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House Call: Variety of treatments can help teens deal with anxiety

I’d like to talk about anxiety today, specifically about anxiety in adolescents. The teenage years are exciting both for teens and their parents as teens are dealing with changing bodies, surging hormones, testing boundaries and trying new experiences. Part of the job of being a teen is to become independent of their parents. This, in addition to to all the other changes that they experience, can cause them and their loved ones anxiety.

A little anxiety at times can be productive: heightening awareness, tempering the teen tendency toward recklessness and inspiring a bit of extra focus when studying for a test. That said, excessive anxiety can be disruptive.

Feeling anxious most or all of the time is something that needs to be addressed. Sometimes it’s caused by specific things, sometimes it’s just in general, and sometimes it’s over things that most people enjoy. Signs that anxiety may be problematic include the following:

Feeling irritable, worried or afraid for no reason

Worry about everyday events and activities

Difficulty sleeping

General anxiety

Social anxiety

School avoidance

Being so anxious that it’s hard to function in specific situations.

We don’t really know why some people tend to have a lot of anxiety and some don’t, but there are things that can be done to try to reduce anxiety. The first step is to pay attention to your feelings and how your body is reacting to them. Some people call this mindfulness. Take a few deep breaths, in through the nose, out through the mouth. Focusing on your breathing like this can start to bring relief. Remember that you have been anxious before – and that in the end, you were OK.

Setting aside a time for daily prayer or meditation can be helpful, as can getting exercise on a regular basis. Often, going for a walk or a good workout will lower anxiety levels. Get enough sleep. Most teens need eight to 10 hours of sleep to function at their best. Limit caffeine. Chasing fatigue with caffeine is not a good habit, and the caffeine can increase your anxiety. Don’t use alcohol, marijuana or other drugs to cope with your anxiety. They may provide temporary relief, but can lead to dependence on them, which can lead to a host of other problems.

If these measures don’t provide adequate relief, it’s time to talk to your health care provider. Often, anxiety and depression may both be present at the same time. Talking to a mental health counselor who uses cognitive behavioral therapy can be very helpful. Group therapy can also be very effective, especially for social anxiety. If needed, medication can be very helpful for some teens. For most, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are prescribed. They are safe, not habit-forming and can be very effective.

No matter what approach you use to lower your anxiety, you need to be prepared for two things.

First, you need to be an active participant in your treatment and make the efforts to learn and use the techniques designed to help you cope.

Second, you need to be patient and aware that it takes time and practice. A healthy lifestyle and medications if needed, have cumulative effects over time. The same is true of meditation, relaxation techniques, group therapy and CBT. Over time and if used regularly, you will retain that relaxed feeling for longer periods of time when you’re done.

Remember that you are developing important skills for coping with and controlling your anxiety that will serve you for a lifetime.

Dr. Bob Riggs is a family medicine physician practicing at Group Health’s Riverfront Medical Center.


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