Generalized Anxiety Disorder is a Common Teen Mental Illness

There are many types of anxiety disorders. However, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, also known as GAD, is a specific diagnosis given to teens who experience excessive and irrational worry for at least six months. An anxiety disorder can interfere with a teen’s ability to function at school, have healthy friendships, and enjoy pleasurable experiences.

GAD usually consists of extreme worry even for everyday matters. For instance, it’s natural for teens to experience anxiety right before an exam or before going on a date. But excessive anxiety is often persistent and over the top for the situation at hand. Furthermore, teens who experience GAD don’t only have anxiety under stressful situations, their anxiety seems to come on without an associated trigger.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder might range from mild to severe symptoms, escalating to the point that they become disruptive in a teen’s life, including affecting his or her ability to function with daily activities. Symptoms can include a racing heart, dizziness, nausea, shortness of breath, shaking, sweating palms, and feeling hot, all of which might suddenly come out of nowhere.

Sadly, experiencing these symptoms on an ongoing basis can lead to long term negative outcomes. These can include:

  • social isolation
  • low self esteem
  • lack of independence
  • depression
  • substance abuse
  • risky behavior
  • poor choices
  • decline in school performance

It’s important for teens and their parents to know that these negative consequences are preventable with treatment. For instance, symptoms of anxiety may get better with the right amount of support – friends, family, counseling, psychotherapy, support group, and medication. A teen may need to include making a lifestyle change. For example, teens with GAD may want to use techniques for relaxation on a regular basis. They may want to practice yoga meditation, and/or journaling, which can facilitate healing from anxiety. All of these interventions can create an easier life for a teen who has been struggling with their symptoms.

Typically, treatment for Generalized Anxiety Disorder includes some form of medication to relieve a teen of their symptoms as well as therapy to address the underlying issues. Types of medication for teen anxiety include anti-anxiety medication, such as benzodiazepines. They include Xanax, Valium, Ativan, and Klonopin. The risk with Benzodiazepines, however, is that they are highly addictive and have severe withdrawal symptoms. Of course, any teen taking psychotropic medication, whether anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication, should be closely monitored, especially at the beginning of treatment. Another form of medication used to treat teen anxiety is antidepressants. These drugs can be used to treat both depression, as well as anxiety disorders.

Psychotherapy can be useful because it can provide a teen with coping tools to use when anxiety gets challenging. In therapy, a teen might learn to avoid a craving to get high and instead take a moment to recognize their feelings. In fact, therapy can help a teen become more emotionally aware which in turn can help a them go from reacting to responding to emotional triggers. In the same way, instead of jumping into a car with friends who have been drinking, a teen might stop for a moment and rethink their decision. Psychotherapy can help a teen make positive choices even in the face of anxiety.

If you suspect your teen’s anxiety is overly excessive, contact a mental health provider. With the right diagnosis, you can then get your teen the right treatment.

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