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Anxiety in Teens – Symptoms & Treatment

by Michael Hurst

It is normal for teens to worry. Grades, friends, dating, competitive sports, family conflicts and other situations can be nerve-racking. But when anxiety is excessive, irrational, or stands in a teenager’s way of achieving their goals and functioning in a healthy way, an anxiety disorder may be the cause.

What Is a Teen Anxiety Disorder?

Teen anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health conditions that arise during adolescence, causing teens to feel excessive amounts of worry, fear or nervousness. The people closest to an anxious teen may describe them as tense, distracted or always on guard.

There are a number of distinct types of adolescent anxiety disorders, including:

  • Generalized Anxiety
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Phobias
  • Social Anxiety Disorder
  • Panic Attacks
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Causes of Teen Anxiety

The exact cause of teen anxiety disorders is unknown, but several factors may play a role, including:

  • Genetics
  • Brain Chemistry
  • Stressful Life Events
  • Home Environment (e.g., growing up around caregivers or family members who are fearful or anxious)

Symptoms of Teen Anxiety

Adolescent anxiety disorders affect both body and mind:

Physical Symptoms of Teen Anxiety

  • Racing heartbeat and rapid breathing
  • Muscle tensions
  • Sweaty palms
  • Nausea
  • Trembling hands or legs
  • Uncontrollable urge to cry

Symptoms of adolescent anxiety can come on without notice or gradually worsen, and can be mild or severe, lasting from a few moments to persistent, overwhelming feelings of nervousness or fear.

Mental Symptoms of Teen Anxiety

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Changes in diet and sleep patterns
  • Feelings of depression or hopelessness
  • Avoiding people and activities they used to enjoy

Many teens who suffer from anxiety don’t realize that they can feel better and that countless others are experiencing the same struggles. They may be reluctant to talk to someone about their anxiety for fear of being embarrassed, judged or considered weak.

Each type of adolescent anxiety disorder has specific symptoms:

Teen Generalized Anxiety Disorder Symptoms

  • Excessive worry and fear
  • Inability to relax
  • Physical ailments such as chest pain, headache, fatigue, muscle tension or vomiting

Teen Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Symptoms

  • Irrational, involuntary and excessive worries or impulses
  • Compulsions to repeat certain behaviors, often in an attempt to control the obsessions (e.g., hand washing, checking door locks or hoarding things)

Teen Phobia Symptoms

  • Intense and irrational fears of certain things or situations (such as heights, flying or animals)
  • Avoidance of feared things and situations
  • Physical symptoms of anxiety such as nausea, trembling or sweating

Teen Social Anxiety Disorder Symptoms

  • Intense fear of social situations or speaking in front of others
  • Avoiding eye contact or interaction with others
  • Excessive worry about the thoughts and opinions of others

Teen Panic Disorder Symptoms

  • Sudden and intense fearfulness
  • Fear of dying or losing control
  • Physical symptoms such as dizziness, shortness of breath and racing heartbeat

Teen Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms

  • Extreme distress triggered by a traumatic event
  • Flashbacks, nightmares or a persistent sense of fear
  • Sleep problems
  • Depression
  • Feelings of detachment, irritability, aggression or loss of interest
  • Trouble in school or relationships
  • Reliving the traumatic event
  • Avoiding reminders of the traumatic event

Treatment For Teen Anxiety

Anxiety can affect every area of a teenager’s life, including their academic performance and ability to maintain friendships. No adolescent should suffer in silence. There are a number of effective treatments for adolescent anxiety, including:

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy — A well-researched form of talk therapy that helps teens identify thoughts and feelings that cause anxiety and learn healthier ways to think, act and cope with stress.

Medication — In some cases, adolescents may benefit from prescription medications to treat teen anxiety. The most commonly prescribed anti-anxiety medications are benzodiazepines (such as Xanax and Valium) and certain antidepressant medications. A psychiatrist, therapist or teen anxiety treatment program can determine if medication is appropriate.

Biofeedback — During biofeedback sessions, sensors placed on the body measure how the individual responds to stress. Teens practice relaxation and breathing techniques and get feedback regarding their stress and anxiety levels. This type of treatment can be fun and highly effective for teens since it is similar to playing a computer game.

Stress Management — Relaxation techniques and breathing exercises can help teens reduce stress. Other useful stress management techniques for teens include yoga, meditation, tai chi, Qigong, massage and acupuncture.

Therapeutic Programs for Teens — Wilderness therapy programs and therapeutic boarding schools specialize in helping teenagers manage anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. These programs also work with families to improve the home environment and build strong relationships.

Adolescence is meant to be a time of personal discovery, goal-setting and fun. Time is short, and a new set of challenges in young adulthood is coming right around the corner. If anxiety is preventing your teen from making the most of these precious years, find out how teen anxiety treatment can help.