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Identifying the Signs of Anxiety in Teens – and When to Get Help

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Clinically Reviewed by:
Lindsey Rae Ackerman, LMFT

Written by:
Alex Salman, MPH on May 31, 2024

Teen anxiety can be challenging for both adolescents and their caregivers.[1] Teenage anxiety can manifest in various ways, from excessive worry and fear to physical symptoms like headaches or stomachaches. While some level of anxiety is normal to experience, persistent or severe signs of anxiety in teens or symptoms that interfere with your daily life may indicate the need for professional help.[2]

Knowing when to seek professional help is crucial for ensuring teenagers receive the support they need to manage their anxiety effectively. By recognizing the signs of anxiety in teens and seeking help when needed, caregivers can play a vital role in supporting adolescents’ mental health and well-being. If anxiety symptoms persist, worsen over time, or lead to significant impairment in day-to-day functioning, then it’s important to consult a professional to explore your treatment options.

Related: What is Teenage Angst, and is it Normal?

What are Anxiety Disorders?

Anxiety disorders are a group of mental health conditions characterized by excessive worry, fear, or apprehension that is often irrational or disproportionate to the situation at hand.[3] These disorders can significantly interfere with daily life, relationships, and functioning.

Common types of anxiety disorders include:[4]

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): Individuals with GAD experience persistent and excessive worry about various aspects of life, such as work, health, or family, even when there is little or no reason to worry.
  • Panic Disorder: People with panic disorder experience recurrent panic attacks, which are sudden episodes of intense fear or discomfort accompanied by physical symptoms such as heart palpitations, sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, or a sense of impending doom.
  • Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia): Social anxiety disorder involves an irrational fear of social situations and scrutiny by others, leading to avoidance of social interactions or extreme distress when facing them.
  • Specific Phobias: Specific phobias involve intense, irrational fears of particular objects or situations, such as heights, flying, spiders, or enclosed spaces. These fears can lead to avoidance behaviors.

Anxiety disorders can vary in severity, and they can also coexist with other mental health conditions as well, such as depression, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), or substance abuse. Early intervention and appropriate treatment can help individuals manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.

What are the Symptoms of Anxiety in Teenagers?

Anxiety in teenagers can manifest in various ways, and symptoms may vary from one individual to another. While not all children develop anxiety, it is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms in anxious children that may indicate a need for extra support.

Some common and easily noticeable signs of anxiety in teens include:[5]

  • Excessive worry or fear about everyday situations or activities
  • Difficulty concentrating or focusing, leading to academic or performance issues
  • Irritability or mood swings
  • Physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, muscle tension, or fatigue
  • Changes in sleeping patterns, such as difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, or excessive sleeping
  • Avoidance of social situations or activities that trigger anxiety
  • Increased sensitivity to criticism or rejection
  • Experiencing panic attacks, characterized by sudden feelings of intense fear or discomfort
  • Perfectionism or excessive self-criticism

However, anxiety symptoms in teenagers may not always be overt or easily noticeable. Some less noticeable signs that can slip under the radar include:[6]

  • Withdrawal from friends or social activities
  • Increased reliance on unhealthy coping mechanisms such as excessive use of technology, substance use, or unhealthy eating habits
  • Academic decline despite the effort
  • Chronic physical symptoms without an identifiable medical cause
  • Changes in eating habits, such as loss of appetite or overeating
  • Difficulty expressing emotions or avoiding discussing feelings
  • Perfectionism leading to procrastination or avoidance of tasks
  • Excessive reassurance-seeking or seeking constant validation from others
  • Engaging in risky behaviors as a way to cope with anxiety

How can Parents Support Teenagers with Anxiety?

Supporting anxious teens involves creating a nurturing and understanding environment while helping them develop healthy coping strategies to better manage their symptoms:

Educate yourself about anxiety

Take the time to educate yourself about anxiety and its effects on teenagers. Understanding the condition better will enable you to provide more effective support.

Validate Their Feelings

Let your teenager know that it’s okay to feel anxious and that their feelings are valid. Avoid dismissing or trivializing their anxious feelings, even if they seem irrational to you.

Encourage Open Communication

Create a safe space for your teenager to express their feelings and concerns without fear of judgment. Listen actively and empathetically to what they have to say.

Provide Reassurance

Offer words of encouragement and reassurance to help alleviate your teenager’s anxiety. Let them know that you are there for them and that they can rely on your support.

Help Them To Identify Triggers

Work together to identify situations or events that trigger your teenager’s anxiety. Once identified, help them develop strategies to cope with these triggers effectively.

Explore Relaxation Techniques

Encourage your teenager to practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or mindfulness meditation. These techniques can help reduce anxiety levels and promote a sense of calm.

Promote a Healthy Lifestyle

Encourage regular exercise, a balanced diet, and adequate sleep, as these can all contribute to improved mental well-being and better stress management.

Set Realistic Expectations

Avoid putting undue pressure on your teenager to perform academically or socially. Instead, focus on setting realistic goals and celebrating their achievements, no matter the size.

Model Healthy Coping Mechanisms

Be a positive role model by demonstrating healthy ways of coping with stress and anxiety in your own life. This can include practicing self-care, seeking healthy support from others, and engaging in activities that bring joy and fulfillment.

Encourage Social Connections

Support your teenager in maintaining friendships and participating in social activities that they enjoy. Social support can be a valuable buffer against anxiety.

When Should You or Your Teen Seek Help?

