One minute she’s happily giggling with friends, and the next she’s locked up in her bedroom afraid that nobody likes her. Hormonal fluctuations during the teenage years can lead to mood swings and bouts of anxiety. And while teens of any gender can experience the irritability, sadness, withdrawal, and avoidance provoked by these fluctuations, research shows that teenage girls are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with a mood disorder as boys, with the prevalence at adult levels, around 14 to 20 percent.1 Let’s dive into the research to find out why.
Navigating Teenage Emotions: Hormonal Changes & Mood Swings
According to the Mayo Clinic, it’s not unusual for teens’ moods to shift rapidly and for their emotional responses to be strong.2 This is partly the result of developmental changes in brain activity, leading teens to have heightened interpretations of what’s happening around them. It’s also due to the fluctuations in hormones that accompany adolescence, specifically testosterone, estrogen,and progesterone. These sex hormones affect both the limbic system and the raphe nucleus, thus impacting serotonin levels, which is important for mood regulation.3 In fact, an imbalance in serotonin is thought to play a role in depression, anxiety, mania, and other health conditions. Teens are also vulnerable to developing social anxiety disorder due to amygdala activation during adolescence.4
Signs & Symptoms of Anxiety in Teenage Girls
It’s normal for your teenage girl to feel anxious from time to time, especially during stressful events or when she’s expecting her period. In addition to the common physical symptoms of PMS, such as bloating and fatigue, teenage girls also experience emotional symptoms like depression, crying spells, and increased anxiety.5 This can be worse for girls with premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), in which these symptoms are more severe and disabling at times.6
Whether it’s caused by hormonal fluctuations, PMS, or a mood disorder, here is what anxiety may look like in your teenage girl:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Sensitivity to criticism
- Unexplained outbursts
- Physical complaints like upset stomach or headaches
- Low grades or school avoidance
- Repeated reassurance-seeking
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Changes in eating habits
Differentiating Hormonal Mood Swings from Anxiety
While it’s true that hormonal fluctuations are a major contributor to teenage anxiety, in some cases your teen may actually be struggling with an anxiety disorder. Here are some signs that your teen’s anxiety is becoming a more serious problem:
- Withdrawing from usual peer group
- Loss of interest in activities she usually enjoys
- Loss of appetite
- Substantial drop in grades
- Suicidal ideation
- Substance use
- Excessive anger or violent behaviors
Impact of Hormonal Changes on Mental Health
Teenagers are especially vulnerable to developing mental health disorders. When paired with external stressors (peer pressure, worries about the future, academics, etc.), hormonal imbalances can alter the brain's functionality. In addition to fluctuations in sex hormones, adrenal hormones like cortisol and adrenaline can also run haywire, especially if your teen is subjected to chronic stress and has not learned healthy coping mechanisms for this stress or they have a family history of anxiety. Monitoring your teen and seeking intervention if you recognize abnormal behavior are crucial steps you can take to getting your teenage daughter the help she needs if she is struggling with a more serious anxiety disorder.
Recognizing when Anxiety Requires Intervention
If you believe your teen is suffering from an anxiety disorder or other mood disorder, or if you notice their anxiety lasts longer than six months and interferes with their daily life, it may be time to seek outside help. Her doctor or teacher will be able to recommend a child and adolescent psychiatrist, therapist, or other professional specializing in treating adolescents.
Treatment for an anxiety disorder typically begins with a medical evaluation of symptoms and a discussion about life at home and school. Parents should be involved in this process, as well as the teenager. You may also want to gather information from your teen’s teacher to see if their academic performance has been impacted.
The doctor will also rule out any underlying physical illnesses or diseases that could be causing the anxiety symptoms. They will also consider other genetic factors that might make the teen more susceptible to anxiety or other mood disorders.
Supportive Strategies for Teenage Girls
Whether your teenage daughter is dealing with an anxiety disorder or occasional mood swings due to hormonal fluctuations or PMS, there are a number of strategies you can use to support her. These include:
- Following a healthy diet at home with plenty of lean meats, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats to avoid drops in blood sugar which can make anxiety worse.
- Limiting screen time, which is also known to exacerbate anxiety, especially excessive social media use.
- Ensuring she is getting adequate sleep, which is around eight to ten hours.
- Practicing mindfulness as a family, which can be as simple as going for an after-dinner walk or letting her use a meditation app.
- Encouraging a regular exercise routine to boost endorphins and maintain healthy sleep patterns.
Seeking outside help if they need more support.
Seeking Professional Help: Therapy & Medication
Combining talk therapy with medication can be more effective than either treatment alone. This is especially true if you pursue cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which is a type of psychotherapy that involves identifying and challenging negative thoughts one holds about the self and the world around them to alter problematic behavioral and thought patterns.
While antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication are typically first-line treatments, these drugs can also cause a range of undesirable side effects such as nausea, headache, diarrhea, dry mouth, fatigue, weight changes, and dependency.
An alternative to prescription medications is Brillia, a clinically-proven homeopathic medication specifically targeted to reduce anxiety, stress, restlessness, and irritability in kids and teens aged 5 to 18. Brillia uses antibodies to the S100B protein, which is an important regulator of various different intracellular and extracellular brain processes, including communication between neurons. This protein has been found to instigate symptoms of anxiety and depression when it is out of balance in the body. Brillia helps to stabilize this protein with such specificity that it will not cause any harmful side effects or affect any other systems in the body. Also, as a result of the regulating effect of Brillia, the level of monoamines (dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin) in different parts of the brain normalizes, leading to a more balanced mood. Brillia will not make your teen drowsy, affect their appetite, or lead to any other harsh side effects associated with most prescription medications. However, if your teen is already taking a prescription medication or supplement, Brillia can be added to their regimen without worry because there are no contraindications.
Empowering Teenagers by Building Resilience & Emotional Well-Being
Whether you choose to pursue therapy, medication, or to simply monitor your teen as they ride the rollercoaster of adolescence, it’s important to view this time as a learning opportunity for them and for you. Stepping in and offering assistance is just as important as giving your teen the space they need to build resilience. Be sure to tend to your own emotional needs, knowing that your teen will likely mirror how you cope with your own stress. And, lastly, know that the teenage years are just as fleeting as those ancient diaper days. This too shall pass.
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