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Anxiety Disorder Series: Part 5, Social Anxiety Disorder Continued

Feeling left out might be a function of Social Anxiety Disorder.
Photo Credit: hyena reality/freedigitalphotos.net

Social Anxiety Disorder, also known as Social Phobia, is a huge challenge for teenagers.  It leaves them feeling frustrated, left out, confused, overwhelmed and above all else, very anxious.  For those of you who don’t have this struggle, it’s a hard problem to understand.  You don’t know why your teen feels nervous around friends.  You can’t figure out the reason your teenager doesn’t bring others around the house, or go to parties, or even like  to attend Friday night football games.

 

Here’s what’s happening with social anxiety: Your teenager said something at lunch to other friends.  They laughed and thought it was funny.  Normally a kid would continue the conversation and keep the jokes flowing.  Your teenage son with social phobia wonders whether the joke was funny, or whether his peers are laughing at him.  The situation is replayed in his mind over and over again.  There is distress over what others were thinking.  Your son is feeling evaluated by his peers.  He is constantly searching for clues to what others think of him.  Later, his friends Jordan and Brandon walk away from the group at lunch talking and laughing.  Your son is completely convinced they are laughing at him.  He wonders whether they are laughing at him for the stupid joke he told two hours ago.

 

One of the things worked on in therapy is exploring alternative reasons for people’s behavior.  If a teen can realize other people’s bad moods aren’t usually about them, they start to feel better.  In our hypothetical situation above, Jordan and Brandon have a hundred reasons they might have walked away laughing.  Once teens realize it’s not all about them, some of their angst begins to relent.

 

Social Anxiety Disorder can become such an intense struggle that teenagers will refuse to go to school.  They’ve convinced themselves they are disliked.  They have placed such an emphasis on being loved by peers that they cannot stand to go to places where there is an abundance of teenagers.  It is a catastrophic calamity if someone gives a dirty look.  While most teenagers will just roll their eyes and move on, a teen with social anxiety disorder just can’t let these things go.

 

One of the worst nightmares for a teen with social phobia is public speaking.  I had a client whose social anxiety was so overwhelming for him that he took an F in a class he could have passed because he would not give the final presentation.  He prepared the whole thing but was completely overcome by panic when it was time to present.  He actually ran out of the classroom.  Then he was so embarrassed by having run out of the class that he ditched that class period for the final two weeks of school.  He had to retake the class in summer school.

 

Social Anxiety Disorder truly causes a impediment in a teenager’s ability to function well in life.  He or she must get treatment for this disorder.  You can try to force your child into social situations, but often a therapist is needed when the social anxiety has progressed.  Your teenager will do whatever it takes to avoid social scrutiny.  Sometimes their world becomes very small as a result.  Getting help for this very real, very upsetting disorder is vitally important.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Anxiety Disorder Series: Part 4, Social Anxiety Disorder

To some extent we all care what others think of us.  Some of us worry about this more than others.  A few of us worry about this so much that we can’t function well.  When it gets to the point where it is interfering with your ability to live an enjoyable life, it might be Social Anxiety Disorder.

 

Anxiety Disorder Series: Part 4, Social Anxiety Disorder

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Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Anxiety Disorders Series: Part 3, Separation Anxiety Disorder Continued

I struggled with Separation Anxiety Disorder until I was 20 years old.  I actually didn’t even realize it until I started writing these blog posts.  I always knew I had it as a child, but I thought it stopped around 10 years old.  As I researched for these blogs however, I learned it often affects people well into adulthood.  Now I can look back at my terrible adjustment to college and pin it squarely on Separation Anxiety Disorder.

