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ptsd in children and teens

PTSD In Teenagers: How You Can Help Your Daughter

PTSD In Teenagers: How You Can Help Your Daughter 640 426 se_admin

Childhood trauma can have a profound impact on adolescent’s development, resulting in negative effects on physical growth, psychological development, mental health, and in severe cases, it can be the catalyst for developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Experiencing childhood trauma has become more widespread with many research studies claiming that over 50% of teens have been exposed to trauma at some point in their lives.

A 2013 research study of 6,483 teens found that 61% of teens had been exposed to at least one potentially traumatic event in their lifetime, including interpersonal violence such as rape, physical abuse, or domestic violence, injuries, natural disasters, or the death of a close family member. Of these teens, 19% had experienced 3 or more of these traumatic events, and nearly 5% had experienced PTSD under the DSM-IV diagnostic criteria. Another study indicates that that as many as 16% of adolescents exposed to trauma may develop PTSD.

Research has shown that PTSD can increase vulnerability to psychiatric disorders such as depression, anxiety, psychosis, as well as several physical problems such as arthritis, cardiovascular disease, lung disease, and cancer, and cognitive problems such as brain development and emotional attachment. Because of the potential damages of PTSD, it’s essential to understand the causes of PTSD, recognize its symptoms and impacts, and get your teen treatment as soon as possible to aid in her recovery.

Causes of PTSD in teens

Post-traumatic stress disorder is defined as a condition brought on by exposure to a traumatic event. As discussed, the majority of children will experience some type of traumatic event in their lifetime, but children with PTSD don’t bounce back from this trauma. Instead, they develop harmful behavioral patterns that can be debilitative without treatment.

There are many risk factors associated with the likelihood of developing PTSD as a teenager. Research indicates that the two groups of adolescents that are most likely to have been exposed to trauma in their lifetime are those who did not have both biological parents in the home and those who had pre-existing mental and behavioral disorders such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and oppositional defiant disorder.

In a study that found 4.5% of teens had experienced PTSD in their lifetimes, there were many risk factors. One of the greatest risk factors was being a female; females had a 7.3 percent lifetime prevalence of PTSD compared to only 2.2 percent of males. Another risk factor included interpersonal violence as PTSD was found in 39% of teens who had been raped and 25% of teens who had been physically abused by a caregiver. Lastly, those who had underlying mood disorders such as anxiety and depression were also more likely to be at risk for developing PTSD.

Beyond risk factors, there are many known causes for developing PTSD in children and adolescents. The causes can be broken up into two categories: interpersonal traumas and non-interpersonal traumas. Interpersonal trauma includes events such as violent assaults, rape, physical or sexual abuse, school or neighborhood shootings, and military combat.

A 2020 study indicates the link between interpersonal traumas and PTSD can be explained by social information processing theory. Those who have experienced violent trauma are predisposed to hostile attribution bias which increases the perception of threats and causes heightened stress reactivity. Simply put, those who experience violence are more likely to perceive violence in all settings which can cause them to relive their traumas and be fearful of various environments.

The other type of trauma that can result in PTSD is non-interpersonal trauma and this includes events such as car accidents, natural disasters, being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, and going through the death of a loved one. A 2019 study conducted on the impacts of a 2008 earthquake found that up to 10% of children exposed to the earthquake had developed PTSD, and that their PTSD symptoms were heightened around the anniversary of the earthquake each year.

Even though PTSD can develop through various types of trauma, there are some similar symptoms you can look for if you’re concerned your daughter is struggling with post traumatic stress disorder.

Symptoms and impacts of PTSD on teens

For teens struggling with PTSD, they often feel like they are unable to escape the impact of the trauma they have experienced. Constant reminders of the trauma they went through can make it extremely challenging to go through day-to-day life, especially if they are unable to express what they are feeling to trusted adults. Here are some common symptoms to look for in teens experiencing PTSD:

  • Avoidance of situations – Teens with PTSD will often avoid situations, environments, and people that could cause them to remember the trauma they’ve experienced. They may also avoid talking about what happened so they don’t have to be reminded of it.
  • Reliving the trauma – Those experiencing PTSD will often have intense nightmares, flashbacks, or disturbing mental images about the trauma. Wanting to avoid the nightmares can also lead to a disruption in their sleeping patterns or cause insomnia
  • Anxiety – People with PTSD can experience extreme anxiety or nervousness. This can take the form of being easily startled, on edge, jumpy, irritable, or tense. This can be brought on by high levels of stress and cortisol in the body.
  • Developmental Regression – Some children who experience PTSD may regress to earlier, more childlike behaviors. This can include wetting the bed, becoming overly clingy to parents, developing separation anxiety, or even forgetting how to speak.
  • Emotional numbness – Teens struggling with past trauma, often feel numb and detached from the people and events in their lives. This detachment can also cause teens to view the world more negatively and hinder their ability to trust anyone. Research indicates this is because the brain overproduces some hormones that numb the senses during stress.
  • Acting impulsively – Teens with PTSD are likely to display self-destructive behavior and guilt. This could be in the form of substance use and abuse, engaging in sexual behavior, or engaging in situations that could put themselves and others in harm’s way.

