How Social Media is Affecting our Teens

Jan Hamilton, Founder, Doorways Teen Counseling and Psychiatric Services Phoenix ArizonaBy Jan Hamilton, MS, PMHNP

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

 

Since computers starting coming into the home and video games left the arcade, parents have expressed concerns about how much is too much and how these virtual interfaces will impact the lives of our children over the long term. For years, the main concerns around overuse of electronic media have centered on physical activity levels, studying, and the effect of violent, sexist, and racist themes on young minds. Recently I was asked my thoughts on the impact things like Facebook, Twitter, and video games are having on today’s youth. My answers might surprise you.

One of the main problems that I see is an increase in teens and young adults with significant social anxiety problems that seem to stem from spending too much time interacting with a computer and not enough time interacting with actual people. I call this “Social Phobia.” This is especially pertinent for teens that are in the 12 to 15 year old range that are actively developing and refining the social skills that will help them throughout their lives.

The more time a child spends in isolation posting on Facebook, playing Xbox, chatting online, texting, and watching YouTube videos, the less time they spend interacting with their peers and families. These real-world interactions are necessary for developing social skills, understanding social protocols, and building interpersonal relationships.

What Parents Should Look For

  • Parents should trust their instincts and if they are concerned there might be a problem, seek the opinion of a professional.
  • Parents also need to make the distinction between what is normal behavior and what is healthy behavior. Your son might spend 12 hours a day playing video games which seems normal when compared to his friends, but most health professionals would agree that even if it is normal, 12 hours of video game play in a day is definitely not healthy.
  • Watch for resistance to social situations and avoidance of social interactions. If your child is having a significant emotional response to a situation that requires social interaction, there may be a social problem that needs to be addressed.

What Parents Can Do

  • The most important step parents can take is to start young. Set expectations and ground rules about media use early in childhood which will help your child develop good habits as they grow into teenagers.
  • Provide multiple social outlet opportunities for your children through church, community, sports, and educational activities. But, beware of over-scheduling, children need downtime too.
  • Don’t accommodate their anxiety; it’s ok for them to be uncomfortable in social situations because they are learning how to manage those types of interactions. Giving in and allowing them to avoid socializing only reinforces the avoidance behaviors.

Teen Anxiety: How to Help Your Teen Cope and Stay Mentally Healthy

Anxiety is a feeling that virtually every teen will experience during their adolescent years in response to changes, pressures or stresses they encounter in life. While occasional anxiety is completely normal in teens, it is important to understand how you can help your teen cope with feelings of anxiety, and properly manage stress in a healthy manner. Learning how to handle occasional bouts of anxiety that will occur in life will help your teen cope better during hard times, and ensure their mental health stays strong.

According to WebMD, however, 13 percent of teens experience levels of anxiety that require professional intervention and treatment to remedy. For this reason, it is also vital for parents of teens to understand anxiety, and the role it plays in the life of their teenager. This understanding and attention will help you better identify how you can help your teen deal with occasional moments of anxiety, as well as understand what to do to help them if you think your teen suffers from an ongoing anxiety disorder.

Teen Anxiety: How to Help Your Teen Cope and Stay Mentally Healthy

What is an Anxiety Disorder?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety is an emotional response to stress brought on by many aspects of life. Anxiety is normal for both adults and teens, and should typically subside naturally as you adjust to changes or eliminate stressors from your life. While anxiety is a normal part of life, particularly for teens, it should not linger or last for any substantial periods of time. If your teen is expressing anxiety frequently, it is possible they could be suffering from an anxiety disorder.

In order to differentiate between occasional anxiety and various anxiety disorders, you can use these indicators to identify if your teen is having issues handling anxiety over prolonged time periods.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

  • Frequently restless, wound up, or on edge
  • Easily tired and frequently fatigued and worn down
  • Excessively worrying
  • Extremely tense muscles
  • Irritability
  • Suddenly changing sleep patterns, or having trouble sleeping

Panic Disorder

  • Repeatedly experiencing sudden attacks of fear or worry
  • Losing control, or feeling out of control
  • Worrying excessively about when another panic attack will happen

Social Anxiety Disorder

  • Feeling very anxious around people, and having extreme difficulty speaking to others
  • Worrying in advance about a future event where interaction with people will take place
  • Trembling, blushing, or sweating when speaking to others
  • Feeling inadequate and unworthy of others
  • Difficulty making friends

How Can I Help My Teen Cope With Normal, Occasional Anxiety?

