Teenagers in Silicon Valley are under tremendous pressure. Often very bright, with successful parents, they feel a lot of pressure to get into the “right” college. That pressure includes thinking they must earn a GPA higher then a 4.0, that they must take AP classes, that they have to be involved in extra curricular activities, do volunteer work, and score high on the SAT’s. The expectations start in middle school with the same sort of extreme pressure to get into the “right” high school to prepare them for the “right” college. Motivated teens often sacrifice sleep to get their homework done or study for a test. And, all of this pressure and lack of rest occurs at the same time teens are also experiencing all of the “normal” stressors of boyfriend/girlfriend problems, family issues, peer difficulties, worries about their future vocation, etc. This is a great recipe for anxiety and in some cases panic attacks. Most teens just don’t have the tools needed to cope with the stress.
One complicating factor with anxiety is that people who have panic attacks or extreme anxiety become anxious about what happens to their bodies when they’re stressed out. They get so afraid that they will have a panic attack in public or that their anxiety will inhibit them that they actually become more anxious about the anxiety itself. One thing that often helps is becoming okay with feelings of stress and anxiety, just acknowledging that they are there rather then letting them take you over. In treatment, teens need to process not just what causes the anxiety, but the anxiety itself, the physical symptoms such as heart racing, sweating and feeling light-headed. Once a teen can get comfortable with having stress and even feelings of anxiety, then we can begin to reduce it, learn ways to handle it and not let it control their lives anymore.
There are many treatment options for treating anxiety (Individual and group). EMDR (Eye movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is effective with teens and anxiety as it can target the anxiety itself. I like this approach because it teaches relaxation techniques, mindfulness techniques and replaces maladaptive cognitions with more adaptive ones. It also encourages teens to set goals, look at the future, plan on how they want to handle stresses in their future as well as building off their strengths and past successes teaching them how to be successful in the future.
I am currently accepting new clients for individual, family and group therapy. I have over 8 years of experience working with adolescents and their families. I also offer parenting classes and parent coaching.