Anxiety Symptoms in teens

June 30, 2022

An estimated one-third of American teenagers are currently suffering from an anxiety disorder or will suffer from an anxiety disorder, making it the most common mental illness among teens. There are many different types of anxiety disorders which are defined by the different situations that induce them.

Even though anxiety disorders have different causes, they all share common anxiety symptoms. If you're concerned that your teenager might be struggling in their daily life, there's a good chance that it could be anxiety related.

In this article, we'll discuss different signs of anxiety that you can watch for to help you better understand if your teenager may have an anxiety disorder.

What Is Anxiety Disorder?

We all worry from time to time. We dwell on the uncertainties of life and the difficulties we are facing. Usually, our response to situations that are out of our control is appropriate given the individual situation.

However, people with anxiety disorders, no matter what their root cause, have a significant amount of distress and excessive fear that is not proportionate to their situation. Anxiety disorders can have a significant impact on a teenager's life and impair their ability to function normally.

There are several different types of anxiety disorders including:

• General anxiety disorder (GAD)
• Acute anxiety (panic attacks)
• Separation anxiety
• Social anxiety
• Medication-induced anxiety disorder
• Obsessive-compulsive disorder
• Specific phobias

All these variations result in excessive worry and increased tension without a justifiable reason when considered from an objective viewpoint

For sufferers of anxiety, it is not possible to rationalize their anxiety away. Some say it is like having your focus trapped in the future, constantly worrying about what happens next.

How Does Anxiety Disorder Affect Teens?

At each stage of life, individuals have different pressures, worries, and vulnerabilities. When you're a young child it might be what's under your bed at night or when one of your parents is coming home from work. The worries of an adult tend to be based on our security and the outcomes of the future.

The teenage years are a challenging period of life. There is a lot of pressure academically and socially. Teenagers are expected to do well at school and even start to make decisions about their future regarding the careers they might want to pursue.

It's not just the stress of intellectual achievement, there is also athletic performance and engagement in extracurricular activities to consider, as well as the social aspects of school.

The social side of the teenage years can be incredibly stressful. Not to mention how it can often have a push-pull relationship with how teenagers do in school. There is a lot of pressure to fit in with popular groups of teenagers and even within small social circles.

Additionally, there are the many physical changes adolescents experience during the teenage years. Teenagers are more likely to be preoccupied with their bodies as they become aware of changes and are introduced to the social minefield of dating. Couple this with chaotic hormones and it is easy to understand why teenagers are prone to anxiety disorders.

Symptoms of Anxiety in Teenagers

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When trying to identify anxiety symptoms in teenagers, the most important thing to look out for, is changes in your teenager's behavior. There are several common symptoms of anxiety, but one of the biggest clues you will get is noticeable changes in behavior.

It's important to be able to understand your teenager’s internal world and have a good comprehension of their state of mind. The best way to do this, is to maintain an open and consistent line of communication with your teenager.

It's normal for a teenager to want to retract from their parents as they get older, but you should work on finding a way to keep the parent-teenager relationship healthy and functional. Your teenager might not share as much detail with you as they get older, but if they seem to fully withdraw, it could be a symptom of anxiety.

Social and Behavioral Changes

Anxiety can have a huge impact on a teenager's social life. It's normal for teenagers to change friends and be fickle with their extracurricular activities, but it's important to keep a close eye on your teenager's social habits.

If your teenager stops spending time with friends, it could be a symptom of anxiety. They might stop making plans to see friends or begin isolating themselves from their usual peer group.

If your teenager is avoiding extracurricular activities or spending an increased amount of time alone, then it could be a sign that your teenager is dealing with anxiety.

You might notice that your teenager is becoming increasingly quiet while in social situations. They might appear preoccupied or uncomfortable.

One behavioral change easiest to spot in a teenager dealing with anxiety is the introduction of compulsive behaviors. These behaviors could be anything from persistent hand washing to constantly arranging things around them. This type of behavior is often used to distract the individual from anxious thoughts or might even be related to the source of the anxiety, such as cleanliness.

Teenagers with anxiety will often develop a more negative state of mind. This can present itself as negative self-talk such as putting themselves down or saying things like "I can't do this" when faced with a challenge.

Emotional Changes

Dealing with anxiety is a daily challenge for anyone, especially a teenager. It is going to be hard and tiring, as well as confusing. With the additional mental load of anxious thoughts, there are going to come emotional changes. A teenager under stress is likely to be a more emotional teenager.

Your teenager might not express their worries directly. So, instead, you should be on the lookout for tell-tale emotional changes that may suggest your teenager is dealing with anxiety.

To be anxious is to be in an almost permanent stressed state. It's like spending the whole day in a fight or flight response. It's draining and it can cause erratic behavior. A teenager suffering from anxiety might appear restless and irritable. They're likely to have outbursts that don't seem to be brought on by the external environment. They are likely to have difficulty concentrating and spend a lot of time feeling on edge.