Whenever your teen is under heightened stress, they will be more likely to experience feelings of anxiety. Tests, sporting events, oral reports, moving and changing schools, and going on dates are just a few of the many life events and occurrences that can lead to your teen having anxious thoughts and feelings. This type of anxiety is inevitable, and your teen can benefit greatly from being guided through their anxious moments, so they know how to handle them in the future where they are bound to occur again.

You can help your teen cope with occasional, normal anxiety by trying the following exercises:

Recognize and name the emotion as anxiety, as it occurs.

Ask you teen speak openly about what they are feeling, and what is causing them stress. This will help them both name and understand the feelings they are having, and help them cope more calmly in the future.

Admit a situation is stressful, and brainstorm ideas to resolve the cause of the stress.

Sometimes, just admitting that you’re under an abnormal amount of stress can cause great relief. Talk with your teen, and help them know it is okay to admit stress, and then help them think of some ways that they can resolve the stress and resulting anxiety they are feeling.

What Can I Do if I Suspect My Teen Suffers From a Serious Anxiety Disorder?

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 80 percent of teens with a diagnosable anxiety disorder are not being treated, so it is very important to get your teen the help they need if you notice they suffer from much more than just occasional anxiety.

If your teen is suffering from extended periods of anxiety, and you are unable to help them find relief and peace, then it is a great idea to consult a teen counselor who specializes in teen anxiety disorders.

 

 

The Truth About Teens and Stress

Being a teenager is a stressful time. Puberty, school, and social pressures have a big impact on many teens’ mental health, and many develop anxiety disorders.

education and home concept - stressed student girl with books

According to the American Psychological Association, high stress and ineffective coping mechanisms are ingrained in our culture. The APA also reports that school is the most common source of stress for teens. Developing coping mechanisms is very important for teens to manage their stress and anxiety so it doesn’t negatively affect their mental and physical health.

 

Get enough sleep

Teen’s schedules can make it difficult to get enough sleep. Between busy school, after-school activity, social, and part-time job schedules, many teens don’t have much time to relax or sleep. It’s important to make having a regular bedtime a priority. If necessary, watch less TV or engage in less social media and internet browsing. Don’t drink caffeine late at night, and try to get some exercise in the early evening so it is easier to get to sleep. A healthy sleep schedule will make a huge impact on the overall stress you feel.

 

Engage in positive self-talk

The way you talk to yourself impacts you in ways you can’t even imagine. Often, we are our own biggest bullies, and we don’t even realize it. Beating yourself up over every mistake, holding yourself to impossible standards, and constantly comparing yourself to others will negatively affect your mental health in many ways, making it harder to succeed, harder to deal with stress, and harder to enjoy life. Watch how you talk to yourself and make sure it is positive whenever possible. Negative self-talk is one of the biggest causes of self-esteem issues and eating disorders. In fact, according to NPR, neurologists have discovered that positive self-talk can help you like your body more, perceive yourself more positively, and even make you more successful.

 

Open up

Talk about stress and emotional issues you are having with friends, family, and anyone you feel comfortable with. Often, the most stressful part about being a teen is feeling like you are alone. Opening up will help you realize that everyone else is going through what you are, or has been through it before. Maybe they can even share some of their coping mechanisms with you that could help you through a tough time.

 

Sometimes the mental issues teens deal with are more than just stress. Anxiety disorders, depression, and thoughts of suicide are serious issues that affect teens every day. If you or someone you know needs professional help, don’t hesitate to get the help you need. No one has to go through these problems alone, and there are many resources available to help. Check out the CDC for some great resources for suicide prevention and mental health help.

 

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Is Your Social Media Account Causing Your Anxiety?

