Anxiety treatment in teens can involve therapeutic interventions, medications, or both. I will discuss the interventions I enjoy using the most with teens.
Anxiety lives in the body. Panic erupts often without a warning. For example, I feel panic when flying in small airplanes.
Flight anxiety is a type of phobia however I only experience panic in small planes and not commercial jets. When my body feels turbulence I immediately start to sweat, my heart races, and my breath quickens.
There are no thoughts that spark this reaction. My body believes I am in danger and initiates my fight or flight system.
I use deep breathing and feeling my feet, in particular, to calm down. I focus on feeling my feet on the floor of the airplane. I push my toes into the ground.
This somatic exercise literally grounds my overacting nervous system. I begin to feel calmer.
I teach teens this exercise along with sighing, stretching, and progressive muscle relaxation (PMR). PMR means you go from head to toe or vice versa tensing and then relaxing body parts.
PMR is a great intervention to use when trying to fall asleep.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT posits that negative thoughts result in difficult emotions and then behaviors.
For example, a teen may have the thought, “I am going to fail this test” followed by the emotion of fear and resulting in a panic attack. Teens may avoid test-taking in the future.
CBT works by having teens identify negative thoughts, test the validity of those thoughts, ultimately modifying those thoughts.
Teens can get stuck in negative thinking spirals. I help them to end those spirals earlier or to not engage in them in the first place.
Existential Theory states that anxiety is normal and not something to be feared. We have death anxiety for instance.
Our society is death-phobic and often does not want to think about our impending demise. Everyone dies and it is not something we can prevent.
I have teens look at anxiety as a messenger rather than something to fear and avoid. Teens gain acceptance around anxiety and feel less helpless when they have anxious feelings.
Attachment Theory states that we have an attachment style with our primary caregivers. The following styles exist: secure, anxious, avoidant, and disorganized.
Teens with an anxious attachment style may have a difficult time facing challenges. They cling to loved ones when they feel stressed.
Teens that are securely attached can encounter challenges and check-in with their secure base when they feel stressed. They feel comforted and ready to face the next challenge.
Teens with an avoidant attachment style avoid challenges. They fear they have no one to turn to when stressed so avoidance is the best survival strategy.
I develop secure attachments with teens to help them wade challenges better. They feel less anxious due to the relationship.
Bowenian Therapy addresses anxiety that has been passed down from generation to generation. Teens focus on which family members have had anxiety and the coping methods used.
Family Systems helps teens to gain insight into the origins of anxiety and ineffective coping by family members. Teens use that insight to choose to engage in healthier coping.
Parents can be taught about anxiety in order to provide more support for their teens. They can be allies for their teens and a source of emotional support.
The major medications used to treat anxiety are SSRIs (Celexa) and Benzodiazepines (Ativan). SSRIs are very effective for long-term anxiety such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Benzos work great as a short-term intervention for panic attacks.
Benzos can be addictive so a family history of substance abuse needs to be explored as a possible risk factor.
Medication use is a big decision given teens’ brains are still developing. It is a great solution in conjunction with talk therapy if a teen is really struggling on a daily basis.
Teens can wean off the medications and use techniques learned in therapy to better manage their anxious feelings.
I have discussed a few of the many anxiety treatments for teens. I will describe symptoms and signs of anxiety in my next post.
If your teen is struggling with anxiety don’t hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.