Recognizing when you need professional help for your anxiety can be vital for your overall well-being.[7] When anxiety symptoms significantly disrupt daily life—impacting school, relationships, or everyday activities—it’s a clear indication that seeking help may be necessary. Similarly, if these symptoms persist or worsen over time despite attempts to manage them, it’s a sign that professional help may be required.

Physical symptoms, like frequent headaches, stomachaches, or sleep disturbances, can also signal significant anxiety that requires assessment by a mental health professional.[8] Additionally, consistent avoidance of situations or activities that trigger anxiety may suggest that the anxiety has become unmanageable without professional support.

In more severe cases, where a teenager expresses thoughts of self-harm or suicide or engages in self-harming behaviors, immediate assistance is required.[9] Any impact on physical health, such as significant weight loss, rapid heartbeat, or other concerning symptoms, also warrants prompt attention from a health professional.

Finally, if a teenager is struggling to cope with their anxiety despite support from family and friends, seeking help from a professional trained in treating anxiety disorders can provide them with the tools and strategies they need to manage their symptoms effectively.

Treatment for Anxiety

Treatment for anxiety in teens often involves a comprehensive approach that addresses both the symptoms and underlying issues contributing to the disorder.[10] Many treatment programs offer a range of therapeutic interventions designed to promote healing and growth. These programs typically incorporate clinical, medical, and experiential therapies, providing a holistic approach to teen mental health.

Individual Therapy for Teens

Individual therapy plays a key role in many treatment plans. Through one-on-one sessions with experienced counselors, teenagers have the opportunity to explore their thoughts, feelings, and experiences in a safe and supportive environment. These sessions help treat anxiety by allowing teens to uncover underlying issues contributing to their anxiety and develop coping strategies to manage their symptoms effectively.

Teen Group Therapy

In addition to individual therapy, many programs offer teen therapy groups that provide a supportive community where adolescents can connect with peers facing similar challenges. These groups focus on building social skills, self-confidence, mindfulness, and more, all in a welcoming and holistic manner. Participating in teen therapy groups can help teenagers feel less alone in their struggles, gain valuable support from their peers and build a community.

Family Support Groups

Furthermore, involving parents in the treatment process is crucial. Parent and family therapy groups provide a supportive space for parents to connect with others who are navigating similar challenges. By sharing experiences, gaining insights, and developing a support network, parents can play an active role in their teenager’s healing journey.

Overall, therapy offers numerous benefits for a teen struggling with anxiety. It provides a safe and supportive environment for teens to explore their thoughts and feelings, develop coping skills, build social connections, and foster personal growth. By participating in therapy, teenagers can gain the tools and resilience they need to overcome anxiety and thrive in all areas of their lives.

Discover Evidence-Based, Personalized Support for Anxiety

Clear Behavioral Health understands the unique challenges teenagers face when dealing with anxiety and other mental health disorders. That’s why we offer innovative, evidence-based programming designed specifically for teens seeking support.

Our comprehensive approach combines the latest therapeutic techniques with personalized care to address each teen’s individual needs effectively. From one-on-one counseling sessions to group therapy and experiential activities, our programs provide a supportive environment where teenagers can explore their thoughts, emotions, and experiences while learning valuable coping skills.

Teens have access to a team of experienced professionals dedicated to their well-being. Our commitment to excellence ensures that every teenager receives the highest quality care tailored to their specific challenges and goals.

If you or your teen is struggling with anxiety or other mental health disorders, don’t hesitate to reach out. Contact Clear Behavioral Health to find out how our outpatient teen program can provide the support and resources needed to navigate the journey toward mental wellbeing.

References:

  1. CDC. (2023, December 6). Connection Is Key to Good Adolescent Mental Health | Adolescent and School Health | CDC. Www.cdc.gov; U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/mental-health/index.htm on May 12, 2024
  2. National Institute of Mental Health. (2023). Anxiety Disorders. National Institute of Mental Health; National Institute of Mental Health. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders on May 12, 2024
  3. Anxiety Disorders | NAMI. (2017, December). Www.nami.org. https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Mental-Health-Conditions/Anxiety-Disorders/ on May 12, 2024
  4. Cleveland Clinic. (2020, December 17). Anxiety Disorders. Cleveland Clinic; Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9536-anxiety-disorders on May 12, 2024
  5. Katzenstein, J. (2023, April 26). Anxiety and Stress in Teens. Www.hopkinsmedicine.org. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/anxiety-disorders/anxiety-and-stress-in-teens on May 12, 2024
  6. American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. (2019). Your Adolescent – Anxiety and Avoidant Disorders. Aacap.org. https://www.aacap.org/aacap/Families_and_Youth/Resource_Centers/Anxiety_Disorder_Resource_Center/Your_Adolescent_Anxiety_and_Avoidant_Disorders.aspx on May 12, 2024
  7. MedlinePlus. (2020, May 22). Anxiety. Medlineplus.gov; National Library of Medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/anxiety.html on May 12, 2024
  8. Harvard Health Publishing. (2020, August 1). Recognizing and Easing the Physical Symptoms of Anxiety. Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/recognizing-and-easing-the-physical-symptoms-of-anxiety on May 12, 2024
  9. Chartrand, H., Sareen, J., Toews, M., & Bolton, J. M. (2011). Suicide attempts versus nonsuicidal self-injury among individuals with anxiety disorders in a nationally representative sample. Depression and Anxiety, 29(3), 172–179. https://doi.org/10.1002/da.20882 on May 12, 2024
  10. Bandelow, B., Michaelis, S., & Wedekind, D. (2017). Treatment of anxiety disorders. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 19(2), 93–107. https://doi.org/10.31887/DCNS.2017.19.2/bbandelow on May 12, 2024

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