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common disorder in the United States and affect 18% of the population. Anxiety is often related to social factors when found in teenagers and young adults.

If social media is causing you anxiety, it might be a good time to take a break. Photo credit: Bigstock.

If social media is causing you anxiety, it might be a good time to take a break. Photo credit: Bigstock.

 

Recently, links have been discovered between social media and anxiety, especially among college students. Is your anxiety caused by your social media account? Consider whether these factors are affecting you.

  1. You are trying to multi-task. Studies have found that in some users, it is not the social media account itself that is causing anxiety, but the effort to multi-task, a symptom of anxiety itself. Individuals will open multiple browser tabs and attempt to research or complete too many tasks at once, which contributes to their overall anxiety. The social media tab gets added in as individuals also try to keep up with everything their friends are posting in addition to getting work or studying done.
  2. You feel anxious when you cannot access your account. You might be addicted to social media if your anxiety stems from not being able to access your account. Individuals with symptoms of addiction to social media find their anxiety levels rise if they are away from social media for long periods of time and begin worrying about missing what their friends are posting or invitations to events they may be missing. The fear of missing a post could be part of your problem.
  3. You check social media compulsively. Even if you have just checked your account, you find yourself logging in during a dull moment. This compulsive behavior is a symptom of an anxious personality. You may not necessarily be addicted to your social media account itself, but have formed a habit of filing every moment with a task that often happens to be checking in with social media.
  4. You often feel depressed after checking social media. Especially in adolescents, social media has been found to cause anxiety and depression. Children are exposed to everything their friends are doing and often are left feeling left out and as if they do not have a social life comparable to their friends’ social lives. They also compare themselves to the way their peers represent themselves online, which may or may not be entirely accurate, and develop self esteem issues.
  5. You try to use social media for your social needs. Social media also provides users with a vague notion of a social life and individuals often turn to their social media account for their social needs, only to be left unsatisfied. This is especially common in teenagers and young adults who suffer from social anxiety and find it difficult to interact with peers in person. Social media may give them a semblance of social interaction and it becomes easy to rely on it for their social needs, but it is not a satisfactory replacement for a genuine social life.

If you find yourself or your child affected by any of these symptoms, it may be time to take a break from social media.  If the thought of that makes you anxious, in the least, we recommend you “unfriend” those people who are causing you the most anxiety.  

However, if you can’t unfriend people and you find that you are addicted to checking social media an excessive amount and especially if after checking, you find yourself depressed, it is well worth it to disable your account for a while and see if your anxiety symptoms improve.  We bet they will!

 

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Anxiety, Fears, and Phobias, Oh My!

teen phobias

Make sure you know the difference between a simple fear and when your teen’s phobia needs treatment (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

Everyone gets scared or anxious sometimes; it is an important part of being human.  Fear and anxiety are useful emotional responses because they can cause us to change our behavior in ways that protect us from danger.  The teen years are full of situations that create fear and cause anxiety and learning to navigate through those situations is a normal part of moving through the teen years.  However, sometimes those fears and anxieties can become overwhelming and all-encompassing, limiting the potential and progress of our teens.  In order for parents to know when their teen’s fear or anxiety has crossed the threshold from healthy to hindering, they need a solid understanding of the biology of fear, anxiety, and phobias and how to tell when their teen is in trouble and needs help.

Fear

Fear is an emotional response to a specific situation.  The emotion causes several immediate changes in our bodies that are aimed at preparing us to handle the danger at hand.  These changes are also called the fight or flight response because our body is getting ready for us to either run for our life or flight for it.  To do that, our heart rate increases as does our breathing.  This helps get more oxygenated blood to the parts of the body that will need it most for fighting or fleeing, the arms and legs.  This can cause a queasy stomach, paleness, and perspiration.  All of this is our natural, healthy response to a specific threatening situation.

Anxiety

Fear is to anxiety as a tree is to a forest.  Where fear is a direct response to a specific, immediate situation as in “something is happening”, anxiety is a generalized feeling of unease as in “something might happen”.   Anxiety also serves us well from a survival standpoint as it can alert us to the potential for danger before we find ourselves in the position of having to flee or fight.  It can make us more cautious and can help us avoid danger or discomfort.  Anxiety, to a certain degree, is also a healthy, normal response to perceived or potential dangers.

