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Anxiety: Beyond Butterflies

Anxiety: Beyond Butterflies

Do teenagers get anxiety disorders?
What causes anxiety disorders?
What are the different types?
What problems do anxiety disorders cause?
Can anxiety disorders be treated?

Everybody feels a little nervous now and then. Maybe you've got a big test, a first date, or a championship game. Your palms may get sweaty, you may turn red, your heart may pound, or you may have butterflies in your stomach. This is perfectly normal. Anxiety disorders, on the other hand, are different from ordinary nervousness. People with anxiety disorders are afraid, worried, or uneasy for no reason. Yet the feelings can last so long and be so intense that they make it hard to get on with everyday life. back to top

Do teenagers get anxiety disorders?
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental disorders in the United States. All told, more than 19 million Americans are affected. These disorders are also widespread in children and teens, striking as many as 1 in 10 young people. Among teens, more girls than boys have an anxiety disorder. About half of all young people with one of these disorders also have a second anxiety disorder or another mental or behavioral problem, such as depression. back to top

What causes anxiety disorders?
If someone in your family has an anxiety disorder, you may be more likely to have it too. The combination of certain people's genes and their life experiences may make them more prone to developing such problems. Brain chemistry may also play a part in anxiety disorders because the symptoms of these disorders are often relieved by medications that change the levels of certain brain chemicals.

Personality may have an effect as well. For example, if you are very shy and fearful in new situations, you may have a higher than usual risk of developing an anxiety disorder. People with low self-esteem and poor coping skills may also be at higher risk. In addition, life experiences, such as being poor or being around violence or abuse over a long period of time, may make it more likely that people will develop anxiety problems. back to top

What are the different types?
There are several types of anxiety disorders:
  • Generalized anxiety disorder. This disorder leads to constant, intense worry and stress over everyday events for a period of at least six months. People with this disorder always expect the worst, even when there is no reason for doing so. They also have physical problems, such as tiredness, trembling, muscle tension, headache, an upset stomach, diarrhea, or constipation.
  • Panic disorder. This disorder causes repeated attacks of intense fear that strike often for no obvious reason. Along with the fear, people may have physical symptoms such as chest pain, a pounding heart, sweating, dizziness, an upset stomach, or a feeling that they are about to die. This can be so unpleasant that people live in fear of the next panic attack and go to great lengths to avoid it.
  • Phobias. This disorder causes intense, unrealistic fears. Even just thinking about the object of fear, such as heights, social situations, or spiders, can cause the person to panic.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder. This disorder causes people to become trapped in a pattern of repeated, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) or behaviors (compulsions). For example, people may wash their hands repeatedly, count things over and over, or keep arranging and rearranging objects. Although such thoughts or behaviors may be senseless and upsetting, they are very hard for people with the disorder to stop.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder. This disorder leads to long-lasting symptoms that develop after people have gone through a very stressful event, such as rape, violence, natural disasters, or car crashes. People with the disorder may relive the event again and again in strong memories or nightmares. back to top
What problems do anxiety disorders cause?
If anxiety disorders are not treated, people may take extreme measures to avoid the situations or objects that trigger their fears. For example, they may refuse to leave the house. This can wind up greatly limiting their lives. Teens with untreated anxiety disorders often develop these problems: Can anxiety disorders be treated?
The main treatments for anxiety disorders are psychotherapy, medication, or both. Two types of psychotherapy have been shown to work well for anxiety. Behavioral therapy helps people change specific, unwanted behaviors. For example, some people hyperventilate when they get anxious; that is, they take fast, shallow breaths that can trigger a rapid heartbeat, dizziness, and other unpleasant symptoms. Behavioral therapy may teach them to take slow, deep breaths.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps people learn to understand and change their thinking patterns so that they can react more calmly to situations that cause them anxiety. For example, some people may get scared and think "I'm going to die" when they get dizzy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy may teach them to replace that thought with a more appropriate one, such as "It's just a little dizziness. I can handle it." Psychotherapy may be done one-on-one with the therapist or within a small group of patients. For young people, it often involves members of the family.

Support groups are also helpful for some people. In addition, a number of medications for treating anxiety are available. If one of these drugs doesn't work for a person, there are others to try. The right medication, especially when combined with psychotherapy, can calm and relax a person. If you think you may have an anxiety problem, talk with your health care provider. He or she may refer you to a professional who specializes in mental disorders.

Relaxation techniques such as yoga, breathing exercises, visualization, and progressive relaxation may also help people with anxiety disorders. You can read more about these techniques right here on iEmily. back to top

Last Modified Date: 3/22/2001
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