Treatment For Anxiety In Teens: How Wilderness Therapy Can Help

What Is Anxiety And How Common Is It Among Teens?

Anxiety is a feeling of worry, fear, or unease, usually about a future event or something with an uncertain outcome. Stress and anxiety are both feelings that anyone can experience from time to time. As an adult, anxiety can be a response to stressful situations like a work project deadline or financial planning, for example. For teens and adolescents, occasional anxiety can arise in response to common stressors such as managing academic pressures, extracurricular activities, and family and peer relationships

However, occasional mild anxiety becomes more of a concern when it transforms into a frequent, excessive, and unmanageable anxiety disorder.

An anxiety disorder is a mental health diagnosis defined as an excessive apprehensiveness about real or perceived threats, typically leading to avoidance behaviors — for teens, this could mean school refusal or self-isolation. People with an anxiety disorder also often experience physical symptoms such as increased heart rate, dizziness, stomachache, and muscle tension.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorder in the United States, affecting an average of 31.1% of U.S. adults and an estimated 31.9% of U.S. adolescents (ages 13-18).

Types of anxiety disorders include General Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD), and Panic Disorder, among others. SAD, defined by the National Institute of Mental Health as “an intense, persistent fear of being watched and judged by others” or “the fear of social situations”, typically sets in around the age of 13. According to a study released in 2007 by the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, 36% of people diagnosed with SAD in the U.S. have reported experiencing symptoms for 10 or more years before choosing to seek treatment.

Considering that adolescent anxiety is extremely prevalent, with GAD and SAD symptoms beginning as early as 13 years old, the need for high-quality, individualized, trauma-informed treatment options is huge. The wilderness and adventure therapy adolescent and teen programs at Trails Carolina are evidence-backed options with proven long-term success rates.

What Are The Most Effective Methods Of Treatment For Anxiety In Teens?

Talk Therapy

Talk therapy also referred to as psychotherapy, is the therapeutic process of discussing your challenges with a certified and licensed mental health professional (often a therapist or clinical social worker) as a way to receive counseling and treatment for mental, emotional, personality, and behavioral disorders.

Talk therapy is an umbrella term that can include other treatment practices and techniques such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), among others. Many teens who struggle with an anxiety disorder can benefit greatly from working with a primary therapist who specializes in any of these modalities.

How Does Trails Use Talk Therapy To Treat Anxiety In Teens?

At Trails, our students work with a team of therapists who specialize in using CBT, Exposure Therapy, EMDR, ACT, and DBT to treat adolescent and teen anxiety. Additionally, we believe that “trauma-informed care” is much more than a buzzword. All of our therapists receive comprehensive, up-to-date training on the most effective and ethical therapeutic techniques designed to support and treat adolescents and teens dealing with trauma, anxiety, and diagnosed anxiety disorders.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

CBT teaches people alternate ways of thinking, behaving, and reacting to situations that help reduce anxiety, fear, and persistent negative thoughts or “worst-case scenario” thinking. Learn More

Exposure Therapy

A method of CBT that focuses on confronting the underlying fear(s) of a person’s anxiety disorder in an emotionally and physically safe environment. Learn More

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

ACT uses mindfulness, self-awareness, goal setting, and actionable tasks to approach negative thinking and anxiety-based discomfort. Learn More

Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing

EMDR is a trauma-informed therapy method used to treat mental health disorders such as PTSD and various Anxiety Disorders that stem from or have been made worse by a traumatic experience. This is a multi-step process with a therapist which involves assessment, desensitization and reprocessing of a traumatic experience, installation/integration of a positive belief into this memory, body scanning, and closure and stabilization. Learn More

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy

Based on CBT, DBT has been adapted for those who experience emotions particularly intensely by using strategies such as mindfulness, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness, and emotional regulation. Learn More

Support Groups

One-on-one therapy with a primary therapist can be extremely beneficial when it comes to managing your teen’s anxiety. It can help teens understand the root fears associated with their anxiety, process anxiety-related trauma, and develop a toolbox of healthy coping skills and anxiety-reducing strategies.

Many people with anxiety disorders can also benefit from attending group therapy sessions or joining a support group with others who are learning to manage their own anxiety. Group therapy sessions are generally facilitated by a licensed therapist, while support groups or self-help groups for teens may be facilitated by a mentor who has knowledge of anxiety and group facilitation, but who might not be a licensed professional.

How Does Trails Use Support Groups To Treat Anxiety In Teens?

At Trails, we understand and wholeheartedly believe in the importance of interpersonal relationships. That’s why our adolescent and teen programs are based on family systems and relational therapeutic approaches. Many of our students feel anxious in social situations and struggle with navigating peer friendships when they first arrive on our campus, so from the moment they arrive we start helping them develop healthy ways to communicate, self-advocate, and form relationships.

We group our students by age and gender because we believe that segmenting groups by age and gender allows our team of mental health professionals, wilderness and adventure camp field instructors, and accredited education consultants to provide more focused and effective personalized care to each student. Additionally, evidence shows that using segmented peer groups helps students learn to build positive relationships among their own peers. These peer groups act as support groups for our students as they engage in team-building activities and group therapy sessions.

By organizing students by age and gender in our segmented peer groups and providing safe opportunities for them to share their challenges and achievements with each other, our students develop a sense of belonging and confidence that they can carry with them through in their everyday life after Trails.

Stress Management Techniques

Since anxiety often involves physical symptoms and can impact physical health, stress management techniques that integrate the mind and the body such as exercise, yoga, mindfulness, breathing techniques, and meditation can help reduce the impact of teen anxiety.

How Does Trails Use Stress Management Techniques To Treat Anxiety In Teens?

As an adventure therapy program, Trails Carolina has unique opportunities to incorporate the physical stress management techniques listed above compared to traditional residential treatment programs. Our program uses relaxation techniques such as mindfulness and meditation, as well as somatic movement practices such as yoga classes and outdoor exercises like hiking, backpacking, and bouldering.

Using Personalized Treatment Plans To Treat Anxiety Disorders

At Trails Carolina, every student has an individualized treatment plan. That means that in 2022 we worked with 358 kids and we developed 358 individual treatment plans to meet each individual need. Each plan is thoughtfully developed based on input from the student, the student’s parents, and the student’s primary Trails therapist.

The development of each plan begins when you start the Trails Admissions Process. Then, when your child arrives on campus, they will meet with their primary therapist for an initial consultation and assessment which will further help us determine a strategy to deliver proper treatment for the greatest success.

Individualized Treatment Plan In Action:

Based on the student’s treatment plan, field assignments and activities can be personalized to meet and support their individual needs and goals.

For example, students may be engaging in a group journaling activity. Even two students dealing with anxiety can receive different journal prompts based on the nuances of their challenges. The student dealing with social anxiety will get to focus on a topic related to that challenge, while the student dealing with panic attacks will get to focus on a prompt related to that challenge.

How Does Our Wilderness Therapy Program Increase The Effectiveness Of Anxiety Treatment In Children & Adolescents?

At Trails, we take into account the nuances of each student’s challenges with mild to severe anxiety and diagnosed anxiety disorders.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) Symptoms & How Wilderness Therapy Helps:

  • Feeling restless, wound-up, or on edge. Being in nature helps teens with anxiety connect to the present moment and feel more grounded.
  • Having difficulty concentrating. Being in nature helps teens with anxiety connect to the present moment and feel more grounded.
  • Difficulty controlling feelings of worry. Upon arrival, we immediately start working with our students who struggle with anxiety to teach them a system of breathing that helps calm their anxiety, as well as mindfulness practices to help them learn to control the effects of their anxious feelings.
  • Worrying excessively about being ill-equipped to deal with the future. We teach teens survival skills during our structured adventure activities (hiking, camping, climbing, learning to build campfires, and setting up campsites). We also teach teens with anxiety ways to cope with their anxiety symptoms in real-time.

Panic Disorder / Anxiety-related Panic Attack Symptoms & How Wilderness Therapy Helps:

  • Sudden periods of intense fear, discomfort, or a sense of losing control. Upon arrival, we immediately begin teaching our students with anxiety a system of breathing and mindfulness practices to help them learn to control the effects of their anxious feelings.
  • Actively avoiding places, situations, or behaviors they associate with causing panic attacks. Our students practice intentional, structured transitions between our residential base camp and wilderness settings which gives our students with anxiety the chance to expose themselves to their fears in a safe and supportive environment.

Social Anxiety Disorder Symptoms & How Wilderness Therapy Helps:

  • Discomfort in social situations; intense, persistent fear of being watched and judged by others. Students stay in the same peer group with students based on age and gender. This allows them to work with their group as a team, building confidence in their teamwork and leadership skills and positive peer relationships. Our group therapy sessions and group adventure activities help students feel less alone in their struggles. Here, they gain a sense of belonging and mutual understanding with other students who face similar challenges. They gain confidence in social interactions.

How Do We Measure The Efficacy Of The Practices We Use To Treat Teen Anxiety?

We believe in research and evidence-based therapeutic approaches to treating anxiety disorders. That’s why we are serious about measuring the efficacy of our practices.

Since 2014, we’ve partnered with the Center for Research, Assessment, and Treatment Efficacy (CReATE), Asheville, NC, and the University of Arkansas to conduct a third-party outcomes study.

Our third-party outcomes study is a long-term study that measures various aspects of the outcomes of our programs for students and their families post-graduation. The data collection process begins when a student/family first enters the Trails admissions process. At this point, the student and their family respond to a survey of their situation before starting the program. They then respond to the same survey at graduation, 3 months after graduation, and one year after graduation. Our outcomes study provides us with insight into what is working and what we can improve upon. It also provides us with a real, quantitative success rate.

Contact Trails Carolina Today: Our Wilderness Therapy Program Might Be The Perfect Fit For Your Anxious Teen

A wilderness therapy and adventure program for treating anxiety in teens at Trails Carolina might be the best option for your family. Our programs offer your family and your anxious teen an opportunity to help when nothing else seems to be working.

We will give your child the skills to manage anxiety in real time as soon as they arrive on our campus. They will very quickly gain a sense of belonging at Trails because of the sense of community that naturally occurs with the other students who are dealing with the common struggles of learning to manage adolescent anxiety.

By detaching from the stressors at home and school, your child gets the chance to build leadership skills and confidence that they can bring with them after graduation. As your child progresses through our program, we provide controlled, structured transitions to practice using their newfound relaxation techniques and coping skills to manage their anxiety.

Whenever possible and safe, we encourage you to be transparent with your child when you are considering treatment options. In many cases, bringing the child into the conversation can help increase the likelihood of the student having a positive experience in the program. If your child would like to talk to someone on our admissions team before enrollment, we would be happy to arrange a call or a visit to campus.

Avatar of Jeremy Whitworth

Jeremy Whitworth

As Executive Director at Trails Carolina, a leading wilderness therapy program for youth and teens, I oversee operations and collaborate with our leadership team. Since 2022, I've also hosted the Common Ground Podcast for parents: With a background in Wilderness Leadership and Experiential Education, I've managed adventure-based therapeutic programs across the US and Canada. My experiences in competitive athletics and adventure sports have honed my leadership, risk assessment, and decision-making skills, which I apply to running a successful business like Trails Carolina.

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Trails saved my daughter’s life. Amanda is an amazing human and a brilliant therapist. I am so grateful to her, Science Steve, and the other wonderful people who could reach my daughter at a time when I could not.

Margot Lowman August 2022

Great life changing experience for our son. After becoming addicted to gaming during covid he was very depressed. At Trails he experienced the wilderness, Science Steve, learning survival skills and top notch therapy and support etc… I highly recommend! This gave our son and our family a renewed family bond full of love and excitement about his bright future.

Winnifred Wilson July 2022


Outstanding clinical work and superb staff! There’s a great culture at this company and it shows with how they engage with families/clients.

Kristin Brace June 2022


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