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Treatment Considerations for Highly Anxious Teens

Three Considerations in Treating Teen Anxiety

Anxious or highly sensitive people are different from other people. They tend to go way in, take in lots of information, and they really contemplate before taking action.

Because of their nature, any treatment plan for a highly anxious or sensitive person has to have three considerations to it:

  1. Anxious people tend to see a problem as a mountain rather than a small hill.
  2. Anxious people tend to self criticize at a much higher level than other people.
  3. Anxious people often have a freeze response which leads to more overwhelm because they literally can’t move or see what to do. We call this the “insight barrier”.

So, it may not be enough to give them a tool like deep breathing or splashing their face with cold water. While this may temporarily help, it doesn’t address the problem of them not being able to see the steps. It also doesn’t help them to stop criticizing themselves so much they can’t move due to the freeze response.

One strategy is just listening and allowing them to talk, because this helps the body center. Humans are coded to mirror each other and therefore co-regulate. When someone is attentive and models self compassion and confidence, it helps!

In Hakomi Therapy, we call this “contact”. Contact means merely being present with someone in a nonjudgmental way.

After contact is established, you could ask, 

“What is the top thing stressing you out? Or the top 2-3 things?” 

If they are stuck, you can help get their mind moving again by throwing out ideas like, “grades” “being treated with disrespect”, “not having enough time to do my work”, “people looking at me” “being afraid of getting sick”.

When an anxious person sees a hill as a mountain, they might look at a messy bedroom and think, “this will take eight hours to clean”. Maybe it would really only take a half of an hour.

Or they might see someone get frustrated and think, “this person hates me”. Maybe the person was frustrated by something unrelated but the self-critical part alive in the anxious person takes it and runs.

Or they might see a test coming up and assume they need to have read the entire textbook and outlined it in order to do well. Really, it’s just a matter of doing the study guide or only reading two chapters then reviewing the material.

How Therapy Is Useful with Highly Anxious Teens

Therapy is useful because the therapist can see when the person is self criticizing and help to intervene (without adding more criticism). We can practice self-compassion narratives, even roll play them. We can model them as well as model seeing small steps.

In group therapy, the group members can help demonstrate compassion to the anxious member with help of the group leader.

Help Them See the Steps

It’s also useful for the therapist (or the group members) to help the anxious person see the steps they can’t see. The tiny, manageable steps. Once they are able to complete any small task, their confidence builds. 

Confidence, for an anxious person, is synonymous with self-compassion. Self-compassion calms the freeze response and allows them to see the steps again. Actionable steps then lead to less overwhelm. And now we have the ball moving forward again.

If you’d like to know more about our team members who specialize in helping with teens with anxiety, please click the TEAM link below.

Be Kind to Yourself

Otherwise, please be kind to yourself and the highly anxious people around you. Practice breaking things down into smaller, less overwhelming pieces.

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Free Clear Mind Therapy provides in-person therapy in Fishers & Indianapolis and online therapy across Indiana. Specializing in anxiety therapy for teens, adults, and kids.

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