Anxiety Therapy For Teenagers: Exploring Treatment For Your Teen

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant, LMHC
Updated June 17, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Anxiety can affect people of all ages, including teenagers. While temporary feelings of anxiety may be a normal part of life, overwhelming or persistent anxiety may be a sign of a more serious condition. These conditions vary but may include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, or social anxiety. Teenage anxiety can be challenging to manage due to other struggles a young person may face, including those related to social, academic, and personal pressures.
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Does your teenager have anxiety?
Despite these challenges, there are proven treatment options that can help relieve symptoms of anxiety in teenagers. These options may include therapy or, in some cases, medication. The best treatment option for your teen may depend on symptom severity and their specific treatment goals. Consulting a mental health professional is often crucial for addressing anxiety in teenagers. In addition, understanding how anxiety affects teenagers may allow you to better understand and support a loved one. 

How anxiety affects teenagers

Anxiety disorders affect approximately one in four adolescents, making them some of the most common psychiatric challenges that teenagers face. Anxiety can significantly impact numerous aspects of a teenager's life, including academic performance, romantic relationships, and interactions with family members.

In school, teenagers experiencing anxiety may have difficulty concentrating, participating in class, or completing assignments on time. These effects can lead to other consequences, including declining grades, a growing sense of academic pressure, or substance misuse. Anxiety could also contribute to test anxiety, which may cause students to underperform on exams and compromise their academic success. 

If you are struggling with substance use, contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at (800) 662-4357 to receive support and resources. Support is available 24/7.

When it comes to relationships, anxiety can make it hard for teenagers to connect with their peers. They may feel isolated or misunderstood, which may worsen symptoms of anxiety. Teenagers with anxiety may be more prone to experiencing social anxiety, which can make it harder for them to feel comfortable at social events and enjoy friendships or romantic relationships. 

At home, anxiety can strain family dynamics.  Teenagers experiencing anxiety might become more irritable, withdrawn, or uncommunicative. Parents may find it challenging to understand their teenager's behavior or feel unsure about how to provide the proper support.

The types of anxiety disorders teenagers may experience include:
  • Generalized anxiety disorder 
  • Social anxiety disorder 
  • Panic disorder
  • Specific phobias (e.g., fear of heights, animals, or medical procedures)
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder 

Identifying the signs of anxiety in teenagers

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of anxiety in teenagers can be an important step toward getting early treatment and support. Anxiety signs and symptoms can vary depending on the individual; some teenagers may experience mild anxious feelings, while others may experience severe physical symptoms. 

Teenage anxiety symptoms may include the following:

Physical symptoms

  • Shaking
  • Sweating
  • Muscle tension
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness

Emotional symptoms

  • Frequent crying
  • Irritability
  • Fear of mistakes
  • Perfectionism
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Excessive self-consciousness
  • Persistent feelings of apprehension

Behavioral symptoms

  • Constant agitation
  • Sensitivity to criticism
  • Avoidance of specific situations
  • Excessive worrying
  • Withdrawal or isolation
  • Procrastination or difficulty making decisions 
  • Seeking constant reassurance from others
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Not all teenagers with anxiety experience the same symptoms or disorder types. For example, some teens might experience frequent panic attacks, particularly if they have panic disorder. Others, especially those living with social anxiety, might avoid social situations. Without proper treatment or support, individuals experiencing symptoms may find it increasingly difficult to cope with daily life. This may have a negative impact on their mental health, relationships, and overall well-being. Because of this negative impact, finding the right treatment is often essential. 

Types of anxiety treatments for teenagers

Various treatment options are available to treat anxiety disorders in teenagers. Treatment for teenagers with anxiety disorders may consist of therapy, lifestyle changes, and medication. These options may be used alone or in combination with other treatment methods.

Therapy

One popular therapeutic approach for treating anxiety in teens is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which has been shown to be efficacious for children and adolescents. In some cases, CBT can help individuals learn specific skills designed to improve their symptoms. It can also help an individual return to activities they might have avoided due to anxiety. CBT can be delivered through individual or group therapy, and may take place in-person or online. 

Another therapy option for teenagers is family therapy. Family therapy involves working together with other family members to encourage support and improve communication skills within the family unit. Teenagers who can openly discuss these problems with supportive family members may be better equipped to manage anxiety.

