7 Things that Make Anxiety Attacks Worse in Teens

Do you know the warning signs of what makes anxiety attacks worse? (photo credit: BigStockPhotos.com)

Do you know the warning signs of what makes anxiety attacks worse? (photo credit: BigStockPhotos.com)

Anxiety is normal in all of us, even our teenagers.  However, for some people, anxiety can become overwhelming, all-encompassing, and debilitating.  When anxiety shifts from normal day to day worries to something more, an anxiety disorder may be to blame.  For parents of teenagers with anxiety disorders, it can be as important to understand what makes things worse as it is to understand what makes it better.  Here are 7 things that can make an anxiety attack worse.

1.     Downplaying

Anxiety disorders are not overreactions and one mistake parents make is to downplay the severity of their teenager’s feelings in an effort to help them calm down.  This can backfire by making the person feel unsupported or belittled.  Rather than trying to discount your teen’s reaction to something or downplay the importance or seriousness of an event or situation, offer reassurance about the teen’s ability to handle the event or situation, regardless of how difficult it turns out to be.

2.     Caffeine and Nicotine

Eating or drinking anything with caffeine can make the symptoms of an anxiety attack worse.  Smoking or ingesting nicotine can also make anxiety attacks worse.

3.     Not Having a Plan

One of the ways that teenagers can manage their anxiety is to have a plan in place for what they will do when they feel an anxiety attack starting or when they realize they are having one.  Not having this kind of plan in place can exacerbate symptoms and prolong the attack.   Having a plan can actually help combat anxiety attacks by making the teen feel more in control overall.

4.     No One to Talk To

Another way to manage anxiety is to have several people to reach out to that can help talk through the anxiety in a helpful and supportive way.  If your teenager has difficulty making friends or doesn’t feel comfortable sharing their anxiety issues with others, they may not have this as a resource.  Helping them find other people to turn to in times of crisis can be a powerful tool in managing their disorder.

5.     Ignoring the Attack

It is not helpful to your teenager if the attack is ignored by you or by them.  Acknowledging what is happening makes it possible to find a way to overcome them whereas ignoring the attack in the hopes that it will go away is only likely to make it worse.

6.     Checking Out

Although your teen may have the strong desire to just check out for awhile, this may not be the best course of action.  Anxiety attacks can be very draining physically, mentally, and emotionally and can make it seem like just being alone and doing nothing is the right thing to do.  However, this can actually extend the symptoms.  It is better to spend time with people in a caring, supportive environment.

7.     Alcohol

Some teenagers will turn to alcohol as a way to manage and overcome their anxiety.  While alcohol may dull the effects of the anxiety, it can make things worse as well because it also inhibits our ability to deal with anxious feelings and manage our anxiety.  Alcohol, like caffeine and nicotine, should be avoided by those with anxiety disorders, especially teenagers.

What Parents Need to Know About Panic Disorder

Overview

Panic is something we all experience.  Someone cuts us off in traffic.  We see our toddler start to trip and fall.  The phone rings in the middle of the night.  Panic is the intense and immediate fear of some imminent danger.  People with Panic Disorder experience this type of intense fear at times when no actual danger exists.   These periods of intense albeit unwarranted fear are called panic attacks and those with the disorder experience these kind of attacks repeatedly.  Panic attacks can last for several minutes or more and may include significant physiological symptoms.  The sudden onset and frequency of panic attacks can lead to social isolation and self-restrictions as those with the disorder often avoid situations in an effort to control the uncontrollable attacks.

For some people with Panic Disorder the shame and anxiety experienced because of the attacks can increase the level of fear they experience making the disorder worse and further compromising their ability to participate in their lives and undertake normal activity.