 

Here are some more thoughts on this very upsetting, anxiety-provoking, and overwhelming struggle that some adolescents face:

Anxiety Disorders Series: Part 3, Separation Anxiety Disorder ( yes, even in teens)

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Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Anxiety Disorder Series: Part 2, Separation Anxiety

Separation Anxiety is very distressing for kids, even for teens.
Credit: David Castillo Dominici via freedigitalphotos.net

Max was dropped off at college as a freshman.  He had convinced himself it was going to be great.  For months he’d been telling his parents how badly he wanted out of the house, and how desperate he was for a new life away at school.  Secretly though he was very nervous.  Max was one of those children who cried when he was dropped off at preschool…for the entire first month.  Then he cried for his first couple weeks of kindergarten, first grade, second grade, and even third grade.  By fourth grade he didn’t show so much distress when there were dramatic changes, but that’s only because he kept the feelings buried.  He was old enough to realize he’d be made fun of if he cried for his mom once he was nine, ten and even eleven years old.

 

Max never went to sleepovers.  He was invited, but he said he preferred to stay home.  The only way he’d go on any camping trips or trips with sports teams was if one of his parents was a chaperone.  Simply put, Max couldn’t get comfortable without one of his “safe adults” with him as a child.

 

When Max started college he quickly found his separation anxiety had followed him into adulthood.  He missed his home life terribly.  He had a very difficult time adjusting to college because that anxiety was so intense.  He called and texted his parents ten times a day.  He came home on every weekend he could manage to get a ride.  Max was so sad to be away from home that the anxiety started to manifest in physical ways.  He started having chronic stomach aches.  Max was surprised that these never occurred days before he’d visit home, but would always begin again the night before he had to return to school.  This persisted for the first 6 months of college.

 

When we think of separation anxiety, we think of children.  We imagine small children clinging to mom’s or dad’s legs and hysterically sobbing when mom or dad have to leave.  However, separation anxiety is also an anxiety disorder that exists for adults.  It can be so intense that it mat interfere with an adult’s ability to function at their potential.  It can disrupt social interactions, academic performance, and vocational performance.  For a teenager then, we expect to see a lot of resistance and avoidance around school trips, summer camps, staying away from family for more than a day or two, and a real struggle getting used to college.

 

If you find your teen is having nightmares about being separated from the family, doesn’t want to go on weekend trips with his/her sports team, or talks about someone close dying or becoming gravely ill on a regular basis, separation anxiety might be to blame.  This is particularly true if your teenager had a really difficult time away from you as a small child.  Most teenagers will be reluctant to admit they are still struggling with this as they will believe they should be able to handle it by this age.  Talk to your son or daughter a little bit about Max’s story and see what is said.  Separation anxiety is definitely hard for anybody, and it isn’t necessarily something that only occurs in children.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Anxiety Disorder Series: Part 1, Introduction and Specific Phobia

Specific Phobia is an intense fear of a certain object or certain scenario.  It is so intense that there is avoidant behavior, body tension, freezing, or crying.  The reaction is out of proportion to the situation.

 

I treated a girl once who had Emetophobia.  This is a very intense fear of vomiting.  It was such a struggle for her that she was having trouble eating.  She was afraid if she ate too much that she’d get a stomach ache.  Her fear of throwing-up had generalized somewhat so that any stomach ache became a trigger for a fear response.  It caused near panic in her.  To someone who doesn’t have a fear of vomiting this sounds ridiculous, but for someone who does have this fear they can truly understand how scary this can be.  This poor girl had come to the point where she was afraid to touch things in public in case someone had a stomach flu virus.  Her Specific Phobia was at a clinical level and was causing problems in her life.  She needed treatment.

 

The good news is Specific Phobias are usually very treatable by a good cognitive-behavioral therapist.  If your teen is dealing with this, give us a call because we probably can help.

Anxiety Disorders Series: Part 1, Introduction to Specific Phobia

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Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Anxiety Disorders Series

Anxiety is very difficult for teens.
Credit: tuelekza via freedigitalphotos.net

Over the next few weeks I will be posting solely on anxiety.  I would like to run through the various anxiety disorders I see in my office in teenagers.  Let’s start with how the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (a big, thick book therapists and psychiatrists use to find a diagnosis) defines anxiety.  The DSM says anxiety is “anticipation of future threat.”  It is very careful to say anxiety differs from fear.  It defines fear as “the emotional response to real or perceived imminent threat.”  Sometimes these sensations overlap though.  What I mean by this is a person can have an anxiety disorder, and experience fear as the result of their anxiety disorder.

 

The first anxiety disorder we will look at closely is called Specific Phobia.  I go into more detail in the next two posts.  For the sake of clarity though, I will talk about it briefly now as well.  Specific Phobia means you have an over-the-top fear response to something that may or may not even be dangerous.  The anxiety comes into play because you anticipate the fear you’ll feel if you encounter the stimuli.  If you’re afraid of heights and it is to the level of Specific Phobia, you might feel intense fear while driving up a mountain road if you can see to the bottom of the mountain.  You are not really in danger of falling to the bottom, but you feel as though you’ve just fallen off a cliff.  The whole day before the drive up, you fretted endlessly in anticipation of being up high.  It was enough to ruin your day.

 

Another key component to clinical anxiety (For something to be clinical it means it’s reached a level where it interferes with your ability to function as you wish you could, and it is advisable to seek treatment.) is avoidance.  People who feel or anticipate marked distress over something that gives them anxiety will often try to avoid that thing.  If your adolescent daughter is fearing she’ll be teased for raising her hand in class, she will work very hard to avoid asking a question in her classes.

 

Anxiety is not only uncomfortable, it also causes problems.  In the example we just gave where your daughter is afraid to ask questions in class, it will cause her problems if she really needs clarification on what the teacher just said but she won’t ask.  Over and over again I see teens struggle to accomplish things they want because of anxiety.  I see them get lower grades because they can’t manage test anxiety.  I see them stay home on weekends because they don’t know how to deal with social anxiety.  I see them worry constantly over small, insignificant details because of generalized anxiety.  I have sat with them through panic attacks and even worked with some on agoraphobia (when avoidance becomes so intense they don’t want to go anywhere outside their perceived “safe spaces”).

 

Anxiety is truly crippling for teenagers.  It makes teens feel miserable and frustrated.  It usually makes mom or dad anxious too because they don’t know how to help.  Most of the time the anxiety seems senseless, and yet it feels impossible to overcome.  The great news is there have been a lot of techniques developed to help with this very real, very uncomfortable set of disorders, and many of these can be accomplished in therapy.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Teaching Teens Responsibility

If you let your teen use your extra car, have them keep it nice. Image courtesy of samuiblue at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If you let your teen use your extra car, have them keep it nice.
Image courtesy of samuiblue at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

How do you teach a teenager to be responsible?  In some ways they seem like adults, and in other ways they seem like children.  It is a very confusing time for parents.  Most people know these are crucial years in terms of setting up good habits for the rest of the teenager’s life, but helping them become responsible step by step is very challenging.

 

Firstly, take stock of what your teenager does well.  If your teen is really good about knowing when they have soccer practice, and what each friend is doing on a Saturday night, that is a sign of responsible thinking.  That at least shows they have the capability to be organized.  Build on this.  Maybe you tell your teen to take responsibility for the sports schedule, and that they need to give you a 24 hour head’s up before you need to drive them somewhere.  If they forget, take them at your convenience.  Don’t drop everything and rush.  To be fair though, if they do tell you about needing a ride somewhere with the agreed upon notice, get them there on time.  When I was a teen my parents often dropped me off late at practices, games and sometimes even school.  It was really frustrating!

 

Do not give your child an allowance.  I know many people think this will help the teen learn to live on a certain number of dollars per day.  However, getting an allowance simply because you exist is like getting welfare.  Provide your teen an opportunity to earn the money you give them.  It’s fine to give them a set amount each week, but it should be in exchange for a set number of completed chores.  You also get a set amount of money from your company each paycheck, but you have to earn it; why shouldn’t they live under the same premise?  Teaching your teen to work for money motivates them to work harder.  It teaches the relationships between working harder and getting paid more, and working smarter and getting paid more.  It won’t take your teen long to learn that working for you only pays $5 per hour, so getting a real job that pays $10 is working smarter.

