7 Things that Make Anxiety Attacks Worse in Teens

Do you know the warning signs of what makes anxiety attacks worse? (photo credit: BigStockPhotos.com)
Do you know the warning signs of what makes anxiety attacks worse? (photo credit: BigStockPhotos.com)

Anxiety is normal in all of us, even our teenagers.  However, for some people, anxiety can become overwhelming, all-encompassing, and debilitating.  When anxiety shifts from normal day to day worries to something more, an anxiety disorder may be to blame.  For parents of teenagers with anxiety disorders, it can be as important to understand what makes things worse as it is to understand what makes it better.  Here are 7 things that can make an anxiety attack worse.

1.     Downplaying

Anxiety disorders are not overreactions and one mistake parents make is to downplay the severity of their teenager’s feelings in an effort to help them calm down.  This can backfire by making the person feel unsupported or belittled.  Rather than trying to discount your teen’s reaction to something or downplay the importance or seriousness of an event or situation, offer reassurance about the teen’s ability to handle the event or situation, regardless of how difficult it turns out to be.

2.     Caffeine and Nicotine

Eating or drinking anything with caffeine can make the symptoms of an anxiety attack worse.  Smoking or ingesting nicotine can also make anxiety attacks worse.

3.     Not Having a Plan

One of the ways that teenagers can manage their anxiety is to have a plan in place for what they will do when they feel an anxiety attack starting or when they realize they are having one.  Not having this kind of plan in place can exacerbate symptoms and prolong the attack.   Having a plan can actually help combat anxiety attacks by making the teen feel more in control overall.

4.     No One to Talk To

Another way to manage anxiety is to have several people to reach out to that can help talk through the anxiety in a helpful and supportive way.  If your teenager has difficulty making friends or doesn’t feel comfortable sharing their anxiety issues with others, they may not have this as a resource.  Helping them find other people to turn to in times of crisis can be a powerful tool in managing their disorder.

5.     Ignoring the Attack

It is not helpful to your teenager if the attack is ignored by you or by them.  Acknowledging what is happening makes it possible to find a way to overcome them whereas ignoring the attack in the hopes that it will go away is only likely to make it worse.

6.     Checking Out

Although your teen may have the strong desire to just check out for awhile, this may not be the best course of action.  Anxiety attacks can be very draining physically, mentally, and emotionally and can make it seem like just being alone and doing nothing is the right thing to do.  However, this can actually extend the symptoms.  It is better to spend time with people in a caring, supportive environment.

7.     Alcohol

Some teenagers will turn to alcohol as a way to manage and overcome their anxiety.  While alcohol may dull the effects of the anxiety, it can make things worse as well because it also inhibits our ability to deal with anxious feelings and manage our anxiety.  Alcohol, like caffeine and nicotine, should be avoided by those with anxiety disorders, especially teenagers.


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