Tackling Teenage Anxiety
There are many reasons right now for people to feel increased anxiety, and teenagers are bearing the brunt of the challenges when facing a return to the classroom in what is still a highly uncertain pandemic era. Social isolation through lockdowns and missing out on education experiences over the past 18 months and online learning, are some of the difficulties that may have increased feelings of anxiety and impacted adolescent mental health.
For nearly all teenagers, technology has been a vital way of staying connected to others through the last 18 months in particular. Smartphones offer increased access to information, entertainment, and connection but this is not without consequences. Teenagers and young adults are particularly susceptible to the negative adverse effects of excessive technology use due to their developing brains and emotional progression into adulthood.
Adolescence is a time of learning, growing, and challenges. Wanting to fit in, developing social relationships, and figuring out your identity are important pillars of adolescence. Social media provides a platform in which teenagers are able to satisfy their need for belonging and social interaction. However, excessive use of social media also increases the risk of several mental health symptoms, including depression and anxiety.
What do the studies say?
88% of teens say they spend time with friends through texting, and 55% say they text their friends every day though studies suggest that depressed and anxious adolescents may use social media more to regulate their low mood, causing a cyclic reaction that further exacerbates those symptoms. Other studies have found a linear association between the number of social media platforms used and depression and anxiety. It has been found that individuals who used 7-11 social media platforms had substantially higher odds of having increased levels of depression and anxiety symptoms, compared to those who used 0-2 social media platforms. And according to Ofcom, in 2020, 16-34-year-olds were averaging 6h21mins screen time daily.
Social media can cause stress and anxiety in a number of ways, including:
- Seeing friends posting about events you weren’t invited to
- Comparing your life/appearance to that of others on social media
- Feeling pressured to post positive content about your life
- Anxiety associated with getting comments and likes on your posts
Another factor contributing to poor mental health stems from the fact that many adolescents use their smartphones at night, resulting in later bedtimes and poorer sleep quality, which also contributes to anxiety and depression. It has been found that teenagers aged 15-19 who were regular users of mobile phones reported health symptoms such as tiredness, stress, headache, anxiety, concentration difficulties, and sleep disturbances more often than less frequent users. Additionally, studies show that nighttime social media use was a predictor of poorer sleep quality.
So what can be done?
The first step is tackling social media usage. Recently, TikTok announced a series of changes it says are designed to protect its teenage users’ wellbeing. Users aged 13-15 will not receive push notifications from 21:00 and for 16 and 17-year-olds, from 22:00. This is to help them focus on work, study, relaxation and sleep, the video-sharing app says. It is also changing its default settings so 16 and 17-year-olds will have to opt in to receive direct messages. Instagram has also added a function to turn off the “likes”, as well as comments associated with posts.
Other tips for teenagers managing social media anxiety include:
- Unfollow accounts you are comparing yourself to, or that make you feel anxious or self-conscious.
- Recognise that everything on social media is highly orchestrated and not reflective of reality – the “perfect” people you follow likely have the same negative experiences that they are not posting for everyone to see
- Use Screen Time to track the amount of time you spend on your phone and set a limit on your phone to how much time you spend on each app. When you reach the daily limit, your phone will automatically stop those apps and display a message indicating you have reached your daily limit.
- Set screen-free times where you put your phone away completely and spend time doing other activities friends and family.
- Stop using your phone an hour before you go to sleep.
- When you start to feel anxious or experience negative thoughts about yourself, put your phone down. Find another activity to keep your hands busy instead (adult colouring books, knitting, painting, exercising, etc).
- Practice mindfulness to become aware of your surroundings and spend more time outside.
Diet & Social Anxiety
There are also foods that can contribute to feeling anxious (caffeine, alcohol, gluten) so it’s best to curb the intake of these, as well as foods that can provide nutrients that support the anti-anxiety pathways in our brain. These include foods rich in magnesium – green leafy vegetables in particular – as well as beans, lentils and vegetables full of important B vitamin cofactors. Omega 3 fatty acids found in oily fish eggs and nuts also support a healthy brain and mental health.
Natural Anti-Anxiety Supplements
As well as providing nutrients through the diet that support anti-anxiety pathways in the body there is a new natural plant-based supplement that shows promise in balancing levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which at chronically high levels contributes to anxiety, as well as impacting sleep quality.
Saffron extracts from the beautiful Crocus flower have been shown to contribute to emotional balance, helps to support relaxation and to maintain a positive mood. Six clinical trials have shown that 30mg of Iranian saffron extract significantly corrects severe mood troubles compared to placebo with the first significant positive effects observed after only 1 week. And what’s more, 30mg daily saffron extract provides the same effectiveness as well-known pharmaceutical mood stabilisers, such as fluoxetine and imipramine, without any adverse effects.
Another open study using 15mg of saffron extract twice daily for 30 days showed improves mood after only 15 days. In addition, after 30 days, more than 50% of subjects felt better sleep quality. 3 out of 4 people feel happier and more relaxed after only 15 days on 30mg saffron extract. Published clinical studies showed that 30mg concentrated Iranian saffron stigma extract significantly improves sleep quality versus placebo after only 1 week.
5HTP has also been shown to support mood and sleep and can be combined with magnesium and B vitamins for an effective anti-anxiety supplement.
Dr Elisabeth Philipps PhD BSc (Hons) BSc Nutr Med AFMCP
Dr Elisabeth Philipps is a clinical neuroscientist and functional medicine practitioner and runs a health consultancy specialising in brain health, the endocannabinoid system and phytocannabinoids including C*B*D and medicinal cannabis. She regularly presents at conferences and events, and provides expert opinion for the national press, specialist healthcare publications and health companies.
You can connect with Elisabeth via: www.drelisabethphilipps.com | instagram – @drelisabethphilipps | Twitter – @drphilipps | Linked In – Dr Elisabeth Philipps
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