Symptoms of a Panic Attack

When someone experiences a panic attack, they can display a wide range of symptoms including:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Heart pounding or palpitations
  • Trembling
  • Shaking
  • Difficulty breathing and shortness of breath
  • Chest pains
  • Feeling as if they are choking or being smothered
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Abdominal pain
  • Feeling lightheaded or faint
  • Feeling detached or disconnected from oneself
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Chills
  • Hot flashes

Symptoms of Panic Disorder

Although panic attacks are one of the key symptoms of panic disorder, not everyone who has a panic attack also has the disorder.  In addition to panic attacks, people with panic disorder also experience anticipatory anxiety.  This is a symptom seen in general anxiety disorder and other anxiety disorders that involves increasing and often irrational anxiety about an upcoming event.  For those with panic disorder, this anticipatory anxiety may center on the fear of having a panic attack in specific situations.  It can also be tied to a specific event or situation that is a source of fear for that person.  The third symptom experienced by those with Panic Disorder is phobic avoidance.  This is characterized by the avoidance of places or situations where the person with the disorder fears a panic attack will occur.  One example of phobic avoidance is agoraphobia when people are unable to leave their house because of their fears.

Panic Disorder can severely limit a person’s ability to participate in their lives.  As the fear of having a panic attack increases, they will begin avoiding places that incite that fear.  Over time, this can seriously limit their ability to work, participate in social events, go to school, and perform every day activities like driving or shopping.

Who it Affects

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), about 6 million American adults have Panic Disorder.  Women are twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with the condition.  While adolescents can experience panic attacks, most diagnosis of Panic Disorder occurs between the ages of 18 and 25.  There also appears to be a significant genetic component as those people with immediate family members who have the disorder are 20 times more likely to have it as well.

Causes

Although Panic Disorder does seem to run in families, researchers are unsure why it develops in some people and not in others.  There is no clear cause or risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing the disorder beyond having a family member who has the condition.

Diagnosis

Panic Disorder is diagnosed based on the frequency of panic attacks, the presence of avoidance anxiety, the level of phobic avoidance experienced, and the impact these symptoms are having on the person’s life.   Many people with Panic Disorder also experience other mental health conditions like substance abuse and depression.  It is important that any co-existing mental health conditions and underlying medical conditions are also diagnosed and treated as part of an overall treatment program.

Treatment

The most common treatment plans for Panic Disorder include psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of both.  Cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps people change their thought patterns, behaviors, and reactions, can be very effective in treating this disorder.  Through therapy, the person with the disorder learns to control and even eliminate the fear and anxiety that causes the attacks.

Medication can also be a useful tool for treating this disorder.  Anti-anxiety medication and medications used to treat depression are both used in treating Panic Disorder.   In addition to these medications, people with Panic Disorder may also be prescribed medications to help control the physical symptoms that accompany panic attacks.

The Real Truth About Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Life provides ample opportunity to worry.  From natural disasters to job losses, there are many legitimate things for adults to worry about and we all do it, even our kids.  While their worries may be different than ours, they are just as real and just as valid.  But for both adults and teens, worry sometimes moves from everyday concern into excessive anxiety.  When worry becomes all encompassing, when it begins to impact every day activities, it can stop being normal worry and become Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

Severe non-specific anxiety is often diagnosed as Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and it is estimated to affect about 3% of the U.S. adult population.  GAD also affects about one out of every eight children.    People with GAD experience excessive and unwarranted levels of anxiety about normal everyday events and possibilities.   Often, the anxiety is related to things that do not warrant the level of anxiety being experienced.  It is also not uncommon for those with GAD to focus on the worst possible outcome of every situation to the exclusion of everything else.  When these negative thoughts take root, it can feel impossible for the person with the condition to stop them.

When teenagers have this condition, they can struggle in all areas of their lives.  The residual impact of untreated GAD during the teen years can last throughout their lives. GAD can make it difficult to concentrate at school, impacting grades, college options, and future employment.  It can cause irritability and make people unwilling to engage in or participate in social situations.  When this happens, teens can miss important social milestones, fail to form friendships, and struggle with feelings of loneliness and ostracism.   The significant and long-lasting consequences of GAD in teens underscores the importance of seeking treatment rather than waiting for the problems to resolve themselves.  The good news is that with proper treatment, teenagers can overcome GAD by learning to manage their symptoms.

