Anxiety, Depression and Physical Health in Adolescents – What’s the connection?

Anxiety, Depression and Physical Health in Adolescence - What’s the connection?

With research finding ever-increasing evidence in support of the mind-body connection, there is no doubt that our mental functioning affects our physical health, and vice versa. The connection is a powerful one, and science is on well on its way to uncovering more of the detail. 

New research from Switzerland and Germany has found that in children and adolescents, certain physical diseases will be more likely to follow anxiety or depression. Similarly, particular mental health conditions happen more frequently following particular physical illnesses. 

Researchers have identified that depression tends to affect the stomach, while anxiety is more likely to affect the skin. Specifically, arthritis and diseases of the digestive system happen more frequently following depression or bipolar disorder, and skin diseases (such as atopic dermatitis) are more likely after anxiety. 

Researchers also found a strong association between epilepsy and subsequent eating disorders (including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder).

‘For the first time, we have established that epilepsy is followed by an increased risk of eating disorders – a phenomenon that had previously been described only in single case reports. This suggests that approaches to epilepsy treatment could also have potential in the context of eating disorders.’ Marion Tegethoff, lead author. 

This research is the first to explore the connection between these symptoms in adolescents, however previous research has found a similar relationship between in adults. Research involving adults has found that in people who have depression and arthritis, relieving the symptoms of depression also decreases the pain of arthritis. Similarly, people who have anxiety and atopic dermatitis report an improvement in their skin when they receive therapy for their anxiety.

In relation to the connection between eating disorders and epilepsy, the study refers to two earlier research studies, both with very small samples sizes, which have found some evidence to suggest that the connection might be because of the parts of the brain involved. When epilepsy arises from the right hemisphere, lesions in a part of the brain that has a close relationship with the limbic system may influence the development of eating disorders. At this stage, more research is needed, but it is a promising pathway for future research and possible treatment options.

The promise of this research is in widening the treatment options available to strengthen physical and mental health during adolescence. If we know there is a specific connection between certain symptoms, there is mounting evidence to suggest that treating one set of symptoms, has great potential to improve the other connected symptoms.

And finally …

Even with the strongest support, the greatest love, and the most committed and engaged parents in the world, many teens, probably all of them, will still struggle from to time. Adolescence will present itself with certain challenges to all teens. That’s the whole point of adolescence – it’s the time for them to stretch and push right up against their edges, to discover who they are, where they fit in, and how they will leave their very important mark on the world. All of our teens have it in them to be happy, thriving adults, but it’s not always easy to know exactly what they need to get there. Protecting their mental health is critical. We’ve always known that, but with our increasing wisdom on the mind-body connection, there is no doubt that when we guide and support them to stronger mental health, we are helping to strengthen them in mind, body and spirit.

7 Comments

IBikeNYC

May I assume that “eating disorders” refers ONLY to eating too little as opposed to eating too much?

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Chrissy

My understanding (and experience as a parent) of an eating disorder is that it’s all about having a wrong relationship with food; whether it’s depriving or indulging, both are symptoms of a food obsession and a food fear at the same time. A right relationship with food is what we all want; one that brings ‘disorder’ into order, so that freedom can be found in a renewed way of thinking. It’s not impossible. But it takes time, love, patience and faith!

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

Yes – when this research talks about eating disorders, it is specifically talking about when those eating disorders co-occur with epilepsy. In those cases, there might be a common area of the brain contributing to the symptoms. Similarly, in instances where a teen has anxiety and skin problems, or depression and digestive problems, or eating disorders and epilepsy, it may be that they are somehow related. It doesn’t mean there will always be digestive disorders with depression, or skin problems with anxiety, or epilepsy with eating disorders, but when there is, it may be that treating one set of symptoms (as in the physical symptoms or the symptoms related to the anxiety, depression or epilepsy), may see an improvement in the other set of symptoms. It’s an interesting area of research because of the treatment options that open up when there are co-occuring symptoms, and also because of what it might mean about the possible causes of various symptoms.

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

Good question. The eating disorders part of the research included anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. I’ve amended the article to show this. Hope that clears things up.

Reply
No

Adolescents…adolescents…as theycontinue to wreck havoc and be wrecked havoc upon…some things never change…puzzling, why?

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

Ahhh yes – it’s all about what’s happening in their brains! Adolescence is a time of massive brain changes. Everything they do and everything they go through can generally be explained by these changes. It’s all part of their development towards being happy, healthy adults. Here is an article that explains it, and will hopefully make even their most confusing behaviour easier to understand https://www.heysigmund.com/what-you-need-to-know-about-the-adolescent-brai/.

Reply
Kristi

My 15 year old daughter suffers from JIA (Juvenile arthritis) and right along with it came depression and anxiety. She now sees a therapist that specializes in chronic disease management, medication administration and anxiety, and depression. She has seen decreased pain levels, better confidence in herself and future (self-efficacy) and an overall better outlook. Getting help was the smartest thing we ever did.

