Approximately 10 to 15 percent of teenagers experience anxiety issues. But a new study hopes to be able to offer options for treating this problem. Researchers at Oxford University believe that teaching teens to perceive situations in a positive way could prevent and lessen the symptoms of anxiety. The technique of shifting their view of an ambiguous situation is called ‘cognitive bias modification of interpretations’ or CBM-I. Lead researcher from the Department of Experimental Psychology at Oxford University, Dr. Jennifer Lau, says, “It’s thought that some people may tend to draw negative interpretations of ambiguous situations. For example, I might wave at someone I recently met on the other side of the street. If they don’t wave back, I might think they didn’t remember me – or alternatively, I might think they’re snubbing me.” She adds, “These negative thoughts are believed to drive and maintain their feelings of low mood and anxiety. If you can change that negative style of thinking, perhaps you can change mood in anxious teenagers.”
Depression and anxiety often first appear during the teen years, and new approaches are needed to address these issues in this group. “Of course it’s normal for teenagers to be worried about exams, friends, social acceptance, and about the future generally,” Dr. Lau says. “But anxiety can become a problem when it becomes persistent or is out of proportion to the situation.” The researchers trained thirty-six teens without anxiety to respond either positively or negatively to neutral situations. They found that those who were trained to respond positively were more likely to assess the situations from a positive perspective leading to better moods than the teens who were trained negatively. Dr. Lau knows these results are limited, but says, “If we are able to intervene early and effectively in teenagers with anxiety, we may be able to prevent later adult problems.”
© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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