Phobias

While fear and anxiety can be healthy responses, they can also expand beyond healthy to become unhealthy, hindering, and even harmful.  When fear takes on a life of its own and expands to encompass things that are not actually a direct and immediate threat, that fear becomes a phobia.   Phobias are fueled by fearful emotions that are severe, extreme, and persistent and can trip the fight or flight response even when there is no direct and immediate threat of harm.   Anxiety can also expand beyond what is normal and helpful to become a phobia, an anxiety disorder, or and anxiety disorder tied to a phobia.

When it comes to fear and anxiety, the primary differences between a normal, healthy response and a harmful, hindering response are the direct nature of the threat, the magnitude of the response, how appropriate the response is to the situation, and the persistence of the emotional response even after any actual threat has passed.

Teens experiencing normal fear and anxiety may need their parents’ guidance and support to get through the trials and tribulations of the teen years.  But for those teens whose fear and anxiety have crossed the threshold into phobia and disordered response professional help from a mental health provider may be needed to help them learn to how to manage their fear and anxiety so they can have a normal life.

4 Ways to Support Your Teen With OCD

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

If your teen has OCD, here are some ways you can help support them. (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

Before a mental health disorder is diagnosed, everyone in the family can feel helpless and out of control to the point that finding a name for what is happening can start to feel like the answer.  Unfortunately, knowing what is causing the problem isn’t enough to solve it.  The real work of dealing with many disorders, including Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) comes after the diagnosis.  When your initial relief at knowing what is causing the problem begins to fade you will need to start the real work of helping your teenager learn to manage this condition and of changing your own behavior to best support them.  Here are some of the things you can do, now that you have the “what” to help define how to move forward.

1.     Educate Yourself

The most supportive thing you can do for your teen is to learn everything you can about their disorder.  This helps you better understand the struggles they are facing while also helping you understand what is the disorder and what is not.  It can be easy in the time period directly following diagnosis to blame the disorder for everything that isn’t “right” but in so doing you may miss other problems that need treatment or become frustrated when management strategies don’t “fix” everything.

2.     Identify Accommodations You are Making

More so than many other mental health disorders, OCD can become a family problem because other family members often do things to accommodate the person with the condition.  In the moment, these things can seem to be the best thing because they are helpful, supportive, and even participative.  Accommodating behaviors can include washing your hands whenever the person requests it, helping them to avoid uncomfortable tasks like cleaning the bathroom by doing it for them, providing unlimited access to cleaning supplies, or performing rituals to ease their anxiety and feed their compulsions.   For parents, identifying how they are enabling their teens OCD in these ways can be challenging.  Most parents only want the best for their child.  This generally means providing an environment that promotes happiness, comfort, and safety.  It can be difficult to follow-thru on what is “best” for them when it feels like that action is making them feel unhappy, uncomfortable, or insecure.

3.     Reducing Accommodations

Once you have identified what you and other members of the family are doing that is enabling the OCD the next step is to try and reduce or minimize those actions as your teen learns new ways to manage their condition.  This will take time and will be unpleasant for everyone at different times.  Remind yourself that all you are seeking to do is to treat this member of your family the same way you treat everyone else while supporting their recovery.  It can be very beneficial to seek the advice of a mental health provider as part of this process.

4.     Get Help

Learning to manage OCD and how to provide a healthy, supportive environment for that person is difficult to do without assistance.  Finding a provider that can work with your teen individually and with your family as a whole should be at the top of your list.  Building this kind of relationship is one of the most important things you can do to support your child.  This provider can help your teen learn new strategies for managing their thoughts and behaviors while also guiding your family unit through the first part of your journey to wellness.

How Do I Know if My Teen has OCD?

