Reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Think anxiety is just for adults? Think again. It is estimated that one in three adolescents between the ages of 13 and 18 experience an anxiety disorder. Also of note: anxiety disorders in teens and children went up 20 percent between 2007 and 2012, respectively.
Here’s what you need to know: dealing with anxiety as a teenager has a lot of similarities to dealing with it as an adult. But there are also some differences. And understanding what anxiety feels like and looks like for teens is helpful when it comes to treating it.
Everyone worries or experiences nerves sometimes. That said, if a teen’s anxiety is unrealistic, ever-present or makes them start avoiding things, it may be rooted in an anxiety disorder. Here are some of the different anxiety disorders that affect children and teens:
Separation Anxiety Disorder: This involves feeling extreme distress over being separated from a parent or caregiver.
Social Anxiety Disorder: From avoiding social situations to worrying about being judged, teens with social anxiety disorder tend to feel very self-conscious.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Teens with GAD may worry about just about anything — though it’s often related to school.
Panic Disorder: This is marked by experiencing panic attacks, which can be overwhelming episodes with physical manifestations (like sweating, hyperventilating and more).
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: If unwanted thoughts or obsessions are persistent, it may be OCD. Often, teens with OCD will engage in repetitive actions (like checking a lock or washing their hands multiple times).
Anxiety can pop up at any age and be caused by just about anything.
In younger children, anxiety is often caused by external things (a fear of monsters, mom and dad leaving — that kind of thing). But teens are more likely to be anxious about things pertaining to themselves.
Anxiety also seems to be more likely to develop in females over males, though both can develop it.
Some common things that can cause anxiety include:
Ability or Performance: From academic pressure to athletic performance anxiety, there are often a lot of internalized feelings around perfectionism.
Perception: We all worry about what others think of us, but some teens experience this worry on hyperdrive.
Looks: When you’re a teen, your body is changing constantly — which can be unnerving and can cause insecurities and anxiety.
While the above causes are pretty evergreen, there are a few more recent developments in the world that can also spark anxiety in teens.
Like social media, for instance. When scrolling through your feed, it can be tough not to compare yourself to what you see and feel “less than.”
Along with social media, everything going on in the world can cause an anxiety spike. The news can be scary and some teens may be affected by this.
Like with any other condition, symptoms of anxiety vary from person to person. Some people may experience all the symptoms, while others may experience just a few. The intensity level of these symptoms is also different in each person.
Common symptoms of anxiety in teens include:
Fears and worries surrounding everyday things
Avoiding social activities and other everyday activities
Difficulty adjusting to new things
Physical symptoms like stomachaches and headaches
A drop in performance at school
Substance use (especially marijuana)
There are a number of lifestyle tweaks that teens can make to help reduce anxiety. Things like getting good sleep and regular exercise can definitely help.
The most effective treatments, however, are therapy and medication.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is thought to be the most effective way of treating anxiety in teens.
In this type of therapy, you work with a mental health professional to name behaviors that enhance your anxiety and lead to anxiety.
From there, you will work with your mental healthcare provider to come up with ways to modify that behavior.
Basically, CBT arms teens with strategies to address their anxiety, rather than ignore or avoid situations that trigger it.
In addition to therapy, antidepressant medications may be prescribed to treat anxiety in teens. Specifically, the medication suggested for teens are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These prescription medications won’t cure anxiety, but they can help manage symptoms.
If a teen wants to consider medication, they’ll need to speak with a healthcare professional. Hers offers online consultations.
Research has found that a combo of CBT and medication over the course of 12 weeks can bring about a positive change in 80 percent of minors with anxiety disorders.
As with adults, teens who experience anxiety may notice that it can impact their daily lives. And, unfortunately, a large number of teens experience anxiety disorders.
There are quite a few mental health disorders connected to anxiety that affect teens — including generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder and more. Anything from pressure associated with extracurricular activities (think: sports) to body image can lead to anxiety.
Signs of anxiety include physical symptoms like trouble sleeping and headaches to psychological symptoms like irritability and more.
In general, therapy and medication are thought to be the best treatments for an anxious teen. That said, everyone who deals with anxiety should seek the help of a mental health professional to determine what is best suited to treat their specific case of anxiety.
Once treated, teens with anxiety will notice a huge improvement in their day-to-day life and their happiness.
Kate Hagerty is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over a decade of healthcare experience. She has worked in critical care, community health, and as a retail health provider.
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