In addition to the symptoms teens may display, there are many physical, mental, social and emotional impacts that adolescents with PTSD can experience. Due to the hypervigilance, change in sleeping patterns, and increased stress that individuals with PTSD experience, they can also experience negative physical health impacts. Common effects include back pain, migraines, stomachaches, muscle tension, and other body aches. A 2015 study found that childhood trauma can even cause long term changes in their body’s immune functioning which can cause potentially life threatening conditions such as type-2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

PTSD in adolescents can also have extremely adverse impacts socially and emotionally. A 2017 study found that those who had experienced PTSD and trauma were likely to misidentify sad and angry faces as fearful. Understanding and recognizing facial expressions is crucial for social functioning and communicating emotions, so this impairment can hurt an individual’s ability to connect with others and can be indicative of low empathy and impaired affective bonding.

Sometimes PTSD can occur in a particularly severe form called Complex PTSD. This type of PTSD is most commonly found in those who have experienced repeated sexual abuse in childhood. A study on Complex PTSD found that in combination with reliving the trauma, these individuals undergo massive personality changes that cause them to struggle with relationships and prohibit them from trusting, developing intimacy, and cultivating a positive sense of self worth.

For children and teens struggling with PTSD, early and consistent intervention can make a world of difference in their healing journey.

How you can help support your daughter through her PTSD

There are many options for treatment if your daughter is experiencing PTSD, and certain types of talk therapy, such as trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy, have been proven to significantly reduce the symptoms of PTSD. There are also many steps you can take at home to help your daughter along her recovery journey. Try these strategies to help your teen with PTSD:

Research the causes and effects of PTSD – It can help to gather as much information as possible about PTSD to determine the root of the cause in your daughter. The more information you have, the more able you will be to provide her with the best course of treatment.

Learn to recognize PTSD episodes – One of the scariest impacts of PTSD on teens is reliving a flashback of the event, in which they feel like they are experiencing the trauma all over again. Knowing what to look for during these episodes can help you understand what is going on, what to expect, and what you can do to help in the moment.

Let them know they are not alone – As many as 16% of girls will experience some sort of PTSD in their lives and it can be helpful to know others have experienced this to help reduce alienation from others. Seeking out a PTSD support group can provide an opportunity to connect with others who have experienced similar situations.

Learn triggers – Many PTSD episodes are triggered by events, images, and sounds that remind teens of the original trauma they experienced. By knowing these triggers, you can help your teens avoid the kinds of situations that might cause a PTSD episode.

If your teen is struggling with childhood trauma and PTSD, a residential program like Solstice East, can provide her the holistic and restorative therapy she needs to heal.

Solstice East can help

Solstice East is a groundbreaking residential treatment center for girls ages 14-17 that specializes in treating trauma. We utilize cutting edge neurological research to help us better understand the impact of trauma on the developing brain and to implement the most effective methods for its treatment. We believe that a holistic approach is an effective way to help young women truly heal from trauma.

Instead of focusing on one specific problem area or issue, we treat the entire person mind, body, and spirit. We believe that evidence based therapeutic techniques such as EMDR, neurofeedback, somatic experiencing, Trauma-Focused Equine Assisted Psychotherapy, Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and gender specific treatment are essential to your daughter’s healing process.For more information about how Solstice East can help, please call 828-484-9946.

what it's like to have high-functioning anxiety

High-Functioning Anxiety in Teens: Warning Signs

High-Functioning Anxiety in Teens: Warning Signs 2560 1700 se_admin

It’s normal for all teens to experience anxiety from time to time when they have substantial events approaching such as a big test, an important soccer game, or a first date. Feeling anxious is a normal reaction to big stressors, but for some teens, anxiety is not just present for big moments, but for all the moments in between as well. For teens who are struggling with high-functioning anxiety, it can negatively impact friendships and family relationships, participation in extracurricular activities, and schoolwork.

Impacts of high-functioning anxiety on teens

Teen anxiety is becoming increasingly common with 25% of 13-18-year-olds experiencing an anxiety disorder.  High functioning anxiety has evolved into a catchall term for people who live with anxiety but are able to function reasonably well in different areas of life. Teens with high functioning anxiety experience a myriad of impacts both mental and physical.

Teens with high-functioning anxiety get really caught up in their own heads and experience excessive fears and worries. Trying to mitigate these worries can lead them to feel restless, hyper-vigilant, and constantly nervous. Teens can also develop a sense of perfectionism to try and keep the anxiety at bay. Socially, anxiety can cause teens to either appear dependent or withdrawn depending on what their fears are.