The difference between someone who worries a lot and someone with GAD is the level of anxiety they experience and how long the anxiety lasts.  GAD causes persistent, chronic anxiety that lasts for at least 6 months.  Unlike worrying about a date for the prom or about getting a good grade on a test, GAD is consistently present; symptoms are often experienced all day, every day.   Another differentiating factor for those with GAD is that calming methods, and even repeated reassurances, do not help to ease the feelings brought on by GAD.

People with GAD also experience physical symptoms including unexplained fatigue, problems sleeping, restlessness, edginess, irritability, difficulties concentrating and headaches.  It is also common for those with this condition to also suffer from gastrointestinal problems including nausea and diarrhea.

While there is no known cause for GAD, it is associated with several factors that seem to increase the risk of it developing.  These factors include stress, heredity, and experiencing traumatic eventsPeople with this condition generally respond well to therapy, medication, or a combination of both.

 

What is PTSD?

There has been a lot of press in recent years about the many post-9/11 veterans coming home with PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  What many people don’t realize is that you don’t have to survive a war to be affected by this condition.  Anyone, including children and teenagers, who experiences a traumatic event can develop the disorder and many who do will require treatment to overcome its challenges and obstacles.  When left undiagnosed or untreated, PTSD can cause long-term problems that negatively impact quality of life.  Because of the potential for lasting consequences, it is important for parents to understand what can cause the disorder, what symptoms teenagers with PTSD often experience, and how to get help for the disorder.

When the Worst Happens

There is no question that traumatic events impact everyone who is touched by them.  Survivors and witnesses of trauma often experience a period of extraordinary stress and undergo a period of extreme emotional response following the event.  Many of those touched by trauma will have trouble sleeping, experience difficulty concentrating, and develop anxiety specific to the circumstances of the event.  These are all normal reactions experienced when we are exposed to trauma.

But these normal post-traumatic responses are generally worst immediately following the event and then begin to fade and dissipate in the days and weeks that follow.  In some cases, however, these responses do not fade but intensify instead lasting for months or even longer.  This is when our response shifts from a normal reaction to a diagnosable disorder.

Cause and Effect

Although PTSD is directly caused by experiencing some form of trauma, there is not a specific list of traumatic events or circumstances that cause PTSD.  It can result from catastrophic events that impact thousands like an earthquake to individually impacting events like sexual abuse. However, experiencing trauma, no matter how catastrophic, does not guarantee that any specific individual will develop PTSD.  The important thing to understand is that anyone who experiences trauma including those who are directly involved, those who are peripherally involved, and even those who simply witness the event, can develop this condition, but not everyone will. Even if someone has experienced multiple “smaller” incidences of traumatic events, they can end up with PTSD symptoms that are very disruptive and interfering.

Why One and Not the Other

There is no clear distinction between people who develop PTSD and people who don’t.  There are some theories that PTSD stems from a disruption in the fight or flight response, the physiological response we experience when faced with fear, danger, or trauma.  This is the biological process responsible for the surge of adrenaline we get when someone almost hits us while changing lanes or that makes it possible for a mother to lift a car off of her child.  It is one of our base survival responses and is triggered during traumatic experiences.  The thinking is that for some people, the exposure to trauma changes the way this biological process works, creating a new, very sensitive trigger that is directly correlated to the traumatic event.   This new trigger sets off the fight or flight reaction outside of the normal parameters which creates the anxiety, fear, flashbacks, and other symptoms associated with PTSD.

If you are concerned that your teen may be suffering from PTSD, schedule an appointment with a mental health practitioner to have them evaluated.  For many people, PTSD does not resolve on its own or get better over time which is why getting help is the best path to recovery.