 

Put your house in order.  If you take care of your spouse first, and children second, they will learn responsibility.  For single parents of course this won’t apply, and that’s fine.  For all parents though, you show your adolescent a lot about responsibility when you keep your home clean, picked-up, and in good condition.  Showing your teen that you take care of your possessions helps them see an example of hard work and self-discipline.  This goes a long way in teaching your teen to be responsible.

 

These are just a few examples of how to teach responsibility to a teenager.  If you didn’t notice, they all require you to be responsible too.  If you work hard, you will pass this along to your kids most of the time.  Discipline coupled with sensitivity and love is also absolutely essential.  Do not give your teen everything, even if you can afford to do so.  As a side-bonus, the more they earn things, the better their self-esteem will be.  You know your child best of anyone so figure out ways that work with their personality.  Some kids respond really well when they’re paid for As and Bs, and for others this really isn’t a good idea.  Teaching responsibility isn’t one size fits all, but it is a must for all.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Listening to our Teen’s Feelings

It’s really easy to tell our teens that one day they’ll experience the “real” deal when it comes to their emotions.  We end up minimizing the experience they’re having now.  This is particularly true when they tell us they’ve fallen in love, decided on a career, or basically anything else we consider a very adult decision.

 

Maybe teens know their own feelings better than we think.

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Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

What is Codependence?

Codependent people would literally give away everything to save someone else. Image courtesy of Teerapun / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Codependent people would literally give away everything to save someone else.
Image courtesy of Teerapun / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Codependence is a problem nearly as destructive as an addiction.  “It is also known as “relationship addiction” because people with codependency often form or maintain relationships that are one-sided, emotionally destructive and/or abusive” (http://mentalhealthamerica.net/go/codependency).  Sometimes it is referred to as co-addiction.  Here is a hypothetical example of codependent behavior:  Julia is a mom with a 26 year old son named Trevor.  Trevor has an addiction to heroin.  Julia spends all her time and energy trying to fix Trevor’s problem even though Trevor does not yet want to quit.  Julia has taken out a loan against her house to pay for rehabs, continues to make payments on Trevor’s car so his credit does not go down, buys him food because “at least I’m not buying him drugs,” and constantly begs him to attend recovery meetings.  Julia frequently sets down boundaries she cannot enforce.  She told Trevor last week if he ever used drugs in her house she would put him out on the street.  He did, and then he apologized and promised not to do it again.  She forgave him and told him that was his last chance.  This is the fifth time that has happened.

When you think about people like Julia it is easy to see how difficult it would be to actually stop “helping” Trevor because she loves him.  On a deeper level Julia will feel like a failure if she lets her son go.  Unfortunately many experts believe that is the only way he will really try to get better.  Julia’s addiction is Trevor’s recovery.  Codependent people often ruin their lives and relationships to try helping the addict; they frequently wind up in nearly as bad an emotional position as the addict.  Often codependent people find themselves in financial ruin.

www.codependents.org is a good resource for someone who thinks they might have codependency.  Therapy is also very important in this situation.  It requires a lot of support to let someone go that you love and care for.  It is extremely scary, but addicts usually have to experience rock bottom to finally realize their drug of choice isn’t worth it.  If you’re codependent, you might be delaying that moment of truth for the addict in your life.  Codependency can also happen in other situations.  When someone you love is doing anything they shouldn’t you can be codependent to their behavior.  Here is one I’ve seen quite a bit:  Your teenager becomes sexually active with their girlfriend/boyfriend.  You are against them having sex at their age, but you also worry about the possible consequences they might experience at their age without adult guidance.  I’ve seen parents in this situation tell their teenage child to start having sex in their own room at home so that “At least there is an adult around if something goes wrong.”  The parent then feels they can control the outcome better by making sure their home is stocked with condoms, etc.  The problem here though is enabling a behavior the parents are not okay with.

