Teen Anxiety – Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

All teenagers experience some level of anxiety in their life. Feeling anxious before a date, an exam and before a big presentation is normal. However, anxiety can be too much and distract the daily functioning of their life. The New York Times recently posted an article on “Why Are More American Teenagers Than Ever Suffering From Severe Anxiety?”

The author included several teen anxiety battles over the years. Here are some beliefs and practices causing teen anxiety:

  1. Electronics

Electronics has made it very hard to raise healthy children. Electronics have taken the opportunity of learning and exercising mental strength from them. Every time they are sad, lonely, bored or scared, they immerse themselves in games or social media.

  1. Happiness is all the rage.

Parents feel it is their responsibility to make their children happy; they are quick to cheering them up if they are sad. Teens, therefore, believe there is a problem if they do not feel happy around the clock. They don’t understand feeling sad, frustrated, guilty or disappointed is okay sometimes.

  1. Parents are giving unrealistic praise

Parent think they are motivating their children when they say things like, “You are the fastest runner in your school” or “You are the best actor in your drama club” or “You are the smartest kid I know.” However, such statements can instill fear of rejection in children.

  1. Parents fighting too hard for teen’s performance

Many parents have made it their job to see that their teens excel in school. They employ expensive tutors and sports coaches to see they shine in all aspects. As much as this is a positive thing, if overdone, it can ruin a child.

  1. Kids aren’t learning emotional skills.

We only emphasize academic growth and forget to teach children about the importance of the emotional skills they need. A national survey of first-year college students showed that 60 percent of teens feel unemotionally prepared for college life due to lack of life skills.

Knowing how to manage time, combat stress and dealing with feelings are requirements in life. No wonder teens are anxious about everyday hassles.

  1. Parents are viewing themselves as protectors instead of guides.

Somewhere along the line, parents start to believe that they are protectors. They think their responsibility is to see that their kids grow up with no emotional or physical scars. They solve all their challenges for them. Children grow up thinking they are too fragile to handle challenges.

  1. Poor Ways of Handling Children Fear

They are two types of parents. One kind that protects their children from anything that is anxiety-provoking and the other kind that pushes their children too far. Without guidance and gentle nudging children never know they can face their fears.

  1. Parenting out of guilt and fear.

Parenting stirs up fear, guilt, and uncomfortable emotions. Since parents do not want to deal with these emotions, they change their parenting methods. Consequently, children grow up thinking emotions are intolerable because their parents gave in and let them have everything.

Hidden Signs of Teen Anxiety

Given that teens experience multiple physical and emotional changes, it is hard to spot anxiety. Many red flags may seem like normal teenage struggles. Here are hidden teen anxiety struggles to watch out for;

Emotional Changes

While some anxious teens express feelings of prevalent worry, other kids experience subtle emotional changes such as:

  • Unexplained outbursts
  • Irritability
  • Feeling “keyed up.”
  • Restlessness

Social changes

Anxiety adversely affects relationships. If you notice your once social teen is suddenly not making plans with his friends and is avoiding his/her favorite activities; think twice. You might notice your child;

  • Spending increased time alone
  • Avoiding social interactions with usual friends
  • Isolating from a peer group
  • Avoiding extracurricular activities

Physical changes

Many teenagers have physical complaints associated with an anxiety disorder similar to those of an average teen growing up. A normal headache is okay but frequent headaches are a red flag. Here are other psychosomatic complaints to look out for;

  • Unexplained aches and pains
  • Complaints of not feeling well without usual medical cause
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Changes in eating habits.

Sleep Disturbance

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 8-10 hours’ sleep for teenagers between 13 and 18 regularly for optimum health. Pediatricians also advise teens to have all the screens off 30 minutes before bed.

