Anxiety is increasingly common among young Americans. According to a 2017 survey by the American College Health Association, the percentage of students reporting “overwhelming anxiety” jumped from 50 percent in 2011 to 61 percent. However, knowing the symptoms, causes and effective coping strategies can help teens confront anxiety in today’s “always on” society.
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Chapter 1: Increasingly Anxious
Anxiety: What’s Normal, What’s Not
It’s normal to feel anxious when you’re experiencing work or school problems, making important decisions, or attending large social events. But anxiety disorders are more than just natural fears and worries – they interfere with daily life.
Anxiety disorder is used as an umbrella term for other conditions. These conditions include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, or specific phobias.
Each anxiety disorder condition carries its own set of symptoms. For instance, generalized anxiety disorder symptoms include extreme overthinking, indecisiveness, irritability, difficulty concentration, and sleep problems. Symptoms associated with panic disorder include physical anxiety responses like chest pain and trembling as well as a tendency to avoid situations in which anxiety responses have occurred before. Social anxiety disorder symptoms include nausea in and before social situation, fear of rejection and judgement, and difficulty making friends.
Studies indicate 19 percent of adults and 32 percent of adolescents have been diagnosed with anxiety disorders at some point in their lives. There was also a 20 percent increase in adolescents diagnosed with anxiety between 2007 and 2012. Studies also show that 48% of college students that seek counseling do so for anxiety, followed by stress (39%) and depression (35%). Anxiety has remained the top concern among this group since overtaking depression in 2009.
Chapter 2: The Causes and Effects of Anxiety
Causes of Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders
While anxiety’s causes aren’t fully understood, researchers know that genetics can play a role. For instance, general anxiety disorder has a moderate genetic risk of 30% heritable. However, it’s also been determined that environmental factors are more important. Researchers also point out that anxiety disorders can result from differences in brain chemistry and biological makeup. One study revealed that patients with panic disorder had lower metabolism in the left inferior parietal lobe and overall decreased bilateral cerebral blood flow.
Environmental Causes of Anxiety Disorders in Adolescents
One of the biggest environmental factors behind anxiety disorders is a pressure to be perfect, which researches have determined has increased significantly for young people. Since 1989, stress for self-oriented perfectionism increased by 10%, expectations for others to be perfect increased by 16%, and perceptions about social pressure to be perfect increased by 33%.
Stress is another significant environmental factor, with just 39% of high school graduates feeling prepared for college. A third factor is the sense of technology overload, with roughly 45% of teens stating they’re online almost constantly – a percentage that’s nearly doubled since 2015.
Effects of Anxiety on Adolescents
Anxiety can carry several negative effects for teens. These effects include a lower academic achievement, a boosted risk in substance abuse, a lower confidence and sense of self, and increased suicidal ideation and risk.
How to Get Help: The Options
Fortunately, there are several ways young people can get help for their anxiety issues. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been shown to be an effective treatment for 77 percent of adolescents with anxiety disorders. This kind of therapy focuses on identifying and challenging dysfunctional thoughts and behavioral patterns, confronting feared situations and activities in a safe environment, and developing coping strategies.
Pharmacology is another way young people can seek out anxiety aid. One of the medications prescribed for anxiety disorders in children and adolescents is selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a medication that increases the brain’s serotonin levels, which affect certain behaviors. A second medication, serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) boost both serotonin and norepinephrine levels by inhibiting their reabsorption. Another pharmacological strategy is the short-term use of buspirone and benzodiazepines, which can treat young people with anxiety disorders. However, evidence suggests that SSRIs and SNRIs are better options.
The Best Option
A combination of therapy and medication is the most effective treatment for anxiety disorders, but it’s important to be consistent. While a study showed that 12 weeks of treatment with an SSRI and/or CBT strategy was effective in reducing anxiety and symptoms in adolescents, a follow-up study indicated only 22 percent of those who received the treatment stayed in remission over a long-term, 12-year period. 30 percent involved in the survey had chronic anxiety, and 48 percent relapsed.
How to Cope at Home
There are several strategies young people with anxiety can try to improve their conditions. These strategies include limiting technology, exercising, using incremental strategies, questioning negative thought patterns, practicing relaxation techniques, and getting out into nature.
Anxiety can limit the potential of young people in both academics and their personal lives. Learning effective coping strategies and getting help from mental health professionals can remove barriers to growth and achievement for a lifetime.