I am blessed to have 3 incredible humans living with us, two teens and a gender-fluid 8 year old. That reality alone is a whole world of business and complexity. Add teenage angst and stress to that dynamic and you’ll understand why my husband and I are either scrambling to course correct or stand like panicked deer in headlights. Like most families….we are just trying to raise conscious, compassionate, intelligent humans. We’ve learned when confronting teen anxiety, that’s a whole lot easier said than done.
What’s most surprising is the common nature of teen anxiety. Research suggests that social media has played a role in the surge of children and teens presenting with psychological distress. This research hints that this is a new age phenomenon, I’m not sure I buy into that. Thinking back to when I was 14 years old, It’s an awkward, uncomfortable, smelly, spotty, disproportionate time, where you are asked to be more responsible but also expected to stay in your lane. I would not want to do that whole thing again!
We have one teen who worries, thinks non stop and has trouble switching off at night, making falling asleep and staying asleep particularly challenging. In my clinical herbalist work, I see this pattern on a regular basis, not just with teens, but adults who haven’t yet grown out of this cycle. When asked, it is very common for adults to report the symptoms began during the teen years and haven’t really dissipated. Getting educated on what is going on and listening to your teen is the foundation for improving symptoms and long term health outcomes.
I wrote a paper on homeless teens and depression as part of a Public Health in Complementary Medicine class and read many research articles and books on the causative factors of teen anxiety, the range is complex and not at all linear. One of the best books on the subject is Untangled, by Lisa Damour, Ph.D who writes about teen girls, but I believe it speaks to both genders. This book was given to us by a friend and we have in turn passed it on. I really appreciate where her voice originates, it’s a grounded reminder of how it feels to be a teen and what that looks like in today’s political and social environment. The author is funny and really seems to get the challenges of modern parenting and gives advice on how to get through it with your sanity intact.
On a regular basis, I get asked for Naturopathic recommendations for teen anxiety. Firstly, let me state I always advise you get your teen evaluated if the anxiety is crippling, has escalated, presents with depression and/or is present for longer than 3 months. Below are my favorite complementary remedies including diet modifications for teens feeling stressed, anxious and having trouble with sleep cycles.
5-HTP and Melatonin are both hormones released by the pineal gland and help to regulate sleep cycles, but they work in different ways. 5-HTP promotes deeper sleep, if the issue is that your teen can’t stay asleep, this is a good option. Melatonin is produced by the pineal gland in the absence of light, and thus is decreased if a kid is watching a screen before they go to bed. There are blue light filters that can help with that, but regulating sleep/wake cycle is governed by Melatonin, so can be an issue in the Summer when it doesn’t get dark until 10 pm. Melatonin is also produced from the amino acid tryptophan found readily in dairy products, that and the added calming nature of calcium is why a glass of milk before bed was the traditional prescription. It should be noted that Melatonin is not regulated by the FDA, but is found in most supplement stores and over the counter at pharmacies. Both 5-HTP and Melatonin can be taken with Valerian herb in a liquid tincture or tablet from extract to promote calm and restful sustained sleep. Another consideration is to combine with Kava Kava if there is tension or a feeling of being ‘high strung’, or ‘nervous’ throughout the day.
Amino acids GABA and tryptophan promote calm. GABA inhibits neurotransmitters in the brain from getting too overactive – that monkey mind that just won’t stop! Low GABA has been associated with anxiety and depression and preliminary research suggests supplementing may be helpful.
Essential oils aren’t just there to make the place smell great. Vertiver, lavender and lemon balm all have soothing therapeutic properties specifically on the nervous system and can aid in calming the adrenals and promoting restful sleep if placed in the teens’ bedroom at night. Diffusers are safe and gentle and many now come with changing lights to create a soothing ambiance. Essential oils can also be added to carrier oils such as rosehip or jojoba and then applied to the skin or inhaled directly in acute stressful situations.
And there is always food You knew I’d come around to the foods your teen might be ingesting regularly that can and should be cut out if your child is experiencing anxiety and sleep challenges. Obviously, anything with caffeine and processed sugar, especially soda’s and caffeinated drinks should be eliminated from the diet. High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is found in just about any processed and packed foods in the US, and there are reports of behavioral changes and anxiety experienced in kids incapable of processing HFCS, our teen daughter experienced this first hand. Read a label and omit anything that uses HFCS from your child’s diet. Gluten sensitivity can exhibit multiple symptoms, some of them psychological. Assess your child’s gluten sensitivity to determine whether avoiding wheat and gluten impacts your teens’ moods.
Teens are honestly my favorite age, not many people say that, but I truly love it. These are the voices that will shout the loudest and pave the way in the next decades and I for one can’t wait what to hear what they have to say. If you are a teen reading this and would like to speak to someone about how you are feeling I recommend contacting the following organizations (Australia) Beyond Blue
And in the (US) ADA.
Yours in health