When Shyness Crosses into Social Phobia

Everyone experiences moments when they are shy or self-conscious about meeting new people or participating in big groups.  Many children and teenagers have bouts of anxiety about being in front of others, joining new groups, or being around people they don’t know.  This kind of shyness is completely normal.  But a racing heart and stomach full of butterflies can signify something more than just normal shyness.  Some adolescents are dealing with a type of anxiety about social situations that goes beyond being uncomfortable; they are dealing with a disorder called social phobia.

The biggest difference between normal shyness and social phobia is the degree to which it impacts the person’s life.  People who are shy or uncomfortable in public can bring themselves to attend events, make presentations, and interact with others, even though it is difficult.  Those with social phobia generally cannot.  The anxiety they experience is so extreme, it can be unbearable.  People with social phobia may find it impossible to make eye contact, give oral presentations in class, tryout for sports teams, or even join non-competitive extracurricular clubs.

What is Social Phobia?

Social phobia, which is also called social anxiety, is an anxiety disorder that causes extreme self-consciousness and self-isolating behavior.  People with this disorder can be paralyzed by their fear and anxiety and may find it impossible to participate in many everyday activities.   Similarly to other phobias, the fears involved in social phobia are not associated with anything that is actually dangerous but the person’s mind and body react as if it is.  Physical symptoms are the same as they would be if the person was confronted by real danger that triggered their fight or flight response.  This is an important aspect of this disorder that parents must understand.

Signs of Social Phobia

One of the hardest things for parents is to know when their child is simply shy and when they are experiencing social phobia.  Teens experiencing social phobia may feel their heart race, start breathing faster, and break out in a cold sweat when confronted with a social situation.  These are all the effects of an adrenaline rush caused by their social anxiety.   Teens with social phobia will withdraw and go to great lengths to avoid situations that incite this fear.

Effects of Social Phobia

This type of anxiety can be difficult at any life stage, but for teenagers, it can be devastating as so much of a teenager’s life is about social development and social skills.  Teenagers with social phobia may:

  • Be lonely because of their self-isolation and inability to meet new people.
  • Be frustrated because they want to make friends and participate in school activities and social events but their fear keeps them from being able to do so.
  • Be losing out on getting the best education they can because they cannot volunteer, present in class, speak up when they know the answer, or ask for help when they don’t.
  • Be missing opportunities to use or expand their talents.
  • Be missing opportunities to learn new skills, develop new interests, and participate in their own life.

What Parents Can Do

The good news is that the effects of social phobia can be mitigated and teenagers dealing with this anxiety disorder can learn to overcome their fears.  With the support of friends and family and the assistance of a therapist or other mental health practitioner, teens can learn coping skills, success strategies, and tools for managing their anxiety.  This support can enable them to live full, rich lives and ensure they don’t miss out all the great things about being a teenager.

 

Related Articles:

Physical Fitness and Your Mental Health

May is National Physical Fitness Month (NPFM) which provides us with a great opportunity to talk about how physical activity, healthy eating habits, and mental health are connected.   The purpose of NPFM is to encourage all Americans to pursue a life filled with physical activity and proper nutrition in order to live healthy lives.

Physical fitness and daily activity are critical to maintaining overall health and the need to encourage activity is more true for teenagers today than at any point in the past.  Between processed foods, sugary soft drinks, increased use of technology, and a lifestyle that is generally more sedentary than that of generations past, it is no wonder that the obesity rate in teens (and everyone else) is on the rise.  The best way to fight this problem is to encourage our teens to adopt a lifestyle that is centered on physical fitness and healthy eating habits.

The benefits of physical activity don’t stop at improving our teenager’s physical health; it can also play a big part in managing mental health.   Unlike obesity, physical activity and healthy food aren’t a way to cure or combat some of the most prevalent mental health conditions our teens face, but being active can help alleviate and manage symptoms.   Treatment recommendations for depression, bipolar, anxiety disorders and ADHD all include physical activity as one of the key components of treatment.   When you consider the entire picture, it is easy to see that helping the teenagers in our lives increase their physical activity is a win, win, win.

