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Youth Anxiety Examined: by Jessica Cohen | March 5, 2023

Updated: Sep 6, 2023


Warwick social worker Jennifer Rowe discusses pandemic mental health patterns she sees in teens and suggests some remedies.


Anxiety stalked youth pre-covid and has become a common presence in Covid’s wake, according to Jennifer Rowe. a licensed clinical social worker.


“Fear is a driving force with 13 to 21-year-olds that I see,” she said. “They feel unsafe, and they can’t say why.”


She gleans what drives the feeling from her counseling encounters with youth, mostly girls, and their families. While Covid brought a risk of death, much else may have undermined their sense of security, she said. School life paused. Parents were fearful, and conflicts about masking, vaccines and politics may have gone on within as well as around the family. Seniors had drive-through graduations and no prom.


“A sense of community is lost for them,” said Rowe. “Every time they came up for air there was a new issue.”


Social media brings them bad news instantly and constantly, whether about school shootings or climate change-related catastrophes. It also brings them a barrage of images of people looking happy and beautiful, challenging their confidence in their bodies and lives.


“They’re photoshopped moments. They don’t show negative emotions,” said Rowe. “Parents expect their children to be happy, but pain is a source of growth. I have a teen and a 20-year-old. I wanted to protect them from angst. But they need to show negative emotions.


Depression is common, and inclinations toward depression and anxiety are exacerbated, even for those who are normally sociable. “They say they feel empty and hopeless. ‘Why care?’ They feel burned out with school, even though they may have been high achievers. Some won’t go to school.”


They don’t want to go to college. Some don’t want to drive. The percentage of U.S. high school seniors with driver’s licenses dropped from 85.3% in 1996 to 71.5 % in 2015, according the University of Michigan’s Monitoring the Future survey.

Parents may want to protect their anxious children, but Rowe tells them, “They need to work through this,” she said.


“Therapy buffet” Rowe offers assorted tools to address inner obstacles. “I describe therapy as a buffet,” she said. Some of her offerings for anxiety coincide with those for depression, and clients choose what appeals to them. “Iwant my teens to say ‘yes, maybe, or no way’ to what is offered.”


Rowe’s suggestions for anxiety:

1) Get an unappealing done first; then balance it with something pleasurable. Feeling overwhelmed is a common anxiety symptom, and breaking tasks down can help. The task could be timing a specific homework assignment with a timed reward after. For example, I am going to study a subject I don’t like for 30 minutes, set a timer, and when the timer goes off, I get to go on Tik Tok for 30 minutes and set a timer for that. Then go to the next homework task. The timer is needed, as going off task with something enjoyable and avoiding another task is tempting. This can also help with ADHD.


2) Break tasks that feel overwhelming into small steps. Instead of saying, "I am going to clean and organize my room," I will suggest, “Can you start with organizing your desk, one drawer of your dresser, putting the clothes on the floor into a laundry basket, hanging the shirts in your closet? This is also a good tool for ADHD.


3) YouTube has free resources for meditation/mindfulness/mantras:

* I like the 5 senses grounding/coping technique- where you use your five senses

* Breathwork - such as box breathing or a breath exercise of inhaling and exhaling for a set amount of seconds for each


4) A creative outlet - music, art, crafts, coloring books with gel pens or colored pencils


5) Exercise - Working out is a help, whether yoga or sports. Or look for a specific color as you walk. Walk a dog. Get outside.


6) I encourage watching caffeine, energy drinks, and sugar intake, as I find both can worsen anxiety.


7) Make a list of people to talk to.


8) Create a list of things they find helps their anxiety- aromatherapy, lighting candles, listening to music, doing something physical.


9) Reduce social media intake and TV watching.


10) Monitor sleep.


11) See your doctor to rule out physical causes and discuss medication.


Rowe’s suggestions for depression:

1) A gratitude journal - I usually start by having them write 3 things they are grateful for in a journal, on their phone, or whatever format they prefer.


2) Keep an accomplishments list- a list of things they have been successful doing. A sport? A school accomplishment? Trying something new? Joining a club? Volunteering?


3) Create a list of things they enjoy.


4) Make a list of people they can talk to.


5) Exercise - Working out is a help, whether yoga or sports. Or look for a specific color as you walk. Walk a dog. Get outside.


6) Watch junk food. Reduce processed foods, caffeine, energy drinks, and fast food intake


7) See friends and family. I encourage socializing, as isolating from others is common in depression.


8) Reduce social media intake and TV watching.


9) Monitor sleep


10) Monitor alcohol and drug intake, as these can be used to medicate depression.


11) See your doctor to rule out physical causes, and discuss medication.


Teen support groups and resources are available at minimal or low cost. I have a list of resources:

IN CASE OF EMERGENCY:

Call 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline

Call 911 or go directly to your nearest Emergency Room.

Call 311 Hope Starts Here - Orange County Crisis Call Center 24/7. Call 1-800-832-1200 Orange County Mobile Crisis Unit 24/7

Text (845)-391-1000 TEXT FOR TEENS 24/7


Jennifer L. Rowe, LCSW, is a social worker with twenty-seven years of field experience. She can be reached at jennifer@journeylifebalance.com.


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