Sleeping habits of teens can be distracted by many factors such as screen time, changing brain structure, homework demands, and extracurricular activities. It is, therefore, hard to determine whether the sleeping disturbance of your teen is as a result of the mentioned issues or anxiety orders. Here are more clarified symptoms to look out for;

  • Not feeling refreshed after sleep
  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Frequent nightmares
  • Difficulty staying asleep
  • Poor school performance

Given that anxiety come with the baggage of missing school from anxiety-related diseases, physical issues, sleeping habits among other issues; the performance of the children is likely to be affected. Watch for these changes in your teen;

  • Procrastinating or having difficulty in concentrating on home works than usual
  • Describes feeling overwhelmed by the workload
  • A significant jump in grades (usually downward)
  • Frequently missed assignments

Symptoms of panic attacks

Not all anxious kids experience panic attacks; some experience mild symptoms of a panic attack. Here are common symptoms among people with anxiety disorders;

  • Feeling like they’re “going crazy.”
  • Sweating and trembling
  • Feeling like they’re dying
  • Numbness or tingling in arms and legs
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Derealization
  • Dizziness
  • Chest pain

How to Help an Anxious Teen

The next step after realizing your teen is suffering from anxiety is helping them deal with it. Talk to the doctor about the symptoms you observe and discuss possible treatments. While some pediatricians and physicians are comfortable with an anti-anxiety prescription, some may refer children to the Psychiatrists (specialists who treat mental health disorders).

If you have any concerns with your teen’s prescription or diagnosis, consider seeking a second opinion. Talking to a different professional can help you decide on the best course.

See that you are well-informed on the medication that your child is taking. Talk to the doctor, ask questions and read the handouts. Ensure your child is taking the medicines as prescribed. Doubling or skipping meals can be harmful.

Also, make a point to attend your kid’s appointment and ask about their progress.

Anxiety Treatment for Teens

There are many anxiety treatments that can help your teen calm down and lead a normal life. The physician can recommend medication, therapy or other medications based on the anxiety level of the teen.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors commonly known as SSRIs are the most prescribed pills for teen anxiety. Other commonly prescribed medicines include SNRIs (Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors).

Benzodiazepine is recommended for teens with severe anxiety. The latter is rarely prescribed as they are associated with danger. Teens are likely to get addicted to them and misuse them. Stopping them may cause severe withdrawal effects such as seizures. Occasionally physicians may prescribe other medications such as atypical antipsychotics or antihistamines.

Common Side Effects of SSRIs and SNRIs

Not all teens experience the side effects of SSRIs and SNRIs. For the teens who experience the side effects, they are usually mild, and they go away after some time.

Common side effects include;

  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Dry mouth
  • Excessive sweating

Others include;

  • Changes in sexual function such as difficulty achieving orgasm, erectile dysfunction, and a low sex drive.
  • Constipation
  • Tiredness
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of appetite

Informing your teen’s doctor on the side effects is important. If one medication is not working or it has serious side effects, they may need a change in their medication.

FDA Warnings about SSRIs and SNRIs

In 2004, the FDA issued a warning saying that SNRIs and SSRIs pills, commonly used as adolescents’ antidepressants increased suicidal thoughts in a small number of children and teens.

There were no suicidal cases reported as evidence of the study. However, in clinical trials, only 2% of the children receiving the placebo struggled with suicidal thoughts compared to a 4% rate of the people receiving antidepressants.

Black box warning was added to the prescription as a measure. Teens and parents are educated about the potential risks and patients closely monitored during frequent appointments.

Some experts are against FDA’s step of introducing the black box warning. This is with the argument that people may not get help for fear of getting hurt by the medication. Some parents may also not get help for their children.

What to Remember

Anxiety disorders are common in teenagers. The important thing is to see that you monitor your teenager closely. By so doing, you get to see the symptoms on the early stages. Once you observe anxiety symptoms, reach out for medical help to get a prescription for your child. There are multiple pills that the physician can prescribe as well as a therapy session.

As much as it pains to see your baby struggle to get well; you got to be there for them by seeing they follow the doctor’s instructions for improvement. Eventually, the situation improves.

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