What is the relationship between anxiety and the teenage brain?

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kipling2448 | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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The teenage body is a work in progress.  It is still developing in every way, including the brain.  The teenage brain is continuing to develop into the form it will take upon adulthood.  While there are many causes of anxiety among children and adults alike, the chemical or hormonal balance in the brain and in the circulatory, digestive and neurological systems as a whole can all result in the development of anxiety disorders.  Teenage depression and anxiety – and the two often, but not always, go together – is a product of both environmental and physiological factors.  Passage through the teen years involves social transitions that can be difficult for many young people.  When coupled with the hormonal changes that occur during the teenage years, the combination can be fatal. 

Modern imaging technology, mainly the development of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology, has enabled researchers to study the human brain in more depth than ever before.  Applied to teens, the application of this imaging technology has illuminated the scale of transformation that occurs during the teenage years.  Physical changes to the brain that occur between the ages of 12 and 20 are substantial and include changes to the “gray matter” at the cortex of the brain, the part of the brain responsible for thought and memory.  Radical transformations in the cortex that occur during this period of life directly affects how teens process information and respond to external stimuli.  Results of brain scans of individuals in that age group have led researchers to conclude that the brain does not reach full maturation until the age of 20.  In other words, much change to the development of the human brain in terms of how information is processed and thoughts occur takes place precisely during the teen years.  The connections between brain cells and neurons are called synapses, and these synapses, which provide the lines of communication for the brain, are developmentally dynamic throughout childhood, but are particularly important in the brain’s development during the years in question, and provide a clue as to emotional development during the teen years.

The relationship of anxiety to the teenage brain is directly connected to the physical transformations that are occurring during this period of life.  Combined with external factors, including peer relationships and thoughts about the future, the life of the average of teenager holds the potential for considerable anxiety, which is why teen drug and alcohol abuse and suicide remain serious problems.

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