Hayden had officially been in high school for 4 months. Back in August right after being diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Hayden spent a few weeks trying to wrap his head around it. It was hard for him to understand that something happening with his mental health would affect his physical body so much. He took Dr. Reynold’s advice and tried to talk with his friends and family more when he was feeling anxious. Over the course of the last few months, Hayden began to try and target what exactly caused his anxiety. Were there specific environments? Times of the day? Things people said? He quickly realized that a lot of his anxiety was triggered when he was experiencing change in his life or starting something new. Hayden’s mother recalled that even when he was very young, he liked stability and order to things. Even small changes would make him upset, so she wasn’t surprised to hear about his diagnosis.
The initial transition into starting school for the first time wasn’t as scary as Hayden thought it would be, but it still caused him a lot of anxiety. He had been taking his medication for only one week at that point, so he wasn’t sure if he’d feel any better. He ended up getting lost in the science wing of the school, where he started to panic. He could feel his hands getting sweaty, his heart racing-- all while trying to make it to biology in time. Luckily, another student could tell that he seemed alarmed and walked him to where he needed to go. Slowly but surely, Hayden began to understand that even though he felt like it sometimes, he wasn’t going to just suddenly die when he felt panicky. He was able to understand his anxiety better, take his medication everyday, and continue to see Dr. Reynolds every Thursday evening.
It was late November now, only days until he would be on Thanksgiving break with his family. Over the course of the last few months, Hayden switched to a new medication since his first one wasn’t working. Dr. Reynolds said that it was totally normal, most people have to try different kinds of anxiety medications before they find the right fit for them. Hayden didn’t end up joining the swim team, but instead tried playing in the band. At first it was scary since he didn’t like the change, but slowly he learned that he was actually really good at playing the trumpet. Hayden spends his days now either hanging out with friends after school, going to band practice, and still watching Netflix every once in a while. Talking with his friends, family, and Dr. Reynolds got easier and easier over time. He knows that his anxiety will never fully go away, but Hayden feels much more comfortable with his diagnosis today.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is very common among teens today. Over 50 million people of all ages struggle with anxiety related disorders. Among other types of mental health related illnesses, it is also common for those with GAD to experience other disorders including things like headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic pain, sleep disorders, and many more. Anxiety presents itself in a very physical way, as Hayden began to understand, which can initially confuse patients, who might seek treatment for a physical illness before realizing that it is actually anxiety. GAD among people ages 13-18 when untreated has the ability to affect academic performance and can interfere with important social interactions that help students grow and learn during their time in school.
An important way to help combat anxiety, other than taking medication or seeking professional treatment by a psychologist, comes from creating “safe spaces”. Safe spaces are places, activities, people, etc. that those with GAD can turn to when they are feeling oncoming anxiety or panic attacks. The first thing to consider when understanding your safe space is looking at healthy vs. unhealthy coping mechanisms. For example, an unhealthy coping mechanism would be something like not eating or eating too much, not sleeping or sleeping too much, turning to alcohol or substances, isolating yourself, etc. Those would be considered “unsafe spaces”, where mental health related illnesses like GAD will only continue to persist. Safe spaces are different for everyone and can change over time. Some examples include: a sport or hobby, talking with a parents, sibling, or friend that can alleviate stress, listening to music, watching a tv show, playing with a pet, etc. These are only a few examples in which mental health related illnesses like GAD are de-escalated. What are your safe spaces?
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Hayden with Friends and Trumpet