Anxiety is a feeling of unease that can range from mild to severe in intensity. This can include being worried or fearful about something. It is actually perfectly normal to feel anxiety at some point in your life. However, for some, anxiety is constant. This affects their daily lives and makes it hard for them to function with normal everyday tasks.
Anxiety is Common in the Teen Years
The adolescent years are marked with new experiences and challenges. As children grow and develop, they become more independent and their bodies and brains start to change. As such, most teens worry about something or other at some point of time.
Some may feel a little anxious about starting school, exams and fitting in with friends. Others may worry about their future and what they want to pursue when they finish secondary school. Feeling anxious is quite normal in teenagers and for most teens, the anxiety goes away on its own.
However, for some teenagers, the anxiety that they feel is pervasive and overwhelming. It affects their thoughts, emotions and behavior and disrupts everyday life and daily routines. h as this may be suffering from an anxiety disorder. According to the US’ National Institute of Mental Health, 31.9% of adolescents between the ages of 13 to 18 had an anxiety disorder.
Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety in Teens
Teens who are suffering from anxiety may have physical symptoms such as:
- Frequent headaches
- Stomach pains and gastrointestinal issues
- Feeling fatigued all the time
- Having unexplainable aches and pains
- Feels unwell without any obvious reason
- Has changes in eating habits
While some teens experience psychosomatic symptoms, others describe and experience emotional changes such as:
- Feeling worried and anxious frequently
- Feeling ‘on edge’
- Easily irritable
- Feeling ‘keyed up’
- Feeling restless
- Having difficulty focusing or concentrating on the task at hand
- Have unexpected outburst
Anxiety may also affect your child’s friendships. Teens with anxiety may avoid going out with friends and stop going to activities that he or she previously enjoyed. Social changes that might occur when a teen suffers from anxiety include:
- Avoiding activities that they once enjoyed
- Avoiding friends
- Seems isolated
- Spends a lot of time alone
Changes in Sleeping Habits
Another area of anxiety can affect your teen’s health is in their sleeping patterns. Adequate sleep is important for optimal health and it is recommended that teenagers between 13 to 18 years old get 8 to 10 hours of sleep for every 24 hours. However, teens with anxiety disorders may have
- Trouble falling asleep
- Issues with staying asleep
- Frequent nightmares
- Still feeling tired after sleep
Changes in School Performance
One of the key affected areas that you might notice in your teen is in her school performance. This should not come as a surprise as anxiety can cause physical symptoms and disturb sleeping habits. Your child’s drop in their school performance can be a sign that they are suffering from anxiety so look out for the following:
- A significant drop in school grades
- Difficulty concentrating in school
- Procrastinates and often misses assignments
- Your teen describes being overwhelmed by schoolwork.
Types of Anxiety Disorders Teenagers Face
Following are the types of anxiety disorders commonly noted in teens:
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
This is quite a common anxiety disorder in teens. With GAD, teens worry excessively over normal everyday events. They worry about getting to school on time, school exams, and can even feel worried about going over to their friend’s house. Teens who have GAD are not able to control what they are worried about often experience emotional stress.
Teens with social anxiety are often anxious when in social settings. Social anxiety may be caused by low self esteem as well as fear of what others will think of them. They may feel embarrassed and are afraid of what will happen if they say or do the ‘wrong’ thing. Social anxiety causes teens to isolate themselves to avoid contact with other people.
A specific phobia refers to an extremely irrational fear of something that is actually not a threat. Teens with a specific phobia may have symptoms such as increased heart rate, sweating and may even end in a panic attack. They might also exhibit avoidance behaviors in order to make sure that they do not come into contact with what they fear. For example, if it is the fear of dogs, they might avoid going for walks or going to the park because there might be a dog there.
Panic disorder is more common in teens than in young children. Teens who suffer from panic disorder experience sudden and unexpected fears that are intense. They feel like they are losing control. The body goes into the fight or response and there are symptoms such as sweating, shortness of breath, and muscle tension. Panic attacks are also a symptom of panic disorder.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Teens with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) have overwhelming unwanted thoughts, images and urges. These obsessions create extreme anxiety that they try to relieve by engaging in repetitive thoughts and actions, which are called compulsions.
