Teen Anxiety Treatment Program – Southern California
Some teens experience severe and chronic stress, fear or worry on a daily basis. Others only experience these symptoms in specific situations, but at a level of intensity that is intimidating, overwhelming and beyond their ability to manage. In either case an anxiety disorder may be the source of the problem.
True anxiety disorders are constant and unwelcome companions. They disable their victims with pessimistic thoughts and devastating physiological responses, leaving sufferers paranoid and miserable and desperate for answers.
Depression is the most common type of mental health disorder in adolescents, but anxiety disorders collectively affect even more teens.
There are seven forms of anxiety disorder that teens may suffer from:
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD): Victims are excessively worried, tense and fearful in a wide variety of situations, most of which seem normal or unthreatening to outsiders.
- Panic disorder: During attacks sufferers are overwhelmed by a sudden, unpredictable and unmanageable onslaught of intense and concentrated anxiety symptoms.
- Social anxiety disorder (SAD): Teens with social anxiety disorder have a deep and persistent fear of rejection, of embarrassing themselves or of being judged. Their sensitivity to the opinions of others is so exaggerated it leaves them unable to enjoy most social encounters.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): Young people who’ve been exposed to trauma may experience severe anxiety attacks and/or powerful flashbacks, often triggered by apparently non-threatening events.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): Suffers are plagued by uncontrollable compulsions that lead to ritualistic, repetitive and highly disruptive behaviors.
- Agoraphobia: An overwhelming fear of open spaces and unpredictable environments that often keeps its victims trapped inside their homes.
- Specific phobias: Intense fears of flying, driving, spiders, heights, enclosed spaces, fire and deep water are just a few examples of common phobias.
Overall up to one in four adolescents will experience symptoms consistent with an anxiety disorder. Substance abuse disorders are an added complication in many instances, as teens experiencing significant anxiety turn to drugs and alcohol to give them confidence and numb their emotional pain.
Signs of Anxiety in Teens
It is of course normal for adolescents to experience stress and anxiety. Teens have a lot on their minds and a lot on their plates, as they attempt to make the often-rocky transition from childhood to adulthood and all the responsibilities it entails.
But for some vulnerable adolescents anxiety can turn into a monster, a rampaging predator that won’t relent and won’t give sufferers a chance to breathe.
Each type of anxiety disorder has some unique aspects. However, severe anxiety in general produces a range of frightening side effects that are consistently experienced by all who suffer from such a condition.
Regardless of the context, anxiety attacks in teens can produce:
- Rapid heartbeat.
- Excessive sweating.
- Dizziness or lightheadedness.
- Chest pains.
- Breathing difficulties, shortness of breath.
- Muscles spasms of the face, head and neck.
- Stomach pains or nausea.
- Diarrhea or constipation.
- Trembling, shaking or chills.
- Panic and a fear of fainting.
- Shaky voice or an inability to pronounce words correctly.
- Dry mouth.
- Memory loss.
- Poor concentration and focus.
- Excessive self-consciousness.
- Brain fog (inability to think or process information).
These symptoms tend to vary in intensity and may come and go to some extent, even during deeply stressful circumstances. But anxiety sufferers come to dread them nonetheless, leading to avoidance behaviors that can stand in the way of happiness and achievement.
First Steps to Take
Regardless of how well you know your kids, you may never suspect they’re struggling with anxiety. But anxiety disorders won’t stay hidden forever, and eventually it will become clear your son or daughter is going through something that can’t be dismissed as a normal part of growing up.
Before you make any further moves, you need to encourage your child to reveal exactly what they’ve been experiencing and in what circumstances. But when you approach them you must do so with kindness, compassion and a non-judgmental attitude. Anxiety disorders are extremely damaging to the self-esteem and self-confidence of developing young minds, and kids trapped in such an ordeal need all the understanding and sympathy as you can muster.
Once it becomes clear your son or daughter has serious issues with anxiety, you should make an appointment for them to see a psychologist or psychiatrist. At this initial meeting your mental health specialist will carry out an evaluation and make a diagnosis for a specific type of anxiety disorder, if one is truly present (and they will diagnose any co-occurring conditions that might be present as well). They will also make recommendations for further treatment, based on the severity of the disorder and your child’s overall medical needs.
Getting Help for Your Teen’s Anxiety Problems
After being diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, your adolescent child will need extensive, in-depth, focused intervention to help them cope with their conditions. With the assistance of a skilled and experienced mental health professional (or team of professionals in some cases), a detailed treatment plan will be developed. This will include regular psychotherapy along with any other interventions deemed necessary or useful.
The list of treatment methods your son or daughter may be exposed to include:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): While undergoing this specialized form of therapy your child will learn to identify the thoughts, feelings and destructive patterns of behavior that nourish and strengthen their anxiety, and they will develop strategies and techniques to loosen the grip of all non-productive habits.
- Medication: Drugs called benzodiazepines are frequently prescribed for anxiety disorders. Xanax is the most well-known and frequently prescribed benzodiazepine, but there are several other options available that may offer relief. When no longer needed users should taper off them slowly and under a doctor’s supervision, to avoid a potentially dangerous physiological reaction. Anti-depressants may also be prescribed to teens with anxiety and would likely be the preferred choice if depression has also been diagnosed.
- Exposure therapy: At a controlled and gradual pace, anxiety disorder victims are asked to expose themselves to the situations or circumstances they fear the most, in order to retrain their minds and bodies to react differently to these stressors. Exposure therapy should always be supervised by a trained mental health professional who has a background in its use.
- Stress management techniques: Mind-body practices like meditation, self-hypnosis, yoga, acupuncture, Tai Chi and massage therapy can help anxiety sufferers restore their emotional balance and reduce the intensity of their troubling symptoms.
- Confidence-building therapies: Innovative wellness programs like wilderness therapy or equine therapy can help anxiety-ridden kids rebuild their self-esteem and self-confidence, giving them more resources to call upon during their recovery process.
In most instances this work will be done on a weekly schedule on an outpatient basis. But if your child’s condition is complicated by a substance abuse disorder or more serious form of co-occurring mental illness (bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, major depression, etc.), partial hospitalization or inpatient rehab at a residential treatment center may be required. During their time in rehab your teen will receive integrated treatment services that address all of their co-occurring conditions fully and completely, and they will not be discharged from care until the danger has passed.
Even if this more intensive form of treatment is required, with professional help and guidance your child should be able to make significant progress in their fight against the disabling effects of anxiety. As long as they—and you—continue to follow the recommended recovery regimen, your teen’s prognosis should be excellent. Anxiety disorders are significant medical conditions but they are highly manageable once they are diagnosed and understood.