Do you know the warning signs to know if your teen has OCD? (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

Do you know the warning signs to know if your teen has OCD? (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

OCD, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, is an anxiety disorder that can affect people of all ages, even teenagers.  People with OCD experience excessive worry about specific things, called obsessions, which they cannot control and in an effort to manage their anxiety, they feel compelled to perform certain ritualistic behaviors.  Teenagers with OCD may develop obsessions related to normal teenage worries like school or friends but their obsessions can be related to almost anything.  Since it is normal for teenagers to experience anxiety, parents often wonder how to differentiate between normal anxiety and worry and OCD.  The following information can help parents determine if their teen’s behavior is indicative of OCD so that they can seek diagnosis and treatment from a provider.

1.     OCD takes up time and energy.

Normal anxiety may seem to occupy much of your teenagers time but when this anxiety is caused by OCD it takes up a significant amount of time and energy.  Teenagers with OCD may struggle to accomplish normal activities like chores and homework because of the time spent on OCD behaviors.

2.     OCD can leave teens feeling frustrated and embarrassed.

Because teenagers with OCD cannot control the compulsions, these behaviors can cause significant frustration and even embarrassment.  Teens may not want to participate in normal activities because they don’t want others to witness these behaviors.

3.     OCD causes irrational fears.

One of the most important things for parents to understand is that normal teen anxiety is generally related to realistic situations and challenges like doing poorly on a test or not having a date for the prom.  OCD teens often experience obsessions that are not realistic like extreme fear of dirt, germs, contamination, or illness.  Obsessions can center on preoccupations with symmetry, order, numbers, sexual thoughts, household items, and specific words or sounds.

4.     OCD compulsions take many forms.

While the compulsions that accompany OCD develop as a way to ease the anxiety caused by the obsession, the actual behavior may or may not relate to the obsession.  Common compulsions experienced by OCD teens are excessive hand washing, repetitive actions like locking and unlocking doors, counting, and checking rituals like checking homework assignments again and again.

5.     Teens often hide OCD behaviors.

Because of the shame and embarrassment often experienced by OCD teens, they can become very good at hiding these behaviors, even from those closest to them.  This can make it difficult for parents to recognize OCD in their own teens.

6.     Teens may incorporate others into their compulsive behaviors.

Teens may draw parents, friends, or other family members into their OCD behaviors.  This can take the form of a question/answer that is repeated again and again.  For example, a teen with OCD who is struggling with an obsession about being late may ask their parent for reassurance relating to being on time again and again.

If you suspect your teenager is struggling with OCD, seek professional help from a mental health provider.

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When Eating Disorders and Anxiety Disorders Co-exist

Do you know how eating disorders and anxiety disorders can go hand in hand? (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

Do you know how eating disorders and anxiety disorders can go hand in hand? (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

For many people with eating disorders, the challenge of overcoming their disorder is complicated because of other coexisting mental health conditions like depression and anxiety.  In fact, a University of Pittsburg Medical Center study conducted in 2004 found that two-thirds of those diagnosed with eating disorders also suffered from some form of anxiety disorder over the course of their lives.  In many cases, the anxiety disorder started in childhood, predating the eating disorder.   This underlines how important it is for parents to understand the warning signs of both anxiety disorders and eating disorders and to seek treatment for either condition or both conditions as soon as they see the signs.

When someone suffers from an anxiety disorder, they struggle with excessive, persistent, pervasive worry and fear that is unreasonable to the reality of their situation.  This constant anxiety may center on specific circumstances or activities or it can apply to a broader experience or concern.  There are several different types of anxiety disorders that each manifest differently and can cause different symptoms.  The most common anxiety disorders are:

Signs of Commonly Co-Existing Anxiety Disorders

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is the anxiety disorder that is most frequently seen with eating disorders.  When OCD and an eating disorder co-exist, the two disorders can intertwine causing the person to develop ritualistic behaviors associated with food.  An example of how this would look to parents would be a teenager that obsessively counts calories, weighs their food, or will only eat at specific times of day.  Other anxiety disorders that commonly co-exist with eating disorders are post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and social anxiety disorder.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterized by repetitive and persistent thoughts, behaviors, or impulses that are unwanted, involuntary, and often seem nonsensical, even to the person who is doing them.  People with this disorder generally experience obsessive thoughts that drive compulsive behaviors.  These behaviors are often repetitive and are meant to ease the anxiety resulting from the obsessive thought.  They are compulsions which makes it very difficult not to do them, people with this disorder can feel driven to complete the compulsive acts and distress can quickly amplify if they are unable to do so.  Examples of obsessive thoughts and compulsions include:

