Positive Perception May Lessen Teen Anxiety

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.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Stan


    July 14th, 2011 at 3:34 PM

    A big part of this comes from the home and the bahvior that they see modeled while at home. You know, if they are raised in a home where there is always a lot of negativity then that is what they are going to grwo up believing is the way to react in certain situations, no, every situation. So this goes beyond teaching the teens to be positive. This has to be something that an entire family can get on board with too.

  • curtley


    July 15th, 2011 at 5:14 AM

    negative perception and thinking can really bog a person down and ruin things.on the other hand,positive thinking can turn things around and can even influence others around you,thereby benefitting you on most occasions.

    all of us know this but the trick is to maintain a positive perception at the required time and in the right situation.this is where most people fail but a little talking to and convincing yourself will do the trick.it definitely does for me.

  • ian bell

    ian bell

    July 15th, 2011 at 11:47 AM

    @Stan:You hit the bull’s eye, bro.It’s not for nothing that they say kids do what they see and experience.Parents play an important role.Because they are teaching kids a lot of things all the time,whether knowingly or unknowingly.

  • Antonio Gardiner

    Antonio Gardiner

    July 15th, 2011 at 6:59 PM

    Humans by their nature want to be praised for their achievements, and teenagers more than others are pressured to do well. Giving them some praise for managing to achieve what they accomplish is very good for their self-esteem. So when your teen does a good thing, make sure you acknowledge it and let them know you’re pleased, even if you expected nothing less.

  • S.M. Phelps

    S.M. Phelps

    July 15th, 2011 at 7:42 PM

    Positive reinforcement helps them develop self-confidence as does teaching them positive thinking. It’s so easy to get on a train of thought and not deviate from that. We want our kids to be standing on the positivity platform, not the negativity one.

    Be a good example to them and don’t be complaining all the time. Show them how to look on the bright side of life.

  • glenda lyle

    glenda lyle

    July 15th, 2011 at 7:59 PM

    Was praising them listed on that recent article about combating teen depression with a structured lifestyle? I know I feel a weight lifting off my shoulders if I’m told I’m doing a good job and it’s noted I’m working hard for my boss, because I know in my heart I’m doing something right and it feels good when they can see that.

  • Naomi Reed

    Naomi Reed

    July 17th, 2011 at 4:13 PM

    @glenda: I looked through it and it doesn’t, unfortunately. Depression has a strong impact on your sense of well-being. If parents were to be nicer to their children generally instead of pointing out every single flaw possible, perhaps they wouldn’t have so many things to be upset about.

  • Ellis U.

    Ellis U.

    July 17th, 2011 at 4:39 PM

    Constantly criticizing your kids can cause them to develop an inferiority complex that will stick with them for the rest of their lives.

    I know a man that gets ridiculously offended if he feels you think you can take him for a fool because of how his dad acted towards him.

  • Geraldine Brown

    Geraldine Brown

    July 17th, 2011 at 6:10 PM

    If everyone, not just parents, was nice to everyone else there would be less problems in the world. Sadly this is not the case because too many are too busy chasing success and material gains to think about who they are trampling on in the process.

    Keeping a good attitude in the face of such a greedy world is a real skill.

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