High-functioning anxiety can also manifest in physical symptoms. Many anxious teens experience muscle tension, stomachaches, headaches, and fatigue. It’s also common for their bodies to flush, blot, sweat, and startle at any anxious trigger.


Warning signs your daughter may be experiencing high-functioning anxiety


With most teens experiencing some form of anxiety occasionally, how can you tell if your daughter is just processing typical teen stress or if they are living with high-functioning anxiety? The following are some warning signs you can look for:

1. Physical changes: Notice if your daughter is complaining of frequent pain that is not normal for her. This could be in the form of headaches, gastrointestinal problems, unexplained aches or pains, or even her saying she doesn’t feel well without any obvious cause.

2. Emotional changes: Be on the lookout for severe emotional alterations such as extreme irritability or unexplained outbursts. Also, notice if she has developed any new or extreme fears that she is constantly worrying about.

3. Social changes: If your daughter used to be a social butterfly, a warning sign of anxiety could be her avoiding social interactions, extracurricular activities, or spending increased time alone.

4. Sleep changes: If your daughter is experiencing significant anxiety, it can change her sleeping patterns, making it more difficult to fall and stay asleep. She can also experience an increase in nightmares and feel like she is still tired after a full night’s sleep.

5. Academic changes: Rather than seeing a decline in grades, anxiety can actually cause a significant jump in grades because your daughter is working so hard at being perfect. However, anxiety can also cause feelings of being overwhelmed by school and difficulty concentrating while studying and doing homework.

If working through constant anxiety becomes too much for your daughter and family to handle, programs like Solstice East can help.

Solstice East can help

Solstice East is a groundbreaking residential treatment center for girls ages 14-17 that specializes in treating teens with anxiety, depression, trauma, loss, and unhealthy behaviors. We support a therapeutic culture where acceptance, change, and growth is recognized and embraced. This approach allows our students to heal and gain the skills and tools necessary to lead a happy, healthy life.

For more information about how Solstice East can help please call 828-484-9946.

Say It Out Loud: Unexpected Anxiety Reduction Technique Reduces Anxiety in Teens

Say It Out Loud: Unexpected Anxiety Reduction Technique Reduces Anxiety in Teens 150 150 se_admin

Sometimes admitting something about yourself out loud instead of keeping it bottled up inside is one of the best first steps to overcoming a struggle. According to researchers, that happens to be the case for anxiety in teens and adults.

According to a recent study published in the journal Psychological Science, putting a label on anxiety and saying out loud what an individual is truly feeling can greatly reduce their fear response.

The more words, the better

The study, lead by Katharina Kicanski of Stanford University,  found that the more words people use associated with fear and other reactions to anxiety, the greater the reduction to anxiety symptoms.

As the line from Harry Potter goes, “fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself.” By saying out loud how people are feeling, they are able to let those fears and anxieties go. This can make people feel instantly less anxious.

An unexpected result

Another interesting aspect of this study is the unexpected results. Participants in the study truly did not expect that speaking about their emotions out loud would have any effect on their overall anxiety.  But it did. How, you might ask? Skin conductance allowed for these results to be seen.

Researchers compared the results of vocalizing and labeling emotions to popular techniques used to help lessen the effects of anxiety in teens and adults. The techniques they used are known as distraction and reappraisal. 

In reappraisal, individuals are instructed to change their thoughts around anxiety. To think about it differently.

During the study, reappraisal was used on a group of people with anxiety towards spiders. Through reappraisal, the individuals were told to use words considered to be “neutral”. For example, one person said “Looking at the spider is not dangerous for me.”

Other individuals were told to speak about their emotions towards the spider. They formed a sentence that included a negative word about the spider and one or two negative words or phrases about their emotional response to the spider.

All participants were exposed to the spiders for varying periods of time and came back one week later for a follow up meeting.

The conclusions

Researchers found that those in the group which used labels to express their emotions towards the spiders had a reduced skin conductance response compared to the groups who experienced distraction and reappraisal. By using words related to their anxiety and fear response, there were greater reductions in overall anxiety in teens and adults studied.

By having a lower skin conductance, those who spoke about their fears and anxieties out loud and labelled them were less fearful of spiders overall.

There have been a variety of studies associated with verbalizing fear and anxiety in teens and adults. Many of these studies have concluded that overall distress is reduced relative to conditions in which anxiety in teens and adults were never expressed verbally or through writing.

So what does this tell us? If you’re feeling anxious, talk about it out loud! It, apparently, can lessen the overall effects.

Solstice East can help your anxious teen

If you have a daughter struggling with anxiety or another emotional or behavioral issue, Solstice East might be able to help. Solstice East is a residential treatment center for teen girls ages 14-17.

For more information about Solstice East, please call (855) 672-7058 today!