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Help for Teens with Anxiety and Depression

For the sake of clarity, we’ll use a clinical definition of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) to help you gauge the seriousness of your teen’s stress. When the symptoms of stress cross the threshold from normal to the level of a psychological disorder, that is when you need to pay special attention. And that is when it is time to seek professional help.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) defines GAD as “…excessive anxiety and worry about a number of activities or events occurring more days than not for at least six months.” The DSM-V identifies the following symptoms of anxiety:   

  1. Restlessness, feeling on edge.
  2. Getting tired easily.
  3. Difficulty concentrating, or feeling their mind is blank.
  4. Irritability.
  5. Muscular tension (sore muscles, a racing heart, sweating, headaches, i.e.).
  6. Sleep disturbances.

There are other signs worthy of concern:

  1. Being sensitive to criticism or very self-conscious.
  2. Always expecting the worst to happen.
  3. Avoiding difficult or new situations.
  4. Being withdrawn.
  5. Having trouble concentrating and starting or finishing schoolwork.

If your teen displays any of these symptoms on more days than not for six months or more, the wise course of action is to consult a mental health professional. This list is not an at-home diagnostic tool – it is meant to help you decide if your teen needs professional help or not.

Now, for the statistics on adolescent anxiety and stress.

Anxiety

The Child Mind Institute reports that:

  • 19.3% of teens have a specific phobia.
  • 9.1% of teens have social anxiety disorder.
  • 7.6% of teens have separation anxiety.
  • 2.3% of teens have a panic disorder.
  • 2.2% of teens have Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

Also, the National Institute of Mental Health reports that:

  • 9% of teens have some type of anxiety disorder.
  • 8.3 % of those with an anxiety disorder have severe impairment as a result.
  • 38% of female teens have an anxiety disorder.
  • 26.1% of male teens have an anxiety disorder.

Stress

The American Psychological Association reports that:

  • 10% say stress causes them to get lower grades than they think they can get.
  • 59% say balancing all their activities causes stress.
  • 40% say they neglect home responsibilities due to stress.
  • 40% say they are irritable due to stress.
  • 37% said stress causes them to feel overwhelmed.
  • 36% say they feel tired because of stress.
  • 30% say they feel sad or depressed because of stress.

Remember: stress is normal. Stress is part of life for every person regardless of age. Stress itself is not inherently bad. However, when stress is chronic and/or affects daily functioning, that is when it has the potential to cause problems, and possibly develop into an anxiety disorder. As mentioned above, if you think your teen may have an anxiety disorder, seek professional help. If, on the other hand, you think your teen simply needs help coping with their stress, there are some quite simple steps to take.

Help Your Teen Deal with Stress

None of this advice will seem new or groundbreaking to you. It is mostly common sense – but when things get stressful, common sense can go out the window. If your teen’s stress is causing you so much stress you forget you already know what to do about it, consult the following list. It will help both you and your teenager get back on track.

How to Decrease Teen Stress

  1. Make sure your teen eats healthy food regularly.
  2. Make sure your teen gets plenty of exercise.
  3. Make sure your teen gets plenty of outdoor time.
  4. Make sure your teen gets plenty of sleep.
  5. Avoid caffeine.
  6. Avoid sodas and sugary snacks when possible.
  7. Teach your teen basic mindfulness techniques, such as deep breathing or self-relaxation.
  8. Encourage your teen to reframe self-talk from negative to positive. Instead of “I’m the worst at math,” they can say “Math is challenging but I’m working on it every day.”
  9. Encourage your teen to spend time more time with positive friends. Sure, teenagers can be a moody bunch at times, but some glorify the doom and gloom. Help your teen know when enough is enough.
  10. Take a break. If life is too scheduled, rigid, and filled with one activity after another, all day every day, consider a week off, spent doing simple things like listening to music, drawing, riding bikes, walking the dog, and talking to old friends.

Early Intervention Works

Left unaddressed, stress can lead to long-term health problems. Left untreated, anxiety can become a crippling psychological and emotional disorder. The good news is that there are proven-effective ways to address and treat both stress and anxiety. A stressed teenager can benefit from all activities on the list above, while a teen with a clinical anxiety disorder can benefit from professional treatment, which typically includes a combination of therapy, medication, spiritual initiatives, and basic lifestyle adjustments. In both cases, the sooner you begin taking proactive steps to help a stressed-out or anxious teen, the better. The most important thing for you to do, as a parent, is to listen. That is the beginning: what you do next and how you help depends on what they say. The fix may be simple, or it may be complex, but it all starts with open, honest, and direct communication.

Anxiety is a normal part of life and can affect anyone. Sometimes, if anxiety becomes overwhelming and does not go away, it can be a sign of a more serious anxiety disorder. However, with treatment and support from family and friends, anxiety can be managed.

Treating Anxiety and Depression in Teenagers

If you are the parent of an anxious or depressed teen, you might feel as alone as your teen.  You may be confused or even wondering if you have failed as a parent.   Despite the carefully crafted social media messages of perfect and happy classmates, one thing is for sure.  The reality is that teen anxiety and depression are at record levels since the pandemic.

Some parents have asked why we treat both anxiety and depression.  Aren’t they different problems?  There are differences, of course.  Many experts now view them as two sides of the one coin, or two faces of the one basic problem.   Someone can be depressed but not anxious, or anxious without being depressed.   Still, we know about 50 percent of teens who have one also have the other.

The Bible contains many stories of Bible characters struggling with anxiety and depression.  Even formidable characters such as King David and the Apostle Paul battled, stress, anxiety, and fear (Psalm 56:3 and 2 Corinthians 7:5).  The most common command in the Bible is “Fear not!” which suggests it must be a very common problem.

We would be glad to help you and your teen.  Teen anxiety and depression are treatable.   You can schedule an appointment by calling 719-644-5557 or by scheduling online.  We offer therapy both online and in the office.

Click here if you are looking for other counseling services.


For more information, please call 719-644-5557 and ask for Dr. Thorington.