The Complete Guide to Teen & Adolescent Anxiety
Feelings of stress or anxiety is a normal part of life. It is a natural reaction to a dangerous situation, whether it be real or just perceived. When feelings of anxiety increases in severity or frequency this normal discomfort could become an anxiety disorder. An anxiety disorder is characterized by intense, excessive and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations. People with excessive anxiety may anticipate disaster and be overly concerned about school, health, family, friends, or other issues. And while anxiety can occur at any age, it can be especially detrimental to the development of teens and adolescents.
Stressors of everyday life can exacerbate feelings of anxiety in young people. The isolation and fear that has come with the COVID 19 pandemic and the increasing reliance on social media has raised concerns about how teens are handling these new stressors. The prevalence of anxiety disorders in teens and young adults is growing at an exponential rate.
The Symptoms of Anxiety
Like with other mental health diagnoses, anxiety has symptoms that can affect people of all ages and walks of life. Anxiety typically presents itself with both mental and physical signs. Common anxiety signs and symptoms include:
- Nervousness, restlessness or tenseness
- A sense of impending danger, panic or doom
- Increased heart rate and rapid breathing
- Exhaustion or unexplainable tiredness
- Trouble concentrating during daily tasks
- Difficulties with sleep
- Somatic symptoms such as headaches, muscle aches or stomach distress
- The urge to avoid things that trigger anxiety
When symptoms of anxiety in a young person becomes overwhelming, or begins to affect quality of life, they might be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. The most common anxiety diagnosis is Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) which is marked by persistent anxiety that is out of proportion with actual circumstances. Other anxiety diagnoses include: Agoraphobia, Panic Attacks, Selective Mutism, Separation Anxiety, Social Anxiety, and Specific Phobias.
For adolescents and young adults, an anxiety diagnoses can affect specific areas of life
- School and Work Performance – feelings of extreme anxiety can make it impossible for young people to attend or participate in school. In addition, anxiety around performance can lead to incomplete assignments or poor assessments.
- Friendships and Relationships – social anxiety can cause young people to avoid social situations. One-on-one or (conversely) large group interactions might be impossible for a person with extreme anxiety. They might have fears around speaking or their appearance. The young person might have extreme fear of uncomfortable social situations and therefore avoid all interactions.
- Isolation – whether it be social anxiety, agoraphobia, or specific phobias, some young people with anxiety disorders might find it easier to isolate from the outside world. Staying in their room or home, avoiding crowds or planned events, or only going to “safe” spaces might be signs of an anxiety disorder
- Self Harming Thoughts or Behaviors – many people with anxiety disorders develop feelings of hopelessness and depression. They might feel that their anxiety is too much to handle and they might hurt themselves or consider suicide. In addition, some young people with anxiety might develop unhealthy coping mechanisms to lessen their feelings of anxiety. Self-harm might be one such unhealthy strategy.
- Substance Use and Abuse – another unhealthy coping behavior might be the use of alcohol or drugs to dull feelings of stress. This is not a permanent solution to anxiety and can often lead to more mental health concerns.
Learn more about what some of our young residents living with anxiety have to say about their experience and symptoms to understand what it can be like as a teen with an anxiety disorder.
How Teens Recover at Mountain Valley
At Mountain Valley Treatment Center we strive to help our residents determine the roots of their anxiety and then help them develop new skills and strategies to overcome these feelings.
Each resident at Mountain Valley receives an individualized treatment plan that includes: therapy, academics, and fun. Every activity at Mountain Valley focuses on the tenets of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) . CBT and ERP helps young people face the foundation of their anxious feelings and learn how to overcome those feelings. This helps them shatter the cycle of anxiety with a deliberate, careful, and kind approach.
Every young person at Mountain Valley participates in one-on-one, family, and group therapy. These sessions allow our adolescents to face their anxiety through multi-faceted approaches. In addition, MVTC residents participate in daily activities that include personal care, chores, community activities, academics, and adventure. They learn how to address their anxiety through every aspect of a normal adolescent day.
