Preventing Teenage Nervous Breakdowns

Girls in exam

Something insidious is happening to younger and younger people. At it’s extreme it’s reflecting in the growing suicide rate, especially in cities, but the thin edge of the wedge is the growing incidence of anxiety, insomnia and stress.

The causes, and the solutions, relate to anyone of any age – and I’ll explain these – but first it’s important to identify the problem since many parents might struggle to know if it’s just one of those ‘teenage’ things.

Signs of Teenage Anxiety

The six key signs to look out for are emotional changes such as frequent bursts of anger or tears, irritability and lack of focus; social isolation – for example not seeing friends, not joining in with peer group activities and spending more time alone; sleep disturbance eg not being able to get to sleep and staying up late, or waking in the night or having nightmares; physical problems such as headaches, gut problems and chronic tiredness; poor school grades and feeling overwhelmed by homework; panic attacks manifesting as sweating, dizziness, shortness of breath, chest pain and numbness and feeling unreal and like they’re not coping.

These are the classic signs of increased anxiety levels. In my 100% Health Survey we found that three in four people in Britain frequently feel stressed, with declining energy levels, and two in three experience frequent anxiety and tension, according to a UK survey of 51,000 people1. Chronic stress has dire long-term health consequences, increasing risk for heart disease by five times2 and doubling the risk for obesity, dementia and diabetes3. In fact, chronic stress is as bad for you as smoking, according a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.4

Anxiety – an adrenal response to life

Behind all these symptoms is over-activation of the ‘fight or flight’ mechanism, originally designed to promote our ancestor’s survival – while they were hunting and being hunted by predators.

While modern stresses are rarely so extreme, they are far more frequent and relentless. Feeling overwhelmed at work, money or relationship worries, being stuck in traffic, for example – all these cause us to release the stress hormones adrenalin and cortisol, and to keep releasing them hour after hour.

Twenty-first-century living literally puts us on high alert. Smart phones are designed to do just that, grabbing our attention. They are WMDs – weapons of mass distraction. Consequently the average person check The average person checks their phones every ten minutes, swipes their smart phone 2,600 times a day and answers work-related emails on holiday so there’s no switch off. Two in three get ‘nomophobia’ – anxiety induced by not having a mobile phone signal. One in ten young adults even admits to checking their emails during sex! Being constantly on the go is draining, with one in five Brits now needing to take time off work due to the ill effects of stress.5 Add to this the Facebook induced one up manship to look cool and have smart things to post, exam pressures, growing debts at university, uncertainty about the future and careers and relationship problems and you have a recipe for anxiety, leading to poor sleeping, making you feel tired all the time. It also depletes dopamine, the precursor of adrenalin, which stops you feeling good. Dopamine is the central crux of the brain’s feel good ‘reward’ system.

The brain’s reward system is based on the release of dopamine, which gives us a short burst of wellbeing and satisfaction when we get what we want. It’s like slot-machine addiction: you continue to invest in the hope of hitting the jackpot. And clever marketing techniques keep us interested. Facebook, for example, uses prompts, swipe downs and red icons that we are encouraged to click in order to find out if we’ve ‘won’ and to get that lovely dopamine hit. Has a posting received a ‘like’? Do I have more ‘friends’? Has another person ‘linked’ to me on LinkedIn?

All of this means that your brain is being continually, insidiously and unwittingly lured into addiction, and not only by the social media giants....

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