A Holistic Approach for Teens with Anxiety

The prevalence of anxiety in teens is growing at an alarming rate. 

While anxiety is a normal part of childhood, more and more teens are being diagnosed with the disorder. With headlines featuring terrorism and school shootings, combined with increasing pressure from social media and parental expectations, it’s no wonder that anxiety affects one in eight children.

Furthermore, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA ) states that 80 percent of kids with a diagnosable anxiety disorder are not getting treatment. Research shows that untreated children with anxiety disorders are at higher risk to perform poorly in school, miss out on important social experiences, and engage in substance abuse.  Working with your child’s doctor for a treatment plan is vital, but holistic medicine is gaining traction with such disorders in teens.

A traditional approach to anxiety addresses a single element of symptoms or behaviors, but holistic medicine integrates conventional and experiential therapies. Experiential modalities give teens additional ways to process. Teens can address trauma and pain through doing, feeling, and relating, not just through thinking and talking. Such therapies are powerful for adolescents. They impact the teen brain and nervous system which are still growing and changing.

Holistic healing modalities include martial arts, expressive arts, yoga and meditation, adventure and equine therapy.

Holistic practitioners believe that intense emotions and traumatic experiences reside in the tissues and nervous system. Thus, it’s only through body-based interventions that they can be fully released. 

Yoga is a powerful body-based approach. In addition, the practice of yoga is a non-pharmaceutical, evidence-based approach which can help teens physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It also provides lifelong tools for self-regulation. Here are some of the ways that yoga creates holistic healing for teens:

  • Cultivates self observation

Yoga gives adolescents tools to change their habitual responses by learning to compassionately observe themselves. 

  • Encourages brain development

Yoga develops the parts of the brain that regulates impulse control. It impacts how we react to stress and emotions. This is significant for teens, whose brains are still developing.

  • Establishes mind body connection

The practice of synchronizing breath and movement leads to awareness of one’s internal state.  It also develops awareness of messages the body sends to the mind.

  • Provides tools for stress relief

Numerous studies validate the power of yoga to calm the nervous system with teenagers. Teens use conscious breathing to relax before tests, diffuse anger and it helps them sleep. These interventions impact teens’ ability to decrease the stress response overall.

Meditation alone, has been shown to reduce stress in more than 600 studies. It also reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression, by calming the sympathetic nervous system. This is the primal “fight, flight, or freeze” stress response, which catalyzes risk-taking behaviors. In addition, it buffers the prefrontal cortex the part of the brain that regulates emotion. A review study at Johns Hopkins found that meditation is equally effective in treating symptoms of anxiety and depression as antidepressants.

Our teens are under a significant amount of stress these days.  Holistic treatments are beneficial in treating the ‘whole’ teen, not just the symptoms.

Whether they have a clinical disorder or they are just experiencing a particularly distressing time, coping mechanisms that teach awareness, self-regulation and resilience will contribute significantly to their present situation, and future health.

Kristal Fiorentino is certified Yoga Therapist and Life Coach. More importantly she is a mother of two teens who can sometimes feel anxious and occasionally take her advice.

Resources for this article include ADAA, NIMH and Newport Academy. Photo by Jesús Rodríguez on Unsplash