Young people suffer from anxiety for a variety of reasons, and it takes many different forms. They may be anxious about life in general, social situations, or changes in routine and schedules. Whatever the cause, anxiety can limit their growth and hold them back from success in life. Anxiety itself represents a challenge that often must be overcome with professional help. Unfortunately, this condition rarely exists on its own. Instead, it often leads to other problems, such as withdrawal, depression, and/or self-medication. A key task is to sort out the underlying causes of all these problems.
Those who suffer from general anxiety worry excessively, often without any clear reason for concern. They project their thoughts into the future and imagine that something negative will happen unless they can find a way to prevent it. While it may be healthy to plan ahead and prepare for tomorrow in a thoughtful way, generalized anxiety can paralyze the person who deals with it, so that they actually fail to take action to mitigate the situation that concerns them.
Social anxiety is common to many people at different ages, and it is often mistaken for simple “shyness.” However, it is really much more debilitating than being a little uncomfortable with others.
Young people with social anxiety experience an acute awareness of what their peers think of them and where they “fit” into the world as they pull away from their parents and begin to forge their own identities. A healthy respect for the opinions of others can, however, easily escalate into a deep fear of being judged in social situations. For some, the obvious solution to social anxiety is to avoid or minimize interactions with others. While this relieves the immediate stress, it cannot be a long-term solution because all of us need to find effective ways to function within the broader society.
One way to manage excessive anxiety is to stick with a routine. If a person is worried about what might happen on a given day, it can be comforting to establish a fixed schedule and stick to it. Having a routine and staying committed to it can be a healthy way for anyone to manage their time effectively, but the anxious person finds it difficult to cope with any disruption of their routine, and unexpected events are just a part of life. For this reason, effective functioning requires that anxious people also develop some resiliency in the face of uncertainty.
The Red Mountain Approach
At Red Mountain, we do not take a one-size-fits-all approach to any of our students’ problems, and the same is true for anxiety. We treat different types of anxiety in different ways, offering significant opportunities for students to work on activities of daily living, self-care, and social interaction that relieve this crippling condition. Above all else, Red Mountain is a supportive community, offering numerous chances for group recreation, communal meals, and adventure days. For anxious students, the realization that they will not be judged and that they are in a safe environment is a great relief and allows them, perhaps for the first time, to concentrate on their own healing.
These opportunities help our students to leave their isolation, reduce worrying thoughts, and reach a level of self-sufficiency with respect to both positive peer interaction and responsible self-care.
We will initially take “baby steps” with a student to help them develop confidence in the face of their anxiety. Over time, these small victories snowball, and confidence begins to overcome fear. Therapy which meets our students where they are on a given day, combined with mindfulness to develop greater tolerance for anxiety, are a very potent combination over time.
Clinically, we use cognitive behavioral therapies (CBT) to treat significant anxiety issues, as well as additional mindfulness-based techniques, such as meditation and yoga. The goal is increase self-regulation and feelings of calm and focus, while enhancing self-esteem. CBT focuses on finding solutions to psychological problems by modifying thoughts, behaviors, or feelings. From that base, we help guide the student over time into a greater sense of belonging in the world, as we help him or her to worry less, while processing emotions in healthier ways.
It is also worth noting that anxiety is sometimes caused by trauma or attachment issues. In such cases, treating the underlying issues using trauma or attachment therapies such as brainspotting or the neuro-affective relational model can be very helpful, and our clinical team is well-versed in these modalities.
The Anxiety-Substance Abuse Link
Young people who are suffering from excessive anxiety sometimes use substances to cover up aspects of themselves that they dislike. For students experiencing co-occurring anxiety and substance use issues, the Red Mountain approach teaches them how to live sober, while also working on the emotional exploration and maturation needed to no longer feel the need to self-medicate. Over time, as a student’s self-esteem and coping skills improve, the anxiety weakens its hold, and the need to use substances subsides.
Launching Into Life
Recognizing that anxiety is often a significant issue for emerging adults, Red Mountain devotes significant resources to addressing this problem, helping students to overcome their fears and “launch their lives.”