How To Recognize Anxiety In Teens

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant, LMHC
Updated February 2, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Content/Trigger Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include sexual assault & violence which could potentially be triggering.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association (ADAA), anxiety disorders may be present in over 25% of teens between the ages of 13 and 18. Teenagers may experience disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, test anxiety, PTSD, separation anxiety, or specific phobias. Risk factors may include family with mental health disorders, environmental issues, medical conditions, use of alcohol or drugs, and some medications. Treatment can involve cognitive-behavioral therapy, medication, natural treatments, a healthy lifestyle, group therapy, and other options. Parents of teens with anxiety may find it helpful to speak with a licensed therapist online so that they can properly support their children.

Learn To Help Your Teenager Manage Their Anxiety.

Look For The Signs

It can be challenging to know the difference between normal stress and anxiety that requires further action. Below, you’ll find brief explanations and symptoms of several anxiety-related mental health disorders.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Generalized anxiety disorder is a condition that can cause excessive and continuous anxiety about many things. It is not typically occasional angst or worry about one or two things, but a constant obsession over almost all aspects of life. Some of the symptoms in teens may be:

  • Unrealistic worry over everyday things
  • Inability to let go of worrying thoughts or ideas
  • Lack of concentration
  • Not being able to make decisions
  • Trouble dealing with everyday concerns
  • Dwelling on things that might go wrong
  • Restlessness
  • Sweating
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Irritability
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia or sleeping too much

Social Anxiety Disorder

If your teenager is afraid to meet new people or talk to others, or if they have an unrealistic worry of being judged by others, they may be experiencing social anxiety disorder. Some other signs of social anxiety disorder in teens can include:

  • Avoiding friends and social activities
  • Feeling "sick" often with no actual signs of illness
  • Fear of being judged
  • Refusing to go to school
  • Afraid to meet new people
  • Inability to speak around others
  • Nervousness
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability

Test Anxiety

While it can be common to worry or feel nervous before an important test, some people have such an intense fear that they are unable to perform. The cause of test anxiety may not be clear, but it could be possible that your teenager may have had a bad experience with a test in the past or is experiencing a fear of failure. The signs of test anxiety can include:

  • Racing thoughts
  • Blanking out
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Negative thoughts
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Nervousness
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Shortness of breath

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD can be a severe condition that strikes those who have experienced some kind of traumatic incident. For example, an attack or rape, child abuse*, a parent with addiction, a violent household, a car accident, or even a natural event like a tornado or hurricane may lead to the development of PTSD.

*If you or someone you know is or may be experiencing abuse, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline, available 24/7, at 1.800.799.SAFE (7233) or text "START" to 88788. Live chat is also available on the National Domestic Violence Hotline website.

Some of the signs of PTSD may include:

  • Nervousness
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Irritability
  • Nightmares or night terrors
  • Insomnia
  • Flashbacks
  • Racing thoughts
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Isolation
  • Fear of loud noises
  • Easily startled
  • Self-medication with drugs or alcohol

Separation Anxiety

Teenagers may cling to a parent or caregiver more than usual due to a fear of being abandoned or lost. Some potential symptoms of separation anxiety are:

  • Refusing to go anywhere alone
  • Getting anxious if parents or a loved one leave their sight
  • Wanting to sleep in their parent's room
  • Nightmares
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Physical symptoms like nausea, headaches, and vomiting
  • Worrying that their loved ones will never come back
  • Persistent fear of being alone
  • Clinginess
  • Extreme distress when forced to leave home

Specific Phobias

A phobia can be an intense and irrational fear of something that presents no real threat. The physical symptoms of a specific phobia in teens can depend on what they are afraid of, but they usually include:

  • Shaking

  • Extreme fear

  • Rapid heart rate
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Dry mouth
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Numbness
  • Sweating
  • Headache
  • Tightness or pain in the chest
  • Butterflies in the stomach
  • Choking sensation

Causes And Risk Factors Of Anxiety In Teens

Although experts are not completely certain of what causes anxiety, some things can be considered risk factors for anxiety disorders. One of these risk factors may be genes. Those who have an immediate family with a mental health disorder such as anxiety, depression, or ADHD may be more prone to developing anxiety themselves. Other anxiety risk factors may include:

  • Environmental issues such as trouble with school, relationships, or family dynamics
  • Other medical conditions like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes
  • Use of drugs or alcohol
  • Experiencing anxiety as a side effect of some medications

Treating Anxiety In Teens

Treatment for anxiety disorders in teens can vary depending on the type and cause of the anxiety, as well as the age of the teen. It can be important to talk to a mental health professional to determine the extent of the condition before deciding on the course of action. Often, therapy (particularly cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT) is considered the first line of defense against anxiety in teenagers. In some cases, medication may be prescribed, but it is important never to start or stop medication unless prescribed by a medical professional. Various natural treatments consisting of vitamins and herbs may also be used in some cases.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy For Anxiety In Teens

CBT can be an effective treatment for most anxiety disorders. According to many studies, CBT can be as effective as medication in relieving symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders. The treatment plan generally consists of teaching your teen to understand that their thoughts affect their emotions, which can also affect their behaviors. Some of the common coping techniques taught in CBT may include:

  • Breathing therapy
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Filtering
  • Behavioral activation
  • Exposure and response prevention
  • Cognitive restructuring

Other Treatments
Learn To Help Your Teenager Manage Their Anxiety.

In addition to therapy, yoga, meditation, hypnosis, imagery-based exposure, mindfulness, and keeping a journal may help teens manage their anxiety symptoms. A healthy lifestyle consisting of plenty of sleep, a balanced diet, plenty of water, and regular exercise can also promote less anxiety and improved well-being. Group therapy, whether online or in-person, can also be helpful for teenagers. 

Online Therapy May Help You Support Your Teenager

It can be difficult to know the best way to help your teenager cope with anxiety symptoms. Speaking to a licensed therapist can be an effective way to learn how you can guide and support your child. You may even discover helpful techniques to teach your teenager so they can better manage anxiety when it arises. If in-person therapy isn’t convenient for you, you may prefer online therapy, as you can connect with a therapist from anywhere with an internet connection at a time that fits your availability.

According to this study, online therapy can be highly effective for a variety of mental health concerns, including anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Whether you’re experiencing mental health challenges of your own or wish to help your teenager better cope with their anxiety symptoms, please don’t hesitate to reach out for the help you deserve.

Takeaway

It can be possible for teenagers to live with a variety of anxiety disorders, such as specific phobias, separation anxiety, test anxiety, social anxiety disorder, PTSD, or generalized anxiety disorder. Teens may be more likely to develop anxiety symptoms if they’ve experienced certain environmental issues, have specific medical conditions, use drugs or alcohol, take certain medications, or have family with mental health disorders. Treatments for teenagers with anxiety often consist of a combination of healthy lifestyle choices, individual and group therapy, natural treatments, and medication. If you are the parent of a teenager with anxiety, you may discover that online therapy can be a helpful tool for you to learn from a professional about how best to support and guide your teen through this challenge.

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