Another symptom of anxiety, that is mainly associated with separation anxiety, is emotional outbursts when separating from loved ones. This is most likely due to separation from a parent but can be separation from any member of the family.

If your teenager seems to be behaving more erratically and is unable to wind down and relax then it could be an emotional symptom of an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety can bring about a constant state of dread. It's quite common for teenagers who are suffering from an anxiety disorder to share similar symptoms with individuals suffering from depression.

Physical Changes

It can be hard to detect physical changes in a teenager dealing with anxiety because there are so many changes happening already due to adolescence.

One of the most common physical manifestations of anxiety is changing eating habits. Your teenager might stop eating in public spaces. This can be due to feelings of nausea when trying to eat in a public place. Your teenager might even start asking to take their dinner to their room instead of eating at the family table.

A teenager might also seem to lose their appetite altogether. Anxiety often leaves individuals in a constant state of nausea so your teenager might find it difficult to eat at all.

Your teenager is likely to be tense, and this can show itself as the tensing and twitching of muscles. It's common for teenagers with anxiety to grind their teeth.

In situations that your teenager finds intimidating, they might seem more uncomfortable than usual. They might start shaking or sweating. Difficult situations, if the teenager attempts to stay in them too long, could bring on a panic attack.

Your teenager is likely to display behaviors that are commonly associated with ADHD. In addition to appearing restless they might become increasingly fidgety and hyperactive in certain situations.

You might even notice that your teenager refuses to use restrooms other than the one in the family home. While this is often associated with obsessive-compulsive disorders tied to cleanliness it can also be a symptom of anxiety disorders.

Changes in Academic Performance

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If your teenager's performance at school suddenly declines, it could be a sign that they're suffering from an anxiety disorder. Anxiety requires a large amount of brainpower which can make it difficult to concentrate in class.

An anxious brain is always working, and this is likely to leave a teenager with nowhere near as much brainpower as they need to study. This can result in your teenager receiving lower than usual grades in school and they might also stop participating in class altogether because the mind is too busy to concentrate on the tasks at hand.

In an effort to distract their mind, your teenager may turn their attention to activities that can easily consume their thoughts through excessive stimulation such as video games. Other times teens will incessantly scroll through social media and online videos as a way to detach themselves from issues in their daily lives.

Another symptom of teenage anxiety that can affect a teen’s academic performance is known as school refusal. If your teen misses or skips school on a frequent basis, there may be an underlying reason provoking this behavior. Refusing to go to school or habitually missing classes can be the result of many different types of anxiety issues such as social anxiety, general anxiety, specific phobias, and even depression.

Many times, parents and teachers can misinterpret the reason behind a teen missing school. Often missing school is associated with typical teen rebellion when in fact it could be caused by a deeper psychological issue.

Anxiety Related Sleep Disturbances

Anxiety can be a lot like not being able to turn off your internal monologue. This can make it increasingly difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. When the mind is constantly worrying about the future it can't wind down.

It's normal for teenagers' sleep habits to fluctuate due to variation in the demands of homework, sports, and screen time. An increased level of fatigue could just be a symptom of social, academic, and other changes in life.

However, if your teenager is finding it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep as well as having frequent nightmares then it could be a sign that your teenager is suffering anxiety. Unfortunately, less sleep means it's harder for an individual to deal with the symptoms of anxiety so this can create a vicious cycle that can be hard to break.

Panic Attacks (Panic Disorder)

Not everyone who suffers from anxiety will have panic attacks. More than three million Americans will suffer from panic disorder at some point in their lifetimes, and this often begins during adolescence.

Panic attacks are intense, and often reach their peak within a couple of minutes, the sufferer is likely to experience:

• An intense sense of dread
• Shortness of breath
• Difficulty breathing
• Shaking or trembling
• Feeling like they're losing touch with reality
• Feeling as if they are going to die
• Chest pains• Dizziness
• Numbness or tingling in the arms

Panic attacks are a terrifying experience, and your teenager must speak with a mental health practitioner if they are suffering from panic attacks. It is important to be able to develop coping mechanisms as well as distraction techniques. The fear of having a panic attack can feed into the anxiety and make things worse.

What to do if your think your teen may be suffering from anxiety disorder

If you notice any of these anxiety symptoms in your teenager, it's important to have a conversation with them. Hopefully, your teenager will discuss with you about how they are feeling and start to give you an insight into their state of mind.

Mild anxiety can often be managed with lifestyle changes and learning more about anxiety disorders. There are several online resources to help both you and your teenager understand anxiety.

Seeking professional help is the best way to help your teenager tackle their anxiety. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can teach your teenager healthy ways to view their anxiety and how to respond to it.

If you believe that your teenager is suffering from anxiety, then feel free to check out our free recorded webinar with Dr. Terada, which focuses on how you can better support your anxious teenager.

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