Generalized Anxiety Disorder is the last of the Anxiety Disorders I will cover in this series. It experienced by many people, but most of them wouldn’t recognize it.
Have you known someone who always seems worried about something? As soon as one thing is resolved there is something new bothering them. They seem addicted to worry. It’s almost as though they just can’t enjoy life. For someone who doesn’t deal with Generalized Anxiety Disorder it is frustrating to watch.
To have this diagnosis a person must experience persistent worry or fear for at least six months about a variety of problems. We call these people “worry warts” in our everyday vernacular. If your teenager is dealing with Generalized Anxiety Disorder you might notice an extreme worry about the next test. As soon as the test is over you think they’ll have an enjoyable weekend. Instead your teenager is now worried about a social problem. Once that passes he is worried you are mad at him. Then he worries about getting into college. Next comes a concern about some kind of illness because of a minor physical symptom. The worry is constant and oppressive.
I encounter more and more teenagers dealing with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I truly have seen an upswing in the last ten years. I wonder whether I am better at detecting the problem now, or whether our culture is one of increasing stress and pressure. My best guess is that both are true. Teens run at a frenetic pace because of their phones and because of computers. Now there is something screaming for their attention at all minutes of the day. I bet you anything your teenager can’t even go to the bathroom without taking the phone for entertainment.
How does a therapist treat Generalized Anxiety Disorder? There are several approaches to treatment. The first is your teen needs to recognize he has it. Once he realizes this then he can tell himself the present worry is being blown out of proportion because he is prone to worrying. The second is learning not to “catastrophize” (myopia of the worst possible outcome). The third is learning how to unplug and be still. Once your teenager spends a week without the phone and with as little interaction as possible with the computer he will start to feel better. The detox period (the first 72 hours) will make him miserable. After that, he will rediscover the joy of napping in the sun, reading a book, and playing a board game. All these things diminish anxiety.
Generalized Anxiety is completely miserable. It is also something that can be reduced to an extent. Once someone shows symptoms of Generalized Anxiety it becomes necessary to stop being so busy. It is also very important to learn the skills that can help a person let go of their present worries.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT