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Ask A TFI Clinician: Young Adults & Anxiety

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Stress Meter Showing  Panic Attack From Stress Or WorryAs we continue to commemorate OCD Awareness week, today we look at the unique ways anxiety and anxiety disorders like obsessive compulsive disorder impact young adults.

Today’s insights come from Jennifer Welbel, LPC. Jennifer received her MA in Counseling from The Family Institute at Northwestern University and is currently a Clinical Fellow in the Institute’s Anxiety and Panic Treatment Program. She currently runs the Anxiety Network, a psychoeducational support group at The Family Institute that offers support for young adults (out of high school, ages 18 – mid 30s) who are struggling with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and/or anxiety symptoms.



Young adults are in a natural state of anxiety.

During this transitional life stage, young adults deal with dating, career choices, self-definition and a myriad of other complex issues. Combine these concerns with an anxiety disorder during this already confusing time, and the challenges can be incredibly difficult.

Everyone worries, but excessive worry and anxiety that interferes with your life and impairs your functioning may be a sign of a larger issue, like an anxiety disorder.


Be on the lookout for more serious symptoms.

A large percentage of the population experiences mild symptoms of anxiety, such as occasional panic attacks, worries, and anxiety in novel situations. However, anxiety becomes problematic when:

  1. It is excessive and out of proportion to the situation.
  2. It begins to interfere in one’s social, academic, or occupational functioning.
  3. The anxiety is persistent and lasts much longer than expected.


Age matters.

Anxiety disorders look different at different ages. Key milestones of young adulthood, such as dating and beginning a career, are made more complicated and less enjoyable when  anxiety disorders or OCD are also present. It can be difficult to not let an anxiety disorder define who a young adult is when self-definition is such an important part of this life stage.

That’s why the support group I facilitate at The Family Institute is geared toward young adults. Most anxiety and OCD support groups tend to group everyone together. The fact that the Anxiety Network is geared toward young adults living with OCD and/or anxiety disorders creates a common ground — the group discusses issues specific to young adulthood, such as friendships, dealing with parents, roommates and employment issues, as well as issues specific to OCD and/or anxiety disorders, such as how to manage symptoms, medication concerns, and brainstorming coping strategies.


It’s important to break through the isolation.

Anxiety disorders can be isolating. Support, like through a group like The Family Institute’s Anxiety Network, helps break through that isolation. Young adults in our group self-assign homework and determine what topics they’d like to go over that day — things like problem-solving anxiety-provoking situations, brainstorming exposure ideas for the week, or discussing the stigma that sometimes comes with OCD and/or anxiety disorders — all while interacting and eating pizza. I facilitate the discussion, but I really want participants to lean on each other and learn from one another.

Group therapy like the Anxiety Network makes a great adjunct to individual therapy because it allows participants to brainstorm, bounce ideas off each other, and to get some emotional support if they get ‘stuck’ on a tough individual therapy homework practice. Many, but not all participants have had some form of exposure therapy that they are interested in continuing for themselves and helping interested members with



The Anxiety Network meets in downtown Chicago (8 S. Michigan Avenue, Suite 500) every other Monday from 6:00 – 7:30 p.m., and is $30 per session. Advanced registration is required; please see our website for more information.

Jennifer Welbel is a Clinical Fellow at The Family Institute where she specializes in using cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and exposure therapies (ERP) to treat children, adolescents, and adults with obsessive-compulsive and related disorders, such as trichotillomania and hoarding, anxiety (e.g., social anxiety, school refusal, panic disorder, agoraphobia, generalized anxiety, and driving phobia), and depression.

To read Jennifer’s full bio or to make an appointment, visit our website.


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