Teens with OCD are not able to stop the unwanted thoughts even though they know that it is irrational. Additionally, as the teenage years are where one becomes more aware of their sexuality, one of the obsessions that teens may have is forbidden thoughts, such as thoughts about sexual acts.
Treating Anxiety in Teens
If your child is often anxious and worried, there are several things that you can do to deal with anxiety and help them overcome it.
1. Help your teen to face her fears
One of the key ways to overcome fears is to face them. When you teen shares her fears and worries, make sure that you do not dismiss her fears. It is important that you acknowledge how your child feels because doing so shows that you believe and support them.
Encourage your child to face what they are afraid of. You can do this by coming up with a plan together with your teen. For example, if your child is having anxiety about giving a presentation in class, start small by practising in front of the mirror and then in front of family members.
Allow your child time to reach the goals in the plan. Explain to your child that avoiding their fears will only give strength to the feared stimuli. Once your child gains confidence that she is able to overcome her fears, there will be less anxiety. Acknowledge successes, no matter how small they may seem, as it will encourage your child in her journey to overcome anxiety.
2. Help your teen to understand her emotions
You can help your teen to understand her emotions by being open and honest with her. Let her know that she is not alone and that many other teens feel anxious as well. Remember that the teenage years are where your child goes through many changes physically and these changes can cause a whole lot of emotions.
When your teen talks about how she feels, listen to what she has to say. Instead of telling your teen what to do, help her to identify her thoughts and feelings. Doing so will help your teen to understand why she feels the way she does and thus, help her to better manage both her positive and negative emotions.
3. Give your teen love and support
The adolescent years can be very stressful and confusing and your child needs to know that you love and support them. Tell them that you love them and give them hugs so that they know that you love them. Your child will be more open to sharing what they are feeling when they know that you love them.
4. Have a healthy lifestyle
A healthy lifestyle can make a big difference in your teen’s emotions and behavior. Get back to the basics and allow your teen to spend time doing things that she finds relaxing. It can be as simple as enjoying a book or going for a walk.
Encourage healthy and balanced meals that meet your teen’s nutritional needs. Avoid too much sugar, alcohol and caffeine as it will have an effect on their moods. Regular exercise will also help your teen to relieve the stress that she might be facing.
5. Get professional support
For some children, the anxiety that they feel is incredibly intense and pervasive. Do not hesitate to get professional support as early intervention will help your child in the long run. Speak to your child about anxiety disorders and also about getting professional help. Allow your child to share their thoughts and fears concerning the doctor’s visit.
Speak to your teen’s doctor if you are unsure where to get help from. Let your child’s school counsellor know about their anxiety so that they too are able to give support to your child.
If your child is seeing a psychiatrist or a psychologist, cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) might be recommended. This therapy is based on how our thoughts affect our emotions and behaviors and aim to change negative or irrational thought processes to change emotions and behaviors. Do be actively involved if your child is going for therapy so that you are able to support and encourage your child through the process.
Risk Factors of Anxiety
Studies have shown that there are several risk factors that seem to make it more likely for a person to suffer from an anxiety disorder. Family genetics can play a role with those who have a family history of anxiety disorders more likely to have one. Additionally, a child has an increased likelihood of having anxiety when they see anxious behaviors exhibited by their parents or role models.
Stressful life events and trauma can also trigger anxiety in teens. This event can include frequently moving, abuse, witnessing a car accident, and death of a loved one. A teen who suffers from chronic illness, such as asthma or epilepsy may also have anxiety which stems from their medical condition.
Some teens have personalities and traits that lean them toward anxiety. They may be very shy and sensitive or have low self-esteem. Besides this, teens who need to have everything in perfect order may also tend to be more anxious.
The teenage years can be quite stressful and it is not uncommon for teens to feel anxiety.
However, if your child seems to be continuously anxious, she might have an anxiety disorder. It is important to get effective treatment for your teen’s anxiety so that she is able to manage and overcome her anxiety.
Doing so will prevent the anxiety from further disrupting you and your child’s lives. It will also prevent other mental health conditions such as depression, that might arise in the future due to the untreated anxiety disorder.