Q – My daughter has a good life filled with love & opportunity, but lately she just seems really negative, grumpy and unappreciative. How do I know if my 13 year old is enduring typical teenage moodiness or some more serious anxiety and depression?
A – What a great question! If your kids live in the modern world, they have an increased risk for anxiety and depression. But I notice in my life coaching work, worrying is often ineffective. Many parents think if their kid isn’t happy, they have failed as a parent. This belief can keep us from taking effective action so I’m just going to reflect on some common adolescent situations and you see if they sound familiar. (Keep in mind, I am not a medical professional, just a Mom & a life coach with a passion to help parents worry less and enjoy more.) Here is a few things I’ve learned, that don’t get talked about much, but are important for parents to know.
Stress – I know it seems like kids have it all these days but if you look at how human bodies and brains are meant to live (in community with people of all ages, outside in harmony with nature, moving constantly, contributing towards a relevant and greater good, work and play self-directed and intertwined) you will notice that modern living is stressful for children. Even simple commands, “Hurry up” “It’s time to go” “Pay attention” and “Sit still” are stressful for kids. When kids are stressed, it changes the wiring in their brain and compromises their ability to make healthy connections in the emotional centers of their brain.
Does your child LOVE sugar, carbohydrates, caffeine? If so, it can be a sign that their bio-chemistry is off. Sugar gives SOME kids “a high” followed by “a crash” (tired and cranky). In order to feel good again, they seek out another “high” of whatever artificial substance helps. This is one of many signs your child may have hormonal/biochemical imbalance that can lead to depression or anxiety. If you have a family history of PMS, post-partum anxiety/depression, adolescent mood swings, infertility, hyper or hypo-glycemia, addiction, thyroid issues, adrenal fatigue, etc. Chances are your child will have trouble with hormones, too. The only endocrinologist I have found who understands and tests for these subtle hormonal problems is Dr. Richard Shames. Naturopaths are great with this stuff as are accupuncturists/herbalists. You also might be able to find a Dr. of Kinesiology or other holistic health care practicioner. Keep searching until you get the help you need, it’s so worth it!
Brain-Centered Differences – When you look around at your family members, do you notice a pattern of brain-centered differences like ADHD, central or auditory processing problems, addiction, autism spectrum, giftedness, OCD, bi-polar, and, of course, a family history of anxiety and depression? An incident can trigger the anxiety/depression to come out when it does, or sometimes puberty can be that trigger. Your child may have a predisposition to one of these brain-centered differences. This family tradition CAN stop with you. We have more access to information than ever before so now is the time to break the cycle! A great, multi-disciplinary approach can include neurofeedback, neurotransmitter supplements, meditation, nutrition, life coaching, cognitive behavioral therapy, yoga, you name it, it’s out there! Advances in Brain Science are happening everyday and we are loaded with resources.
Many parents only know about depression and anxiety caused by physical or psychological trauma (abuse, divorce, death of a parent). In the absence of any notable trauma, it can be very confusing to parents who either blame themselves “I’m not doing the right things” or their child, “He needs to just get over it, already.” Other risk factors include concussions, diabetes, other chronic illnesses, or simply living in a city.
Think of it like you would any illness. If you thought your teen might have diabetes, you would look into it. You’d find appropriate care, treatment, learn as much as you could, make dietary and lifestyle changes. It is not a sign of weakness to get outside help for any medical problem, including teenage anxiety and depression.
Does your teen or tween have ANY of these:
Mood swings that seem extreme?
Cries easily or fly off the handle easily?
Seems negative (glass half empty)?
Seems hyper or overly fatigued?
Doesn’t enjoy things he/she used to enjoy?
Withdrawn from social situations or has a hard time socially?
Has a low appetite or craves sugar & carbs?
Seems disinterested in personal appearance/hygiene?
Has sudden outbursts of emotion or “temper tantrums”?
Deterioration in school or home functioning?
Fears and phobias?
Headaches and stomachaches?
Feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and worthlessness?
Closed, weak or withdrawn body posture?
Blank stares, little face expression or hand movements?
Laughing at inappropriate times or expressionless voice?