Pine Cone Health
Adolescent Anxiety: A Three-Part Series
Now that we understand a bit more about anxiety (link to Part 1 if you have not read it yet) – how exactly is it different for teens?
Adolescence is a period of intense physical, cognitive, and emotional/social changes – and coupled with heavy social and academic pressures can be a time of immense stress.
Additionally, adolescents themselves cite low mental health literacy, stigmatization of mental illness, and an inability to access mental health professionals and resources as barriers when it comes to seeking help for their mental health challenges. Further, new data indicates the mental health impact of increased social media use and emotional investment in social media in being linked with higher levels of anxiety and depression.
All that said, anxiety is the most common psychiatric diagnosis in children and adolescents. It is also the most treatable, despite an evident increase in anxiety disorder diagnoses and in the self-reported needs of youth.
Adolescent Brain Development
The period of adolescence is a time of major changes and transformations in the brain. Because of this, adolescents perform less effectively than adults on planning, future orientation, and inhibition tasks – which are all indicated in the prefrontal cortex networks of the brain that are still developing in adolescents.
Additionally, the brains of all adolescent mammals are wired to be more responsive to excitatory neurotransmitters during puberty – meaning adolescents are intrinsically more susceptible to experiencing strong reactions to stress, and on the other hand also experience pleasurable stimuli more intensely. Further, on top of all of that, adolescents also experiencing this rush of sex hormones that heighten the brain’s sensitivity to certain hormones and results in an increased responsiveness to emotional and social stimuli, which is why challenges with self-esteem, self-confidence, and preoccupation with the perception of peers is so common in youth.
While adolescence is indeed a turbulent period that can cultivate anxiety and stress, there is much that can be done to support teens in their health and well-being. Counselling and therapy can be helpful for promoting adaptive coping strategies, skills, and tools. Further, utilizing additional integrative therapies like massage therapy, physiotherapy, and acupuncture can help promote the relaxation response and help with anxiety and stress.
Check out part 3 of this three-part series, How to Help Youth, to learn more about helping the teenagers in your life manage their anxiety struggles and stress.
If you are concerned your child or teen is struggling with anxiety, take this quiz to help with understanding how anxiety presents in children and adolescents.