The Mountain Valley Resident Schedule is designed to replicate the hours of a typical school day and features the best in holistic and evidence-based clinical care for teens with anxiety.
A day in the life of adolescent anxiety treatment at Mountain Valley includes:
- Morning Routines
- Mindfulness Activities
- Independent Education
- Individual Therapy
- Group Therapy
- Community Based Activities
- Personal Time
Common Causes & Risks of Anxiety
While anxiety disorders have been studied extensively, not everything is known about the disorder. Some potential causes include:
- Traumatic Events – anxiety can be the result of a specific traumatic event or might be due to a preponderance of stressful life situations
- Medical Problems or side-effects of specific medications – unpredicted anxiety can be the symptom of a larger medical issue (such as heart problems or hypertension). In addition, certain medications can cause unexpected anxiety.
- Genetics – some studies show that there is a genetic link to certain anxiety disorders. A young person might be predisposed to anxiety if they have a family history of anxiety.
- Family patterns or stressors – anxiety might be a reaction to long-held family systems and disfunction. Anxiety disorders can develop as a reaction to upbringing.
- Drug or alcohol use – substance use can add to feelings of anxiety. People who struggle with anxiety can turn to substance use to mask their symptoms. Yet, this use can add to worsening feelings of stress and anxiety.
Effects of Anxiety in Teens
Anxiety affects individuals of all ages in different ways, but teens are especially prone to certain experiences because of their stage of development.
As adolescents develop more responsibility, both in school and in relationships, they can develop performance anxiety. In early childhood, most children are protected from anxiety from their parents and teachers. As school develops higher stakes (grades and thoughts of college) and relationships become more independent of adults (parties and romance) adolescents can develop anxiety around being “good enough”. Many young people can develop high levels of stress around perfectionism.
Independence in adolescence, coupled with social media and popular culture, can lead young people to develop high anxiety around their appearance. Many teens feel a lot of pressure to “fit in”. Use of social media can force young people to focus on curating a “perfect” life. Add to this the variations in young peoples’ physical development over this period of time and comparison to peers is inevitable. When teens feel that they cannot live up to these high expectations they can often develop social anxiety or anxiety around body image.
How to Treat Teen and Adolescent Anxiety
When someone’s fear and avoidance get to a place where they get “stuck” in their out-patient work – or cannot get to their appointments, it’s time to consider an anxiety residential center for treatment. At Mountain Valley, we are able to offer a higher level of care than outpatient treatment, utilizing a variety of evidence-based, therapeutic modalities.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a structured form of therapy in which the client, family and therapist work together as partners to assess, define, and treat problems. Clients and families learn to examine and respond in new ways to the elements that maintain anxiety and OCD-related problems, including their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) leads to a change in one’s relationship with anxiety-provoking situations through specific exposures to the conditions that cause anxiety. Such change often leads to a decrease in symptoms of anxiety and OCD, an increase in functionality, and an ability to engage in the world rather than isolate and avoid.
Family therapy helps educate the entire family system on how to live with a person with anxiety. Specific education around where anxiety comes from, what happens in the body when debilitating fears, thoughts and worries are occurring and how to manage it all – and how to not accommodate it – are addressed within our family curriculum.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a unique, empirically-based intervention that utilizes acceptance and mindfulness processes as well as commitment and behavior change to produce psychological flexibility. The goal of ACT is to increase psychological flexibility, or the ability to enter the present moment more fully, and either change or persist in behavior when doing so serves one’s values and desired outcomes.
Want to learn more about how Mountain Valley works for teens? Read through real testimonials from students, parents, and staff to understand their experiences at our treatment center.
How to Reach Out to Adolescent Anxiety Treatment Centers
Mountain Valley utilizes studied and supported depression and anxiety treatment modalities for teens with anxiety disorders. We are licensed by the State of New Hampshire, Department of Health and Human Services to provide treatment and care to residents for upwards of 90 days.
We have seen firsthand how a structured environment, academics, and therapy can help teens with anxiety thrive. Request a brochure today or schedule a call with our team to learn more about Mountain Valley Treatment Center adolescent anxiety treatment programs.