Here are some great ways to get teenagers involved in more physical activity.

  1. Make physical activity a priority for your family.  Active parents provide great role models for active teenagers.
  2. Plan family time around active pursuits.  By making the time you spend as a family time you spend being active, you are building stronger bodies and stronger bonds.
  3. Look for physical activities that can be incorporated into your daily routine.  For example, if there are places you can walk to, walk instead of driving.
  4. Plan parties and family gatherings that include physical activity.  Setting up a volleyball net at the graduation party or holding a birthday party at a roller rink are great examples of how to make this work.
  5. Use local resources.  If you live somewhere that people love to go hiking, try hiking.  If you have access to lakes or rivers, try kayaking.
  6. Leverage everyone’s interests.  If you can find physical activities that are also interesting to your family members it will be easier to incorporate them into your overall routine.
  7. Keep it simple.  Physical activity doesn’t have to involve a ton of equipment or expensive fees.  It can be as simple as an after dinner walk, playing Frisbee in the park, or going for a bike ride.
  8. Pick weatherproof activities.  It is definitely easier to be physically active when the weather is right and it’s fun to be outside.  But once it gets too hot, too cold, or there is inclement weather, you can get knocked off your routine.  Find activities that your family can do together no matter the weather.

 Related articles

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Teens

PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, used to be something associated only with war veterans and abuse survivors but it can affect anyone who experiences a traumatic event Even though teens and adolescents may show different symptoms than adults , they can suffer from the same disorder and usually require treatment to overcome the challenges it presents.  Understanding the causes and contributing factors can help parents identify when their children need help and how to get them the help they need.

What is PTSD?

Post traumatic stress disorder describes the development of a set of symptoms following a traumatic experience.  Everyone who is impacted by trauma may feel extreme stress and suffer from strong emotional responses, difficulties with normal activities like sleeping, eating, and concentrating, and anxiety or fear related to the circumstances of the event.  However, not everyone impacted by trauma also develops PTSD.

Those who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder will have symptoms for a month or longer and their symptoms don’t abate with time.  In some cases, symptoms do not start directly following the event and may actually get worse as time passes.

What Causes PTSD?

Experiencing a traumatic event like a car accident, natural disaster, violent crime, or physical assault can cause Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  It is not necessary for someone to be injured or even to have directly participated in the event in order to develop PTSD.  In some cases, merely witnessing an event can lead to the disorder.  It is important to note that not everyone who experiences trauma will develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder just like not everyone who has the same experience will respond in the same way.

One theory about why some people develop PTSD has to do with our bodies fight or flight response, the chemical reaction triggered by fear or danger.  This physiological response is meant to enable us to protect ourselves and respond in critical survival situations.  But in some people, a traumatic event disrupts this response, causing the same kind of chemical reaction in circumstances where it isn’t necessarily warranted.  This can lead to feelings of anxiety, severe stress, fear, and danger when there is no external cause of those feelings.

There are some risk factors that can elevate someone’s likelihood of developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  These risk factors include previous experience with traumatic events, a history of mental illness, lack of social support after the event, and being injured as part of the event.    There are also factors that can make someone more resilient and thereby reduce their risk of PTSD including strong post-event support, feeling positive about how they handled the event, and specific coping strategies for dealing with stressful events.

What are the Symptoms of PTSD?

Regardless of when PTSD develops, there are some characteristic symptoms that develop after the experience.  People may experience any combination of these symptoms.