Medication

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or benzodiazepines may be prescribed to treat anxiety and anxiety disorders. Medication management can also be combined with psychotherapy or talk therapy. It’s important to work closely with a healthcare professional to find the right medication and dosage. In addition, It is essential to avoid using medication without discussing it with a healthcare professional first. 

Lifestyle changes

Research has shown that lifestyle changes can also be helpful in managing anxiety and promoting better mental health. Relaxation techniques like deep breathing, mindfulness, and progressive muscle relaxation may also help teenagers cope with anxious feelings and improve overall mental health. These practices may promote calm and self-awareness, allowing teenagers to better understand and manage their emotions. 

Other healthy lifestyle habits may include exercising regularly, following a healthy diet, and getting enough sleep. A well-rounded treatment approach may combine a mix of therapeutic options and lifestyle changes to treat anxiety in teenagers. 

Early recognition and intervention of adolescent anxiety and other conditions can make a significant difference. Getting the right treatment may help improve mental health, which can have positive effects on academic performance, social interactions, and family relationships.

Monitoring progress and adjusting treatment

A mental health professional can work with a teenager to track progress and make adjustments during anxiety disorder treatment. One way mental health professionals may monitor progress is by using simple tools designed to measure symptom improvements in specific anxiety disorders or general mental health. These tools can help identify progress and guide any necessary adjustments in treatment.

While mental health professionals may look at both psychological and pharmacological treatments, research shows that cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most effective ways to treat anxiety disorders. Adjustments to the treatment plan may be needed to get the best results. For example, tailoring therapy sessions to a specific challenge may help address the unique needs of the individual.

Practical ways to help support teens with anxiety

As a parent, supporting a teenager with anxiety can be challenging. Still, there are practical steps you can take to help your teen cope with anxiety symptoms and improve their mental health.

Encourage open communication

Consider creating a safe and non-judgmental environment for your teenager to express their feelings and concerns. Listen actively and validate their emotions to help them feel understood and supported.

Educate yourself about anxiety

It can be beneficial to learn about the different types of anxiety disorders, their symptoms, and effective treatments. This knowledge can help you empathize with your teen and provide targeted support.

Promote healthy habits

Encourage your teenager to engage in regular physical activity, maintain a balanced diet, and establish a consistent sleep routine. These habits can help reduce anxiety and promote improved mental health.

Be patient and supportive

Remember that overcoming anxiety takes time and effort. Consider providing encouragement and praise for your teen's progress, and try to remain patient and understanding as they work through their challenges.

Seek professional help

If your teenager's anxiety significantly impacts their daily life, it’s possible that it may be affecting yours as well. Consider consulting a mental health professional. They can provide guidance and support as you navigate this challenging time in your parenting journey.  

In most cases, taking care of your own mental health and emotional well-being will allow you to provide better support for your teenager as they navigate their anxiety. Together, you can build a strong foundation for improved mental health and emotional resilience.
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Does your teenager have anxiety?
Online therapy for parents
An increasing number of online therapy options are available for parents of teenagers with anxiety disorders. These digital mental health resources can provide valuable support and guidance for you as you support your child during this time.

Online platforms like BetterHelp may make it easier to find therapy options with a qualified mental health professional. These platforms offer a wide range of therapists. Studies have also shown that internet-based therapy, including online CBT, can be more effective than in-person sessions for certain conditions. Additionally, online therapy can provide flexible scheduling and the option for remote sessions, making it easier for busy parents to prioritize their own mental health.

Studies in the field of mental health have discovered that online interventions are effective in reducing parental stress. A recent study highlighted the benefits of online mindfulness training for mothers, including reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety as well as general stress levels. 

Takeaway

Anxiety disorders encompass a range of conditions affecting both teens and adults, including panic disorder and social anxiety disorder. Teenagers can be particularly susceptible to anxiety, as they may experience increased stress from school, family matters, or social pressure. As you focus on helping your teen find appropriate and effective anxiety treatments, it may be helpful to address your own mental health needs as well. If you want to talk to someone about the challenges you are facing in your daily life, consider reaching out and connecting with an online counselor.
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