A Healthy Brain
Why has debilitating anxiety become so common among the young? And why is it still so overlooked?
According to the National Institutes of Health, nearly 1in 3 adolescents ages 13 to 18 will experience an anxiety disorder. These numbers have been rising steadily, up 20% in children and teens between 2007 and 2012. These stats, combined with the rate of hospital admissions for suicidal teenagers, have been doubling.
How did we get here?
This leaves us with many concerning questions. In addition to brain chemistry, personality, genetics and environment, what I see most in my practice includes:
Extremely high expectations and pressure to succeed.
A world that feels scary and threatening. The current environment is not a welcoming place for young people. In the wave of a worldwide pandemic, virtual schooling and rising unemployment rates, today’s younger generations may be the first to not do as well as their parents.
The Environmental Crisis is really a crisis of consciousness. Most people know the natural world is facing great challenges and degradation, but few know the true extent and the extended effects on human welfare and all other life on Earth.
Social media. According to the Center for Humane Technology, we shape our environment, and, for better or worse, our environment shapes our brains. When we engage with persuasive technology repeatedly, it begins to train us: our thoughts, feelings and motivations start to replicate what technology is designed to produce. This training creates a kind of neural momentum that makes us more likely to persist in those behaviors, even when it’s not good for us.
Whatever the cause, this rise in anxiety is a real problem for youth. Chronic anxiety can lead to serious mental health problems such as depression, substance abuse and suicide. It can interfere with the ability to focus and learn, ultimately causing problems at school. It can also manifest into physical problems such as headaches, chronic pain, digestive problems and even heart disease. Anxiety disorders cut across all demographics: suburban, urban and royal. So, what can we do?
Be aware of the signs of anxiety. Don’t ignore your child when they say they’re stressed or minimize what it is that they say is the cause of their stress.
Talk with kids about potential stressors. Ask what triggers their anxiety? Deadlines? Comparison? Negative self-dialogue?
Be mindful of the expectations you set for children and teens. They are not mini-adults and their brains are still developing.
Talk with kids about their social media use. It is imperative to set limits and talk to your kids about the type of apps they are using and the content they are seeing.
Remember that anxiety is treatable and that YOU are not your anxiety!
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 80% of kids with a diagnosable anxiety disorder are not receiving treatment.
If you are noticing signs of anxiety in your child, talk with your pediatrician or recommended child or adolescent counselor who specializes in anxiety. Trust yourself if you don’t feel comfortable or that a counselor isn’t a good fit.
You know your child best.