Teen Anxiety: Types, Causes, and How to Help
For many people, the word “anxiety” conjures up negative connotations. However, to feel anxious is not necessarily a bad thing, as anxiety is a normal human response to stress and uncertainty.Feeling anxious can motivate us to get things done, such as finishing an assignment or work project before the deadline. It can also help protect us from potential harm, causing us to pause before entering a potentially dangerous situation.
Such anxiety is usually mild or subsides once the apparent danger has passed; it functions to encourage us to act in ways that protect ourselves. But when anxiety levels are consistently elevated, and the level of anxiety is out of proportion to the circumstances, there can be a damaging impact on our everyday function and well-being.
Unfortunately, no group of people is immune from unhelpful anxiety, and that includes teens. Anxiety among teens is common and has increased in recent years. The American Academy of Pediatrics estimates that one in three of all teens between the ages of 13 and 18 will experience some kind of anxiety disorder.
Anxiety disorders in children and teens increased by 20% between 2007 and 2012, and the coronavirus pandemic of the last two years will almost certainly have contributed to a rise in anxiety levels. Anxiety in teens is not confined to particular demographics or personalities (although these may be contributing factors), but any teen can struggle.
Girls seem slightly more susceptible to anxiety than boys, but many boys are also affected. It is good for teens who are struggling with anxiety to know that they are not alone in this; many teens struggle with anxiety, yet help is available.
Common Types of Anxiety in Teens
Although there are numerous anxiety disorders that can affect teens, these are some of the most common types of teen anxiety.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is characterized by unwarranted, persistent, and excessive worry about ordinary life events and circumstances. Some teens struggling with GAD develop physical symptoms, including headaches, tense muscles, stomach issues, and fatigue.
Social Anxiety Disorder
Social anxiety disorder involves excessive fear concerning social situations. Teens may be especially tempted to think others might think badly of them or that they might be humiliated in some way. This causes these teens to withdraw or find it very difficult to interact socially.
Such fears can also impact situations where they are the focus of attention, such as school presentations or sports events. Although some social anxiety is common among teens, this is again an extreme reaction out of proportion to the actual circumstances.
Panic attacks are a physical manifestation of anxiety, where the sufferer experiences overwhelming fear despite there being no real danger. Since these attacks can take place anytime and anywhere, they can cause these teens to want to withdraw even more because they are fearful of having an attack in front of others.
Anxiety can also manifest as excessive fear about a specific thing or things. Even if this fear concerns something potentially dangerous (for example, using escalators or flying in airplanes), the fear is again excessive and out of proportion to the actual chance of being hurt.
These are a sampling of some of the most common forms of teen anxiety. Since teen anxiety can manifest in other ways and can be a combination of different forms of anxiety, it is worth accessing professional help for your teen if they are struggling. A professional counselor can help them figure out what type or types of anxiety they are suffering from and how it is affecting them.
Causes of Teen Anxiety
Just as there is no one-size-fits-all type of teen anxiety, teen anxiety also has a variety of causes. These causes can be physical, spiritual, emotional, or mental, and are often a combination of two or more of these categories. Common causes can include the following:
Pressure to Succeed
High pressure from themselves and others to succeed. Many teens feel immense pressure to perform well. This is true for academic success, but there is also a lot of pressure on teens these days to be “all-rounders” and succeed in multiple areas. Needing excellent grades for college applications can fuel anxiety.
Like all of us, teens are bombarded with news and information which is often negative in nature – climate change, police violence, wars, and social disruption are common news themes. Today’s teens are also living through a global pandemic, with all the uncertainty and fear that brings. Constantly hearing about and experiencing negative things can make teens feel generally unsafe, which can promote or deepen anxiety.
Research has shown that teens who regularly use social media are more anxious and unhappy than those who don’t. It’s hard not to feel that you don’t measure up when comparing yourself to “perfect” social media portrayals. It can also make anxious teens feel more isolated, as though they are the only ones struggling in this way. This can impact negatively their willingness to share that they are struggling with others.
Signs of Anxiety in Teenagers
Whatever the cause or type of anxiety, teen anxiety is very real and on the rise. Untreated persistent anxiety can result in serious long-term issues, such as depression, substance abuse, or self-harm as they attempt to escape or self-medicate their anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts.
School grades can be detrimentally affected, potentially impacting future choices. Persistent anxiety might also manifest as physical symptoms, such as headaches or digestive issues, and has even been linked to long-term health issues such as high blood pressure.It’s good to know what to look out for so that you can intervene as soon as possible. This is important, as some teens may be unaware that they are excessively anxious; they’ve come to assume that this is a normal level of anxiety. Other teens are ashamed to admit they are struggling, or others might fear parental displeasure if they admit weakness.
Here are some common signs of teen anxiety:
- Persistent worries and fears about normal everyday life that are out of proportion to the actual circumstances and tasks facing them.
- Personality and behavioral changes. Some examples might be increased irritability, becoming more withdrawn, or starting to talk back in a way they haven’t before.
- Negative self-talk or general negativity about life or other people. Common phrases might include “I can’t do this,” or “I’m not good at anything.”
- The desire to stay home from school or to avoid social situations.
- A drop in school grades and a disinterest in school in general.
- Trouble sleeping or concentrating.
- A loss of appetite or decreased enjoyment of food.
- Frequent complaints that they are unwell. Physical symptoms of anxiety might include headaches, stomachaches, and exhaustion with no apparent cause.
- Indulgence in dangerous behaviors, such as substance abuse or self-harm.
Of course, the existence of one or some of these signs does not necessarily mean our teens are struggling with anxiety, but they are pointers that something is awry and that they need our love, patience, and help.
Counseling for Your Teen
It is crucial that we intervene as soon as possible and don’t wait to see if they will just “grow out of it.” Early intervention can help prevent teens from seeking their own ways of coping, such as substance abuse, which could ultimately cause them even more pain and fear.
As parents, we can often feel overwhelmed when trying to help our teens on our own. Professional counseling is an excellent way of providing support for both your teen and you.
Counselors are trained to help people understand why they are struggling. They also provide tools to help teens manage their anxiety. If you suspect that your teen is struggling with anxiety, don’t delay – reach out for help today.
“Cherry Blossoms”, Courtesy of Arno Smit, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Wildflowers”, Courtesy of Joel Holland, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Wildflowers”, Courtesy of Yoksel Zok, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Blue Flowers”, Courtesy of Yue Su, Unsplash.com, CC0 License