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Adolescents & Anxiety Disorders

Everyone experiences anxiety. It is a natural and important emotion, signaling through stirrings of worry, fearfulness, and alarm that danger or a sudden, threatening change is near. However, for some adolescents, anxiety becomes a chronic state, interfering with their ability to attend school and to perform up to their academic potential. Participating in extracurricular activities, making and keeping friends, and maintaining a supportive, flexible relationship within the family become difficult. They may tend to get stuck on their worried thoughts. When it begins to interfere with daily functioning, is the key. This is what separates normal, fluctuating worries of adolescence from an anxiety disorder. Sometimes anxiety is limited to generalized, free-floating feelings of uneasiness. At other times, it develops into panic attacks and phobias.

All anxiety-related problems share these common features:

-The anxiety is often as confusing to the adolescent as it is to their parents.
-The anxiety does not respond to or diminish after logical explanations, as the symptoms often work against logic.
-The anxiety is often an irrational fear that interferes with adolescent's ability to enjoy life or to complete daily routines.
-The anxiety problem can be helped.

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Looking for the signs

Given that teens experience a wide variety of physical and emotional changes as they grow, an anxiety disorder can be difficult to spot. Many red flags may seem like usual adolescent struggles or be chalked up to hormones. Watch for these hidden signs of anxiety in your teens:

Anxiety can negatively affect friendships. You might notice your child start avoiding social interactions with usual friends and extracurricular activities; isolating from peer group and spending increased time alone. 

Many of the physical complaints that can occur with an anxiety disorder mimic average adolescent complaints, which tend to increase as they get older. Watch for these common psychosomatic complaints: such as frequent headaches, including migraines, gastrointestinal problems, unexplained aches and pains, excessive fatigue and changes in eating habits.

While some anxious adolescents express feelings of pervasive worry, others experience subtle emotional changes such as feeling on edge, irritability, difficulty concentrating, restlessness, unexplained outbursts.

Given that anxiety can affect everything from sleep habits to eating habits to missing school due to physical issues, it should come as no surprise that poor academic performance can also result from untreated anxiety. These are some of the changes that your teen can experience: significant jump in grades, frequently missed assignments, describes feeling overwhelmed by workload and procrastinates on, or has difficulty concentrating on, homework assignments more than usual.

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Managing anxiety disorders

Managing anxiety disorders - as with any adolescent emotional disturbance - usually requires a combination of treatment interventions. The most effective plan must be individualized to the teenager and his family. While these disorders can cause considerable distress and disruption to the teen's life, the overall prognosis is good.

Treatment for an anxiety disorder begins with an evaluation of symptoms, family and social context, and the extent of interference or impairment to the teen. Parents, as well as the teenager, should be included in this process. School records and personnel may be consulted to identify how the tee's performance and function in school has been affected by the disorder

In most cases, treatment of anxiety disorders focuses on reducing the symptoms of anxiety, relieving distress, preventing complications associated with the disorder, and minimizing the effects on the teen's social, school, and developmental progress. if the problem manifests in school avoidance, the initial goal will be to get the youngster back to school as soon as possible.


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