  • Nightmares
  • Flashbacks
  • Mental images of the event or it’s aftermath
  • Avoidance of people, places, or things that are reminders of the event
  • Unwillingness to talk about the event or discuss what happened
  • Emotional detachment
  • Edginess, irritability, and hyper-vigilance
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Depression and survivor guilt
  • Angry outbursts

While teens and older adolescents may show symptoms similar to adults, they may also act out and become disruptive and destructive.  In young children and some adolescents, PTSD can cause a different set of symptoms including bedwetting, forgetting how to speak, refusing to speak, repeatedly acting out the traumatic event, and having unusual separation anxiety from parents or other adults.

How is PTSD Diagnosed?

PTSD is diagnosed by a doctor, psychiatrist, or psychologist based on a personal interview.  In order to be diagnosed, a person must display a certain set of symptoms for at least one month.  The set of symptoms must include one symptom related to re-experiencing the event like nightmares or flashbacks.  They must also be experiencing at least three avoidance symptoms like refusing to talk about the event or to participate in any activity relating to the event.  Additionally, the person must suffer from at least two different symptoms showing hyper-arousal like irritability and edginess.

PTSD is treatable and sufferers can make a complete recovery but it doesn’t generally resolve without assistance.  PTSD is most commonly treated with counseling or therapy and in some circumstances medication to treat underlying depression or other conditions may be used to help mitigate the effects of the disorder.  If you are concerned that your teen or young child may be suffering from PTSD, schedule an appointment with their doctor to rule out any medical causes of their symptoms and get a referral for a qualified practitioner.

Social Phobias: What Parents Need to Know

Overview

It isn’t uncommon for children and teens to be anxious about social situations and interactions as they move through the different stages from child to adult.  Given that their bodies are constantly changing, the hormonal effects of puberty, and the rapid succession of milestones these adolescents are going through, it is no wonder that they don’t always feel comfortable and worry about how other people are perceiving them.  But for some adolescents and teens, the common anxiety experienced at these stages can become all encompassing and even debilitating.  These adolescents may develop social phobias,  also referred to as social anxiety disorder.

For teens with the social phobia, social anxiety disorder, the fear of rejection, humiliation, being embarrassed, or having others develop a negative opinion of them becomes excessive.  This makes anything requiring social interaction or that singles out the child a challenge and can lead to avoiding interactions altogether.  Adolescents with social anxiety disorder have difficulty meeting new people, standing up to give a report or solve a problem in front of the class, participating in physical activities and sporting events, and even doing things that seem simple like eating in public.

For parents, it is important to remember that children with social anxiety disorder may respond to situations disproportionately.  In situations where they are not faced with any actual physical danger, they may respond as though they are and experience the same physiological changes like sweaty palms, a racing heart rate, and the activation of their fight or flight reaction.  These can be actual Panic Attacks. Simply telling the teen that they don’t need to be afraid may not alleviate the fear they are experiencing.

Symptoms

An estimate from the National Institute of Mental Health indicates that about 12% of those adolescents who call themselves shy may actually have social phobias.  One of the primary ways to differentiate between typical teenage shyness and social anxiety is that shyness doesn’t generally lead to debilitation or consistent avoidance behavior.  The primary symptoms of social anxiety are:

  • Excessive fear and/or anxiety of any individual or group performance like presenting an oral report or participating in a concert with the school chorus
  • Intense fear of social situations and difficulties with social interactions like meeting new people, unstructured conversations, and talking on the phone
  • Social isolation
  • Inability to actively participate in conversations with peers
  • Excessive concern about how others perceive them and fear related to the negative opinions of others
  • Fear of being humiliated or embarrassed which often leads to anxiety about being called on in class or having to participate in classes like gym or music
  • Panic attacks resulting from social situations or experiences (Physical symptoms  like a racing heart rate, rapid breathing or shortness of breath, feeling nauseous, sweating, or blushing)

Causes

There are no specific causes of the social phobia, social anxiety disorder.  Like many other anxiety disorders, it develops as a result of a combination of factors including genetics, environment, and life experiences.  Some people may be genetically predisposed to a certain type of temperament, like being shy.  Factors in the environment have a big influence on our perspective and socially anxious parents or siblings model those behaviors for the children and teens in their lives.  If a child watches a parent continually avoid a specific situation or sees them experience intense fear or anxiety about social interactions, it can reinforce any social anxiety the child is already experiencing.  Life experiences also play a big part in the development of an anxiety disorder.  A teenager who is shy and self-conscious may be more likely to develop social anxiety if he is bullied or ridiculed at school.

