A wonderful mother phoned me today. She was very concerned about her daughter who seldom went out with friends and was becoming increasingly worried about going to school. As we talked a little more I realised that the core issue was not her social skills but anxiety. Her daughter was able to interact well at home but was experiencing out of proportion fear when relating to people she didn’t know well
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health problems experienced by young people. In Australia, anxiety disorders are estimated to affect one in ten young people aged between 12 – 24 years old. Anxiety affects more females than males, which I think is interesting considering the social pressure girls feel in relation to their appearance and relationships.
Every young person will experience anxiety, but some will experience it more often and more deeply than others. Young people whose fear interferes with their everyday life concern me the most. Those young people are ‘at risk’ of developing an anxiety disorder which disables their ability to function at their best, and as always, early intervention is the best plan of attack.
Here are some common symptoms of anxiety:
· Emotional changes
· Persistent worrying
· Difficulty concentrating
· Avoiding feared situations
· Excessive shyness
· Inability to relax
· Problems socialising
· Poor sleep
· Body complaints – headache, stomach ache
Routine, relaxation and breathing techniques are commonly accepted strategies which can make a real difference when worked through with a psychologist. In this post I would like to give you two additional thoughts which I have seen help young people at Youth Excel this week:
Awareness of and management of negative thoughts – Our body responds to anxious thoughts by eliminating stress hormones. These stress hormones impact each person’s body in a different way but produce some of the symptoms listed above. Our bodies emit stress hormones, also called response chemicals, regardless of whether the anxious thoughts are real, imagined, rational or irrational. A behaviour log which identifies anxious thoughts can help young people discover how anxiety is impacting them.
Finding core strength – I don’t think many young people fully understand that they can experience fear and strength at the same time. The idea of feeling afraid and being brave (in the same instance) needs to be explored and discovered by every young person experiencing anxiety. It is only then that can they conquer and overcome fear which is debilitating.
Michelle Mitchell is the founder and CEO of Youth Excel, a charity which helps young people make positive life choices during difficult times. As a national speaker, Michelle has a unique ability to transfer years of knowledge and experience to people of all ages and professions. Her latest book Parenting Teenage Girls in the Age of a New Normal is out now and available globally. For more information vivist www.michellemitchell.org.