 

If you need help determining whether you might be enabling your teen’s bad choices, or whether your teenager is codependent to someone else in their life, send us an email, give a call or just comment on this post.  Let’s see if we can help you sort out the difference between helping and helping too much.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Helping Teens Mature

If you ask your teenager to give their input at their appropriate developmental level, they will mature.  It is important for them to learn independent thinking.  You will also find more compliance because people love to come up with their own ideas.  So if you’d like to decrease the sass and increase the adult-thinking in your adolescent-aged children, ask them to help you decide things about the family and about themselves.

 

It’s important you only ask if you’re okay with whatever answer is given.  If you know you will accept either of only two answers, then make those the choices.  For example, “We’re thinking of visiting Grandma soon.  Would you prefer to go this weekend or in two weekends?”

 

More on this in the video below:

Involving your teens in family decisions helps them mature.

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Feel free to give an example of the types of choices you might give your teen in the comments section below.  It will help other parents who are thinking about making this change.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Controlling your tongue when you’re angry

Teens really know how to push a parents' buttons, but there are ways to "fight nicely." Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Teens really know how to push a parents’ buttons, but there are ways to “fight nicely.”
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I know we’ve all heard this before, but it is really important to be careful when you’re angry.  Twice this week I’ve sat with teenage clients who have cried over things someone in their family said out of anger.  In both situations the teens had completely exasperated their families, but the teenagers still took the resulting comments to heart.

 

We’ve all gone through this.  In a fight with our spouse they might say some awful thing that cuts to the core, or you might throw out a phrase that you know you’ll be sorry about later.  With our kids though, it is essential to stay a bit calmer and be more mature.  I sat in my office with one girl who had said truly horrid things to her father during an argument, but when he finally was pushed far enough to call her a curse word, she fell apart.  She sat and wondered for a few weeks whether he really thought that of her.

 

As a parent you have to be intentional.  You have to keep the end goal in mind, which is to raise your child into a well-adjusted adult.  You have to keep in mind that each year brings new phases, and new ways your child will learn to mature.  Sometimes in that learning process they will resist you.  If you get caught up in these instances where your child is resistant, you will forever be struggling with them.  You will find yourself acting at their maturity level, or will find they have more power in the relationship than you.  Know ahead of time what character traits you’re aiming for.  It’s a lot easier to arrive at a destination if you know where you’re going than if you meander.  This in turn will help you to be calmer.  It will prevent you from saying useless, blaming things like, “You’re the reason this family fights all the time!”  How do you think a kid/teen will feel after that?

 

So, it is extremely important to control your tongue.  You are the example to your children.  If you’re rude to them, you’ll get it right back.  Do not let their vision of how they want to conduct their life, or what they think is the most important thing cloud your judgment as a parent.  A teenager will tell you that what college they are accepted to is the most important thing that will ever happen to their career.  As a parent, you have the wisdom to know that where they go to school is a small piece of the puzzle.  The bigger pieces are work-ethic, networking ability, work experience, drive and motivation, integrity, and fiscal responsibility.  If you buy into your teen’s vision then you will be overly focused on SAT scores, and not spend enough time helping them develop the rest of the necessary character qualities to succeed.

 

How do we best sum this up?  Watch what you say out loud to your child.  Make sure it is congruent with the person you are trying to help them become.  Remember that extremely rude comments made in the heat of the moment are not easily forgotten by children.  Know how to have grace, and know when to say you’re sorry.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

When To Rescue Our Teens

I am nearly always a proponent of letting adolescents experience natural consequences for their choices, whether good or bad.  However, there are times when something has gotten past the point of that being safe.  In those situations, much like God did for us one Christmas 2000 years ago, you have to step in and rescue your children.

When do we rescue our kids compared with letting them fight through their own mistakes?

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Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

A Simple Tip To Be A Better Parent

“If you want to be skinny, hang out with skinny people.  If you want to be rich, hang out with rich people and do what rich people do.  It’s called best practices.”  -Dave Ramsey

 

I agree, Mr. Ramsey.  Today’s video is about finding best practices for parenting.  I promise you that if you work at surrounding yourself with parents who raise their kids like you wish you were raising yours, you’ll start to do a better job.  Behavior is contagious.  When we spend time with people who know how to do something well, it’s catching.

