Adolescence - Confronting anxiety and fear

  • By Sahana Rajan

Adolescence is generally considered to be the teenage years between 13 and 18. This is the stage of transition from childhood into adulthood. This phase is representative of elements of both the stages - the child that the individual leaves and the adult that one tends towards. For this reason, it is surrounded by a range of psychological complexities in addition to the fundamental changes that one’s body goes through. Social and cultural background of the individual also affects the manner in which he grows up. While fear is normal in most cases, it could become a chronic and overwhelming experience that disturbs and interferes with the normal functioning of the individual.

Symptoms: There are series of symptoms which could fluctuate from one teenager to another. The common thread in adolescent fear is the presence of excessive anxiety and worry about non-existent threats. These are accompanied by a sensation of tenseness and high stress. Those dealing with chronic fear also swing into extremes in the spectrum of sociability - one could be withdrawn from all, or be overly emotional and excited. One could also experience intense pressure about humiliation or embarrassment on being noticed and approached in public. Physical signs are also tagged along in this psychological state - stomach cramps, headaches, body pain, sweating, and trembling are some of these.

Fear could also trigger eating or mood disorders such that the individual undergoes intense feelings of despair and suicidal tendencies. Generally, these teenagers try to create rituals (fantasizing, alcohol, and others) to respond to their fears.

Cause: The primary cause for anxiety and fear during adolescence concerns social acceptance among companions, orientation towards the way in which one’s body is changing and issues with independence. In order to gainfriends, they may indulge in risky behavior like drug experimentation. As a response to the conflicts of independence, they might find being separated from their friends as restrictive and interfering. Perverse sexual behavior and rebellious acts also are signs of adolescent fears.

Panic disorder: Panic disorder generally arises between the age of 15 and 19. It is more commonly discovered in girls, than boys. Characterized by panic attacks, panic disorder is the psychological and physical illness of falling into a state of panic under certain circumstances without any potential cause. Panic attack is marked by feelings of hopelessness and a sense of being unwanted. Physically, the individual experiences nausea, choking, sweating, numbness, and chest pain. Post-panic attack generally involves the individual becoming further afraid of these episodes and attempting to avoid confrontation with any opportunities of its occurrence.

Treatment: The first step towards treating adolescent fear is to create a ground for respectful listening. Ensure that your child knows you are ready to listen and accept his/her state of mind. Let them know that their feelings of uneasiness and worry are a natural part of their transitional stage. The second step is moving towards a specific scenario where the fear rises and being able to help your child to unknot the feelings and sensations attached to it. Tell your child that as they grow up, they will be capable of generating new techniques to deal with the situation, and in all probability, the situation will be under their control. In case you notice that your child is still disturbed by fear and anxiety issues, seek professional help.

The treatment schedule recommended will be individual-specific and will involve active participation of the family and friends. The school could also be called upon to fill in its role as a helping hand in times of need. Generally, cognitive behavioral therapy is used to treat anxiety disorders. In this therapy, the behavior of the child in specific situation is dealt with and analyzed to gradually resolve fear issues. Other therapies like psychotherapy and family therapy could also be taken up. In some cases, medications are also advised to deal with anxiety and fear.