Elk River Teen Treatment Program

Millions Aged 3 - 17 Suffer from Anxiety

Therapeutic Treatment for Anxiety

Anxiety/Depression Among Adolescents Reaches New Heights

The diagnosis of anxiety among adolescents has been on the rise for years. Blame for the increase has been attributed to lack of parenting, all access to social media, premature medicating by overworked medical professionals, poor diet, lack of sleep and a plethora of other potential contributors. At Elk River Treatment Program, adolescents and teens are often admitted by concerned parents after exhibiting maladaptive behaviors attributed to anxiety and depression.

Founded in 2005, the residential therapeutic program at Elk River has utilized evidenced-based treatment modalities to help thousands of boys and girls aged 12 - 18 overcome debilitating anxiety.

The data pertaining to anxiety is alarming. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC):

  • Approximately 4.5 million children aged 3 – 17 years old have diagnosed anxiety
  • Approximately 1.9 million children aged 3 – 17 have diagnosed depression
  • About 3 in 4 children aged 3 – 17 diagnosed with depression also have anxiety

A certain amount of anxiety is perfectly normal. Parents want their child to have an appropriate fight or flight response to a dangerous situation. These responses are vital to survival. But when anxiety sets in for no obvious reason, without any identifiable cause - lives become disrupted. The shear unknown of what is happening and why it is happening can set into motion a debilitating response: Freeze.

Because the human brain doesn’t fully mature until the late 20s or early 30s, it is difficult for children to articulate what is happening to them during bouts of anxiety. Oftentimes anxiety presents as a physical ailment such as headache or nausea.

Some children endure anxiety and eventually grow out of it (mature); some begin self-medicating (abusing alcohol, drugs, sex, gaming); and others begin to find ways to distract from the pain of anxiety (self-harm). Here’s a alarming fact from the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry: Suicide is the second leading cause of death for children, adolescents, and young adults age 5 – 24.

Help for an Adolescent/Teen Consumed with Anxiety

The licensed mental health professionals at Elk River Treatment Program advise parents to avoid trying to convince their child that there is nothing wrong. Rather, ask them to try to describe the physical feeling they are experiencing during an anxiety episode. “Does it feel like you are falling?” “How long does it last?” Assure them that others (including yourself) also experience those feelings from time to time. Help them understand where the physical sensations are coming from and later explore the possible core issue driving the angst. One good resource is Unlearning Anxiety: https://www.unlearninganxiety.com/amygdala

Show your child statistics of how common anxiety is among children and adults. More than half of their classmates are likely experiencing something similar.

Coach them on self-talk. One example is to have your child give his or her anxiety a name. Like Diesel. “Diesel can enter your brain pretty much any time he (or she) pleases, but it’s up to you to allow him to stay or force him to go.” A mantra can be helpful when using this technique. Saying over and over: “I will not harbor negative thoughts” suggests that these thoughts may come, but I choose to not give them harbor.

Normalize reasonable fears. "I can see how that would be alarming" is a much better approach than “you’re over-reacting.” Their feelings are real to them regardless if the circumstances are actual or imagined.

Explain why mindfulness is like muscle building. Mindfulness is an exercise for the brain just as lifting weights is for growing and defining muscles. It strengthens the connection between the amygdala (the emotional brain) and the pre-frontal cortex.

Producing Positive Memories

The amygdala operates unconsciously. You cannot control its immediate, instinctive reactions because this part of the brain is on auto-pilot. In the days of the caveman, you needed this brain more than anything to survive. No time to discern if the charging dinosaur was a vegetarian or a man-eater. Survival was the automatic response. Express thanks for the amygdala for saving your ancestor's life.

The pre-frontal cortex is the rational brain – developed over time after the threat of death became less common. Sometimes referred to as the “higher brain,” the pre-frontal cortex has the power to resolve distorted thinking styles. “That rope looks like a snake. Is it a snake?” versus “That rope resembles a snake, but it’s not one.” This produces a positive memory instead of a negative one. A memory that you can retrieve in a similar situation.

The Empowering Practice of Mindfulness

Educate yourself and share the practice of mindfulness with your child. Behavior is guided by thinking. Recognize that you can’t force old thoughts to go away, but you can learn to live with them from a different perspective. Imagine yourself standing from a distance and watching anxiety-producing thoughts pass through your brain.

Some find the following technique helpful when anxiety has developed into a full panic attack: Name five objects in the room. Write them down if you can. Then name four different objects in the room. Write them down. Then three, two and one.

Anxiety is NOT a Personality. It Doesn't Define You.

Assure your child that anxiety is a feeling that comes and goes. Anxiety is not a personality. It doesn’t define them. Some differences between the two include:

  • If your child’s perfectionism is motivated by stress and fear, it is not likely a personality trait. It is likely an anxiety disorder.
  • If your child is extremely shy or introverted in social situations, he or she may actually be struggling with a social anxiety disorder.
  • If your child simply wants to be alone at times, this is not a sign of anxiety unless there is a level of distress involved in the action (or non-action).
  • Procrastinating may be something your child does to invent the thrill of a deadline. Or it might be their way of dealing with the thought, “I’m not good enough, so why try?” If procrastination does nothing but build stress, it might be confused with anxiety.

Anxiety is Treatable

Anxiety is a treatable mental health disorder that can be successfully treated - usually requiring a combination of interventions. Consultations with our experienced mental health counselors at Elk River Treatment Program are a service we are honored to provide at no charge. Call us today at 866-906-TEEN (8336).