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During adolescence, our teens are more likely to pay attention to the positives of a situation over the negatives. This can be a great thing. The courage that comes from this will help them try new things, explore their independence, and learn the things they need to learn to be happy, healthy adults. But it can also land them in bucketloads of trouble. 

Here’s the thing. Our teens don’t want to do the wrong thing and they don’t want to go behind our backs, but they also don’t want to be controlled by us, or have any sense that we might be stifling their way towards independence. The cold truth of it all is that if they want something badly enough, and if they feel as though we are intruding or that we are making arbitrary decisions just because we can, or that we don’t get how important something is to them, they have the will, the smarts and the means to do it with or without or approval. 

So what do we do? Of course we don’t want to say ‘yes’ to everything, so our job becomes one of influence over control. To keep them as safe as we can, rather than saying ‘no’ (which they might ignore anyway) we want to engage their prefrontal cortex (thinking brain) so they can be more considered in their decision making. 

Our teens are very capable of making good decisions, but because the rational, logical, thinking prefrontal cortex won’t be fully online until their 20s (closer to 30 in boys), we need to wake it up and bring it to the decision party whenever we can. 

Do this by first softening the landing:
‘I can see how important this is for you. You really want to be with your friends. I absolutely get that.’
Then, gently bring that thinking brain to the table:
‘It sounds as though there’s so much to love in this for you. I don’t want to get in your way but I need to know you’ve thought about the risks and planned for them. What are some things that could go wrong?’
Then, we really make the prefrontal cortex kick up a gear by engaging its problem solving capacities:
‘What’s the plan if that happens.’
Remember, during adolescence we switch from managers to consultants. Assume a leadership presence, but in a way that is warm, loving, and collaborative.♥️
Big feelings and big behaviour are a call for us to come closer. They won’t always feel like that, but they are. Not ‘closer’ in an intrusive ‘I need you to stop this’ way, but closer in a ‘I’ve got you, I can handle all of you’ kind of way - no judgement, no need for you to be different - I’m just going to make space for this feeling to find its way through. 

Our kids and teens are no different to us. When we have feelings that fill us to overloaded, the last thing we need is someone telling us that it’s not the way to behave, or to calm down, or that we’re unbearable when we’re like this. Nup. What we need, and what they need, is a safe place to find our out breath, to let the energy connected to that feeling move through us and out of us so we can rest. 
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But how? First, don’t take big feelings personally. They aren’t a reflection on you, your parenting, or your child. Big feelings have wisdom contained in them about what’s needed more, or less, or what feels intolerable right now. Sometimes it might be as basic as a sleep or food. Maybe more power, influence, independence, or connection with you. Maybe there’s too much stress and it’s hitting their ceiling and ricocheting off their edges. Like all wisdom, it doesn’t always find a gentle way through. That’s okay, that will come. Our kids can’t learn to manage big feelings, or respect the wisdom embodied in those big feelings if they don’t have experience with big feelings. 
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We also need to make sure we are responding to them in the moment, not a fear or an inherited ‘should’ of our own. These are the messages we swallowed whole at some point - ‘happy kids should never get sad or angry’, ‘kids should always behave,’ ‘I should be able to protect my kids from feeling bad,’ ‘big feelings are bad feelings’, ‘bad behaviour means bad kids, which means bad parents.’ All these shoulds are feisty show ponies that assume more ‘rightness’ than they deserve. They are usually historic, and when we really examine them, they’re also irrelevant.
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Finally, try not to let the symptoms of big feelings disrupt the connection. Then, when calm comes, we will have the influence we need for the conversations that matter.
"Be patient. We don’t know what we want to do or who we want to be. That feels really bad sometimes. Just keep reminding us that it’s okay that we don’t have it all figured out yet, and maybe remind yourself sometimes too."
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 #parentingteens #neurodevelopment #positiveparenting #parenting #neuronurtured #braindevelopment #adolescence  #neurodevelopment #parentingteens
Would you be more likely to take advice from someone who listened to you first, or someone who insisted they knew best and worked hard to convince you? Our teens are just like us. If we want them to consider our advice and be open to our influence, making sure they feel heard is so important. Being right doesn't count for much at all if we aren't being heard.
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Hear what they think, what they want, why they think they're right, and why it’s important to them. Sometimes we'll want to change our mind, and sometimes we'll want to stand firm. When they feel fully heard, it’s more likely that they’ll be able to trust that our decisions or advice are given fully informed and with all of their needs considered. And we all need that.
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 #positiveparenting #parenting #parenthood #neuronurtured #childdevelopment #adolescence 
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"We’re pretty sure that when you say no to something it’s because you don’t understand why it’s so important to us. Of course you’ll need to say 'no' sometimes, and if you do, let us know that you understand the importance of whatever it is we’re asking for. It will make your ‘no’ much easier to accept. We need to know that you get it. Listen to what we have to say and ask questions to understand, not to prove us wrong. We’re not trying to control you or manipulate you. Some things might not seem important to you but if we’re asking, they’re really important to us.❤️" 
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#neurodevelopment #neuronurtured #childdevelopment #parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting

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