The Boys' Growing Up in the Lord

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Question

Does puberty cause anxiety? I have severe anxiety/social anxiety and minor things can make me extremely nervous and even when I think about it rationally, and I realize that what I'm doing is stupid, I can't just do the thing I'm supposed to do because of anxiety kicking in. Is it OK to take anxiety meds and stuff, even though I'm going through puberty? Will my anxiety go away after I reach stage 4 or 5? When I was younger, I wasn't nearly as anxious, and nothing really bad happened to cause my anxiety, I'm just really afraid of people. I can't ask the cashier where something is at or ask the price of an item, it makes me extremely anxious.


Answer

At the root of most fears, and anxiety is a response to stress due to fear, is a fear of the unknown. When we don't know what to expect or how we should react, our fears kick in. Everyone experiences these fears, even those who we often call courageous. The difference is that the courageous learn to do what needs to be done despite their fears. The fearful allow their fears to lock them into doing nothing.

It isn't unusual for anxiety problem to come to the surface during puberty. One is that sexual feelings are brand new and it is difficult to know how to handle something you never experienced before. Another comes from the fact that during puberty your brain is rewiring itself from child-like thinking to adult-like thinking. A side effect of these changes is that you have more difficulty reading other people's body language and facial expressions. The tendency is to attribute stronger emotions that the person is really expressing. Because of this, you tend to overreact to other people, which isn't good for communication.

One recent study found that the hormone that normally calms the nerves when they are overload, such as during anxiety, actually works differently in the adolescent brain. Instead of calming, it keeps the overload going [https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/hormone-reverses-in-puberty-causing-anxiety/]. Thus, if that is your particular problem, then it will go away as you get older. But what you have to be particularly careful is not to try to self-medicate by using alcohol or drugs. These drugs interfere with the process and will likely keep you anxious. Some, like marijuana, increases anxiety as the chemical leaves the body, which causes a cycle of addiction.

Anxiety medications dampen your emotional response. If they are extreme, they can help keep your emotions from getting out of control while you learn to have proper responses. Without that training the medications only put off the problem, not solving them, so that if you go off them, it will still be waiting for you. In general, anxiety medications do not interfere with puberty, but you would need to lead the literature for a specific drug to see what possible side-effects it might have.