Treatment

Most social anxiety disorder can be effectively treated with cognitive behavioral therapy that seeks to address the sources of the anxiety and teaches other strategies for managing these kinds of fears.  It may also be helpful for adolescents and teens with the condition to participate in group therapy with others in their age group as this can provide a safe environment that enables them to build social skills and practice positive interactions.

Many adolescents and teens with social anxiety may also have another condition.  It is important to the success of treatment to know if there are other co-existing conditions so that they can be treated appropriately.

People with social anxiety can learn to manage their fear and make great strides in participating more fully in their own lives.  Parents can support their adolescents by getting them the right help, offering encouragement, and helping celebrate small successes that will build confidence and self esteem.

Related articles

Generalized Anxiety Disorder: What Parents Need to Know

A teen singing.

Generalized anxiety disorder most commonly affects those between adolescence and middle age. Image via Wikipedia

Overview

Everyone worries about things, even children and teenagers.  Whether the worry is over the upcoming history test, getting a date to the prom, or making the soccer team, anxiety is a normal part of everyday life.  However, in some people, normal everyday worries can become excessive and everyday things can cause severe anxiety.  This type of anxiety is called Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and it affects about 3% of the U.S.population each year, including one in eight children.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder is characterized by exaggerated anxiety and unwarranted worry about everyday problems.  People with this disorder may obsess about the worst case scenario in every situation and are unable to stop their anxiety from spiraling out of control.  Women are two times as likely to have the disorder and it most commonly affects those between adolescence and middle age.

Teens and young adults with the disorder may not do as well in school, may be susceptible to substance abuse problems, and may struggle with social milestones if it is not treated.  However, with the right combination of treatment, support, and assistance, children with GAD can learn to manage their symptoms and successfully navigate their lives.

 Symptoms

People with GAD experience consistent, persistent, chronic worry or anxiety about things that do not warrant this level of anxiety for more than 6 months.

One of the key differences between the anxiety everyone experiences and GAD is that everyday anxiety is temporary and GAD is not.  Adults and children with GAD can experience heightened anxiety all day, every day and it can interfere with their normal activities.  It is common for those with GAD to use avoidance as a tool for managing their anxiety.  An adolescent who is experiencing temporary anxiety will respond to comforting words, reassurances, and a list of the reasons they don’t need to be anxious.  The anxiety of a child or teen with GAD will not be soothed by these techniques.

In addition to the chronic nature of the anxious thoughts and feelings someone with GAD experiences, there are also some physical symptoms that are often present with the disorder including:

  • Unexplained fatigue and problems sleeping
  • Restlessness, edginess, and irritability
  • Gastrointestinal problems including  nausea and diarrhea
  • Difficulties concentrating and headaches

Causes

Generalized anxiety disorder has no known cause but stress, traumatic events, heredity, and biological factors may contribute to its onset.  It is relatively common and can affect people of all ages.  Although it generally develops gradually over time, many people with the disorder cannot remember a time when they did not experience some level of anxiety.

Treatment

Many people with GAD respond well to cognitive behavioral therapy, medication, or a combination of both.  Therapy can be beneficial in helping a person with the disorder to identify their triggers and modify their thought patterns and behavior.  Techniques for easing anxiety and promoting relaxation can also be beneficial to those with GAD.

It is very common for people with GAD to have a co-existing disorder.  Depression, substance abuse, and other anxiety disorders are commonly seen in those with the disorder.  Getting diagnosis and treatment for any co-existing conditions is an important part of overall treatment for GAD.

Related articles