 

Birds of the feather flock together. This is true with parenting styles too.

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Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

When She Just Can’t Break Up With Him (Or He Can’t Break Up With Her)

Ending a toxic dating relationship might take more courage than she thinks she has.
Credit: freedigitalphotos.net/photostock

What does a toxic teenage dating relationship look like?  The simple answer is when a couple should break up but for whatever reason they can’t.

 

This post uses pronouns that assume teen girls have more trouble breaking off relationships than teen boys do.  This isn’t really true.  Teen boys have a hard time with it sometimes too.  Feel free to imagine your son when reading this if that’s relevant to your situation.

 

What are you supposed to do when your normally sensible daughter is so wrapped up in an insensible relationship that she can’t extricate herself?

  1. Put a stone in her shoe:  I don’t mean literally.  Work hard at creating cognitive dissonance.  This is when someone points out something to you that makes you uneasy with your current situation.  While they don’t outright tell you what to do, the thing they tell you causes mental conflict.  Here’s an example of what I mean: I dated a guy for my senior year in college, the next year, and my first year of graduate school.  My parents consistently told me he was skiddish about marriage.  When I asked how they knew this they would tell me it is because he would never talk about our future as a “we.”  This quietly ate at me until it became a big enough problem that it was driving me crazy.  Eventually it’s the thing that did us in.  My parents never said, “You need to end it with this loser!  What are you thinking?”  They just put a VERY UNCOMFORTABLE stone in my shoe.
  2. Set appropriate limits:  If your daughter has a boyfriend who is truly detrimental to her health in some way, don’t support the relationship.  Parents rarely have enough control over a teen that they can expressly forbid their son or daughter to date someone.  When try to forbid a couple from seeing each other, teenagers end up lying and sneaking around.  Now there’s even more behavior to be upset with, and it causes you to lose influence because your teen stops listening to you.  What you can do though is refuse to support the relationship even though you don’t wholly outlaw it.  If you replace the word “relationship” with “drugs,” you’ll know what to do.  You wouldn’t allow your teenager to do drugs in your house.  You wouldn’t give your teen money to buy drugs.  You wouldn’t drop your teenager off somewhere to use drugs.  Now put the word “relationship” back in those sentences.  Don’t allow him in your house.  Don’t give your daughter money to go out with him on dates.  Don’t drop her off to see him.  In simple terms, don’t enable.
  3. Control your opinion-sharing:  “Stick with the facts, m’am.”  Just call things as you see them.  Don’t then go on to explain why what you see means your daughter’s boyfriend is Satan’s spawn.  She is more likely to listen to you and confide in you if you only say what you observe or hear.  It’s okay to tell her, “Samantha’s mom told me she saw your boyfriend kissing Jennifer after the football game.”  It’s not okay to then go on and on about what a rotten cheater he is.  The reason I say this is that your daughter is responsible for herself, and you’re only responsible for her.  The focus needs to be on her.  If Samantha’s mom really did see your daughter’s boyfriend kissing Jennifer after the football game and your daughter still wants to go out with him, have a gentle conversation with your daughter about why she’s struggling with self-respect.  There are all kids of people out there who aren’t right for her.  Your job as a parent is to help her have enough courage to pass on them.

I know this is hard.  It’s really frustrating to see your child in a toxic relationship.  Whether you’re a teen reading this, or you’re mom or dad, make sure you keep talking.  Run your feelings by someone who will be very honest with you, and then start taking the steps to make a positive change.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

A Good Article on Stress and Anxiety

https://www.healthline.com/health/stress-and-anxiety

 

This article gives a general overview of anxiety, its causes and some things to do about it.  A lot of these things are common knowledge, but it is really helpful to review.  For example, this article reminds you that caffeine increases anxiety.  It also helps you to remember that exercise is a great coping mechanism.  Finally, the article addresses when to seek professional help, which is hard to determine sometimes.  So, if you are struggling with anxiety, take some time and read this article.  You might find it helpful.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT