk therapy a good starting place may be to get them on a medication or supplement, this may be just enough to help them deal with the anxiety of getting into a counselors office.
“Suicide is the third leading cause of death in teenagers.” (Steingard). In the majority of cases of teenage suicide the youths were either depressed, had sever anxiety, or a combination of both. “In 1986” teen suicide had reached epidemic proportion with “an average of 5,000 teenagers” committing suicide per day “in the United States” alone (Havens). These numbers can be greatly reduced with the use of talk therapy treatments such as Cognitive Behavioral therapy and Dialectical Behavior therapy. With the use of either of these therapies, teens begin to see life in a more positive way. However, not all teens are open to treatment, or their parents may not encourage it, possibly hoping it will go away on its own. In the devastating even of suicide, the suicide victim is not the only one effected. The families are left with an overwhelming feeling of guilt and self-blame and wonder if they could have done anything to prevent it. Substance abuse is often a huge contributor to teenage suicide. In a study conducted in Georgia “of 79 teenage victims of suicide, 72 had been under the influence of alcohol” (Garlow, et al).
Substance abuse is a way teens use to self-medicate. Drugs and alcohol to them, in the moment, seems to help them deal better in social situations by dulling their senses helping them to cope. Therefore, they are able to leave their emotional troubles behind for a little while.
Teenagers are faced with much more stress today than their counterparts were as recently as 30 years ago. The pressure to succeed in school has always been important but it seems teens today have a lot more pressure than years gone by. High school graduates are expected to continue on to University, and in order to get into a good University they must have good grades. This pressure not only comes from their parents but a lot is from themselves, especially in those dealing with anxiety. They are always worried that they are not going to do well, thinking they are not good enough, and are constantly worrying about the future. Worrying about the future is the main culprit in anxiety, where worrying about the past is often the problem in depression.
Teens are in many extracurricular sports activities and in some cases, they are not even interested in the sport. This is, more often than not, because a parent may be trying to live their dream through their child. Some of these sports go into the late evening, not allowing the adolescent to have time for homework or social events. The pressure to succeed is just too high. A parent approached a teacher and asked if the teacher could limit the amount of homework that was coming home because it was interfering with their child’s hockey practice. How could one begin to think that hockey is more important than schoolwork? Playing a sport is not a bad thing if the child feels passionate about it and if it can fit comfortably into their schedule.
The use of the internet is causing several problems for teenagers. For one, they are able to hide behind the façade of being whomever they want and are able to say the first thing on their mind without thoroughly thinking it through and considering the consequences, because the face-to-face pressure is not present. They are missing out on “Social learning” which is very important during teenage years, it is “equally as important as a proper school education” (Mood Disorders). Social media plays a huge role in on-line bullying, with girls being especially vulnerable, because of this, there is no safe place for the them. In years gone by the home would have been a safe place, a place to get away from bullying, but not anymore. With cell phones, tablets, and computers that are often in use, home is no longer that safe haven. Teens rarely turn their devices off, unless their parents have set boundaries around their use.
Fifteen-year-old Amanda Todd fell victim to the internet and social media when she committed suicide. Michelle Dean described very well what happened to this young lady in her article titled “The Story of Amanda Todd”, Amanda “Todd told the tale by flash card, set to a maudlin song called “Hear You Me.” Her story is this: A few years ago, she was chatting with someone she met online, a man who flattered her. At his request, she flashed him. The man took a picture of her breasts. He then proceeded to follow Todd around the Internet for years. He asked her to put on another show for him, but she refused so he said he’d find her classmates on Facebook and send them the photograph. To cope with the anxiety, Todd descended into drugs and alcohol and ill-advised flirtations and sex. Her classmates ostracized her. She attempted suicide a few times before finally succeeding.” Such a sad story of how the internet played such a huge role in this young girl’s life and death. Her anxiety became so bad she just could not cope any longer.
Online gaming is also a problem. It is so easy to fall into character and lose touch with reality. In the words of T.S. Eliot, “Human kind cannot bear very much reality.” and online gaming offers teens the perfect way to escape from reality. Teens are not getting out of the house and socializing nearly as much as they have done in the past. One reason being they are able to make friends in gaming communities instead of their home communities. So, instead of spending time playing with their real life friends they are spending several hours a day playing games with their online friends. They are sliding into the role of the characters in the games and this becomes their reality. This adds to social anxiety because they miss the milestone age of learning to socialize. It can also be an obsession for those who suffer from Obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Until the advent of lights, sun light, candles, and fire were the only form of light but today we have several sources of light. Blue light, in particular, is not good for our health and this is what comes from computers and electronic devices. Many teenagers use their cell phones or other devices at night; some even leave them on all night. “While light of any kind can suppress the secretion of melatonin, blue light does so more powerfully. Harvard researchers and their colleagues conducted an experiment comparing the effects of 6.5 hours of exposure to blue light to exposure to green light of comparable brightness. The blue light suppressed melatonin for about twice as long as the green light and shifted circadian rhythms by twice as much (3 hours vs. 1.5 hours).”, says a publication put out by Harvard Medical School in an article titled, “ Blue light has a dark side”. The article lists the following as thing that should be done to protect against blue light:
• Use dim red lights for night-lights. Red light has the least power to shift circadian rhythm and suppress melatonin.
• Avoid looking at bright screens beginning two to three hours before bed.
• If you work a night shift or use a lot of electronic devices at night, consider wearing blue-blocking glasses.
• Expose yourself to lots of bright light during the day, which will boost your ability to sleep at night, as well as your mood and alertness during daylight.
Although, one cannot change genetics it is still possible to get help to deal with anxiety. The internet, social functions, and school do not need to be a source of anxiety. With the right treatment, there is hope of a full recovery or at the very least learning some good coping skills.
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