A New York Times Magazine cover article explores why more teens are suffering from anxiety.
My first complaint is that this article buys into the myth that anxiety is an inherited or biologically based “disease,” when that is not true. Anxiety is merely fear, a normal human emotion. It mentions the use of antidepressants and benzodiazepines for teens, which is very concerning, given the side effects of antidepressants as increasing suicidality in teens and the addictive nature of benzos.
While this article has nice anecdotes and personal stories, it misses the core cause of anxiety.
Some of the teens touch on the cause in their comments: low self-worth. They feel not good enough, and are judging themselves harshly. Inevitable failures or imperfections, especially low academic grades, then trigger fears (aka anxiety) that they will be unwanted, unlovable, unlikable and unsuccessful.
Shame is a powerful emotion, and is closely linked to our ability to feel accepted by others. It is a prosocial emotion designed to keep us in line with social norms.
Teen brains are especially sensitive to feelings of not fitting in. This is why peer pressure is so prevalent and successful in adolescence.
Treatment at these centers mentioned seems to focus on cognitive-behavioral interventions, which have limited value if the cause of anxiety is low self-worth and shame.
Instead, research shows that compassion-focused therapy, developed by Paul Gilbert, PhD, and mindful self-compassion, developed by Kristen Neff, PhD, and Christopher Germer, PhD, directly targets feelings of shame and inadequacy. I have been trained in MSC by Dr. Neff and Dr. Germer and have read extensively about CFT by Dr. Gilbert. These therapies, which I practice, get at the core cause of anxiety, depression, and many other emotional and psychological struggles. And they have no negative side effects!
…be kind to yourself!