  • Fear of germs, dirt, or contamination that results in avoidance and/or compulsive behaviors like frequent hand washing
  • Needing things to be kept orderly and symmetrical or in a specific order or pattern and experiencing pain, stress, or anger when things are out of place
  • Fear of forgetting things like locking the door or turning off the stove that results in checking and rechecking behavior

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms come in three different categories.  The first, intrusive memories include things that are commonly associated with PTSD like flashbacks and nightmares.  The second, avoidance and numbing, includes avoiding thinking about, talking about, or doing anything related to the traumatic event. It can also include avoiding previously enjoyable activities, difficulties with memory and concentration, and “checking out” by retreating to a numb state.  The third, hyper-arousal, includes uncharacteristic irritability and anger, self-destructive behavior, problems sleeping, and being easily startled.

6 Tips for Helping Teens Manage Social Anxiety

It is normal for teens to experience anxiety. But, do you know when it crosses the line to become something more? (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

It is normal for teens to experience anxiety. But, do you know when it crosses the line to become something more? (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

It is normal for teenagers to experience anxiety as they make the transition from childhood to adulthood.  From changing bodies to changing schools, teenagers can feel like everything in their world is in a constant state of fluctuation.  They worry about fitting in, making friends, getting good grades, being popular, and being accepted.  This kind of anxiety is normal and can be beneficial.  If a teenager is worried about making the basketball team, that anxiety can inspire them to practice more over the summer.  However, when the anxiety centers on social interactions or relationships it can impose unnecessary limitations on our teenager’s lives.  While some teenagers experience this kind of anxiety to such a degree that professional help is warranted, every teenager can benefit from parents who offer support and guidance to help manage these social anxieties.

Whether your teenager’s social anxiety is severe or not, here are some things you can do to provide a supportive environment.

1.     Know the Signs

In order to be helpful and supportive, parents need to be able recognize the signs of social anxiety.  After all, it is very difficult to help if you don’t know there is a problem.   Here are some of the most common signs:

  • Intense fear of social situations
  • Intense fear of having to perform in a social situation
  • Avoidance of social situations
  • Experiencing significant distress when in social situations
  • Limited interaction with peers
  • Sits alone in social environments like the library, classroom, or cafeteria
  • Excessive concern about being embarrassed or humiliated
  • Difficulty speaking in public
  • Unwillingness to participate in class

2.     Know the Severity

While some social anxiety is normal for any teenager, this kind of anxiety can develop into a debilitating disorder.  If you feel that your teen’s social anxiety is significantly impacting their life and future, seek the advice of a qualified mental health professional to determine if additional support is needed.

3.     Work with the School

If your teenager is struggling with social anxiety, set up an appointment with their guidance counselor and/or teachers to discuss your concerns.  Since many of the social situations your teenager experiences happen during school hours, enlisting the support of their educators can make a significant difference in the outcome.

4.     Don’t Enable Avoidance

As parents, we hate to watch our children struggle but this can lead to unhelpful behavior on our part.  Don’t reinforce the anxiety by trying to help your teen out in uncomfortable social situations like ordering food in a restaurant or taking care of phone calls.  While it may seem like you are helping your child, you may actually be reinforcing the idea that they cannot handle the task.  Encourage your teen to participate rather than participating for them.

5.     Strategize

Help your teen brainstorm ways to handle situations that make them anxious.  Support them in developing their own solutions to the problems they are facing.

6.     Support Rather than Reassure

One of the ways teens seek to manage their social anxiety is to seek reassurance over and over again, especially from parents.  While it may feel like you are being supportive by reassuring your teen, you may actually be preventing them from developing the coping mechanisms they need to learn to manage their anxiety constructively.