Today’s average U.S. teenager is more anxious than those hospitalized for anxiety in the 1950s, according to the American Psychological Association.
Given the challenges of a post-9/11 world, a 24-hour news cycle, increased prevalence of social media, economic uncertainties and more, elevated anxiety may seem to be the new normal.
However, the daily stresses of parental and friend pressures, social acceptance, bullying and overscheduling can also contribute to a teen’s anxiety level.
Talking over worrisome issues with a trusted adult or friend can be an effective way to minimize anxiety. Also, relaxation techniques, such as dedicating time each day to practice deep breathing exercises without distractions can also reduce stress, as can getting regular physical exercise.
Parents can also play a role. When a teenager expresses worry, for example, validate rather than minimize those concerns. Making light of one’s fears can cause additional anxiety. Instead, try to ask questions about their concerns and collaborate with your teen to develop coping strategies to lessen their worry.
Much anxiety is situational — before a big test, for example, or a first date. However, your teen may need additional support if their anxiety is irrational or prevents the ability to focus, or if he or she worries excessively about everyday activities or becomes panicky. Additional symptoms may include muscle tension, palpations, sweaty hands, jumpiness, difficulty sleeping, emotional numbness, upset stomach and poor concentration.
When anxiety like this persists, it is time to seek medical advice. A mental health professional can help you and your teen assess what would be most helpful to relieve symptoms. A common treatment includes cognitive behavioral therapy, which involves meeting with a therapist to explore the thoughts and beliefs that trigger anxiety, and then working to reduce them. Medication can also be part of the plan to reduce anxiety, and a wide variety of options exists to find the best match for your teen.
To find a health care provider, visit samhealth.org/FindADoc.
Learn about a variety of mental health concerns, plus local and national resources, with the MHU: Mental Health & You app, published by the Center for Health Care Services. The app is free to download in the App Store or Google Play.