Teens and OCD – Overcoming Fear

Teenagers of various backgrounds in Oslo, Norw...

I think most people who have spent a lot of time around teenagers would agree they often think and reason differently than adults. Their brains are still developing.

But did you know that it is harder for teens to learn to overcome fear than it is for children and adults?  In this easy-to-understand article on a study conducted at Weill Cornell Medical College, researchers determined that once a teenager’s brain perceives a threat, his or her emotional response remains high even once the threat has been diminished or removed. Teens do not appear to have the same ability as children and adults to suppress their emotional response.

Wow!  As the researchers mention, this finding may help explain the surge in anxiety and stress-related disorders during adolescence; there is a physiological reason why teenagers do not handle stress well. In relation to obsessive-compulsive disorder, I think this information is invaluable. The first thing that comes to my mind is how hard Exposure Response Prevention (ERP) Therapy might be for adolescents. This therapy, by its very nature, is anxiety provoking, and now given this new information, it is easy to understand why teens may have an even more difficult time with it. While we know how beneficial it is to receive treatment for OCD as early as possible, we now have another reason why this is so important: children can overcome fear easier than teenagers. Additionally, if an adolescent is having an exceptionally tough time with ERP Therapy, there is reason to hope for more success as he or she enters adulthood and is better able to conquer fear. I’m interested in hearing if these assumptions ring true to those of you who suffer from OCD.

Researchers have a lot more to explore about the fear response in humans. How does it relate to the plasticity of the brain? How much are genetics involved? Specifically for OCD, how can treatment be modified so that teens can have more success? This study raises a lot of questions. Hopefully more research will find the answers.

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6 Responses to Teens and OCD – Overcoming Fear

  1. This is very interesting information. It surprised me that children have a relatively easier time with fear than adolescents. I remember having symptoms of OCD in my preteen years, but I really started having the intense anxiety when I was about 11-12, as I moved into adolescence. Thanks for sharing this research. I hope good things come of the information they’re learning!

    • ocdtalk says:

      While children can be fearful, they do appear to “get over it” quicker than adolescents, at least in this study. I agree with you, Tina……I hope good things can come from these discoveries.

  2. 71º & Sunny says:

    Well, once again, Janet, you taught me something! I had no idea about this. I do recall that my OCD really started to manifest itself when I was 18 and going through a stressful time. It abated a while after that (until it hit again in my late 20’s) but my symptoms were noticeable for the first time to others when it hit in my late teens.

  3. ocdtalk says:

    This study was news to me too, Sunny, and I found it really interesting……I’m sure it’s not true for everyone, but hopefully this info will shed some additional light on treating teens with OCD.

  4. Abbi says:

    Hi interesting article! I’m 16 years old and I think I might have mild OCD. I have an “obsession” with having things on even numbers and deleting my texts, call history, and browsing history often. I tell myself that it makes me feel more organized and orderly but I’m not sure if that’s the reason. I try to ignore these compulsions and sometimes it works but often I feel bothered.Would you recommend seeking any type of treatment?

    • ocdtalk says:

      Hi Abbi, Thanks for writing. I’m not a therapist, but I always feel it’s better not to ignore anything you think might be a problem. If you do have OCD, it is a lot easier to treat when it is mild than to wait until things really get out of hand. Maybe talk with your pediatrician about what he or she would recommend? Remember, if you do see a therapist, you want someone who specializes in treating OCD through Exposure Response Prevention Therapy. Good luck!

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