Emerge from the Shadows of Teenage Anxiety & Depression

During the challenging time of adolescence, many teenagers are suffering with anxiety and depression. These young individuals find themselves grappling with mental health concerns that warrant deeper understanding. In the context of adolescent mental health, the role of social media cannot be overlooked. An obsession or over involvement with social media can contribute to and exacerbate anxiety and depression. It’s important to note that the impact of social media on mental health can vary based on factors such as the type of content consumed, individual vulnerabilities, the amount of time spent, and the nature of the online interactions.

Luckily, one of Hill Physicians Medical Group’s esteemed pediatricians, Dr. Rina Shah, provides valuable insights on this critical topic. Dr. Shah delves into the common signs and symptoms of anxiety and depression in teenagers, how social media influences these struggles, and even equips us with effective coping strategies.

What is Depression?

Depression is a serious mood disorder/illness that affects the way an individual thinks and feels. It is treatable but can be incredibly dangerous as it may lead to thoughts of suicide or death.

Adolescents with depression often experience…

  • Emotional Changes:  irritability, sadness, feeling of hopelessness, problems with memory, thinking, or concentration and even social withdrawal
  • Altered Eating Habits: changes in appetite, weight or eating patterns, such as never being hungry or eating all the time
  • Changes in Personal Appearance: lack of basic personal hygiene
  • Shifts in Behavior:  loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed – did your music-loving child suddenly stop wanting to practice guitar – an increase in risky or reckless behaviors, such as using drugs or alcohol
  • Sleep Disturbances: a hard time falling or staying asleep, or starting to sleep all the time
  • Suicidal Thoughts: a belief that life is not worth living and/or they are not valued

What is an anxiety disorder?

An anxiety disorder is the most common of mental disorders. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) involves persistent and excessive worry that interferes with daily activities. Anxiety refers to the anticipation of a future concern, triggering an emotional response of fear and can lead one to have a fight or flight reaction.

Adolescents with anxiety often experience…

  • A churning feeling in their stomach or light-headed or dizzy
  • ‘Pins and needles’ or a sensation of uncomfortable tingling or prickling in the arms, hands, legs, or feet
  • Feeling restless or unable to sit still, sweating, or hot flushes
  • Faster breathing, a fast or irregular heartbeat
  • Headaches or other aches and pains

How does social media contribute to teenage anxiety and depression?

Brain development is a critical factor to consider when assessing the risk of harm from social media. There are numerous indicators that social media can negatively impact mental health and well-being of children and adolescents.

But why is that?

There is not one simple answer to this question. When reviewing others’ social activity, people tend to compare themselves with others. The comparison can stem from body image, experiences, likes and comments, and more. Fear of missing out (FOMO) also plays a role. If everyone is using a certain platform like Tik Tok or Twitter, and a person hasn’t joined, that individual may feel they are missing out on connections, jokes, or invitations. Constantly engaging and consuming content from others’ lives can subconsciously lead to self-comparisons and feelings of inadequacies.

There is a strong connection between the mind and gut which can translate into headaches, nausea, muscle tension, and tremors. Research shows that social media use is tied to delayed, disrupted, and decreased sleep which is also directly associated with depression, memory loss, and poor academic performance.

A new study demonstrates that an increased amount of time teenage girls spend on social media correlates with a long-term risk for suicide. The findings come from tracking the social media habits of 500 teenage boys’ and girls’ and suicide risks over a decade. The results indicated that girls who began using social media two to three hours a day or more, at the age of 13, with increased use overtime, had the highest levels of suicide risk in emerging adulthood. There were no such patterns for boys.

Coping strategies for teenagers

Dr. Shah offers perspective and guidance by providing the following strategies…

  • Remember that mental health challenges are real, common, and treatable
  • Invest in healthy relationships, find ways to serve, take care of your body and mind
  • Take the steps to learn and practice techniques to manage stress and other difficult emotions and consider seeking help from a therapist, counselor, or medical professional

Strategies for parents

  • Always check in with your child, ask them how they are feeling, and remind them you are there to talk if they want to, when they are ready.
  • The first step is to LISTEN. Teens often want to be heard. As parents we may want to fix things, but it’s important to slow down and really listen to your teen.

In addition to these coping strategies, Dr. Shah recommends making lifestyle changes that can positively impact your mental health. This includes getting enough sleep, exercising, practicing good nutritional habits, journaling, meditating, etc.

Long term effects of anxiety in men

According to HealthDay News, there is an association between anxiety and the risk of heart attack.  The findings reflect that males who are diagnosed with anxiety, in their late teens, have a 20% risk of heart attack later in life. The study followed 238,000 men born between the years 1952-1956 to age 58. 

This emphasizes the importance of developing strategies to deal with stress and of practicing a healthy lifestyle for your mental and physical health. Encouraging a healthy lifestyle early in childhood reduces the risk of fighting a serious consequence – a heart attack.

Long term effects of anxiety in women

Chronic anxiety and stress have been linked to an increased risk of certain conditions in women including heart disease, autoimmune disorders, hormonal imbalances, hair loss, and reproductive health issues.

In general, women are more likely to experience GAD at a higher rate than men. A study by the Iranian Journal of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences (IJPBS) aimed to explore gender differences in the metacognitive perspective of GAD in high school students. The study found significant differences in anxiety thoughts, with girls experiencing high levels of health anxiety, social anxiety, and worry, which could contribute to the higher prevalence of anxiety in females compared to males.

Navigating the intricate journey of teenage emotions requires our serious focus. By fostering awareness, promoting open dialogue, and embracing supportive strategies, we can pave the way for a future where teenagers find solace in their mental well-being and emerge from the shadows of anxiety and depression into a brighter world of resilience and hope.


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