What Are The Signs Of Anxiety In Teens?

Reviewed by Rashonda Douthit, LCSW

Published 01/08/2021

If you're a teenager or the parent of a teenager, you might wonder what the signs of anxiety in teens are. Maybe, you think that you have an anxiety disorder yourself, or perhaps, you are noticing the symptoms in your teenager and are wondering what to do. Anxiety can have a tremendous impression on a person's life, and it can impact their social relationships, work or career, and schooling. However, anxiety is a common and highly treatable mental health condition. Statistics released by the National Institute Of Mental Health (NIMH) indicated that 31.9% of individuals in the adolescent age group had an anxiety disorder of some form. Out of that 31.9%, 8.3% of those individuals faced severe impairment or impact as a result of the anxiety disorder. If you have an anxiety disorder, it doesn't have to rule your life forever. Experiencing anxiety is nothing to be ashamed of, and help is available.

Why Is There Anxiety in Teens?

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While there are a number of potential risk factors for anxiety disorders, it's imperative to remember that anyone can develop an anxiety disorder. Here are some of the potential risk factors for anxiety disorders that may cause a person of any age to develop an anxiety disorder:

  • Family history of anxiety disorders or other mental health conditions
  • Personal history of other mental health conditions or physical health conditions
  • Substance use
  • Trauma
  • Life experiences
  • Stress or life stressors

There are other matters that may impact a person's likelihood of developing an anxiety disorder. For example, bullying may contribute to the development or persistence of social anxiety disorder or another type of anxiety disorder, such as agoraphobia or generalized anxiety. Additionally, women are statistically more likely to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder than men are. Personality traits such as perfectionism or shyness can also contribute to the way that mental health conditions, including anxiety, manifest. It's important to remember that there’s no need to blame yourself for having an anxiety disorder. Having an anxiety disorder isn't your fault, and it's possible to live a healthy, happy life with an anxiety disorder. If you're a parent, the best thing that you can do for your child or teen with an anxiety disorder is to support them, listen, and assist them in getting the help that will benefit them the most.

Types Of Anxiety Disorders

In the DSM 5, which is the most recent edition of the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, there are a number of different recognized anxiety disorders. These anxiety disorders include:

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Generalized anxiety disorder is a common mental health condition characterized by persistent, excessive worry. Symptoms may include excessive worry, physical symptoms such as sweating, blushing, heart palpitations, rapid heartbeat, trembling or shaking, panic attacks, difficulty focusing or concentrating (with no other cause), irritability, restlessness, rumination or obsessive thoughts, fatigue, trouble sleeping or trouble staying asleep, and hypervigilance. Generalized anxiety disorder affects 6.8% of the adult population in the United States alone, and it is one of the most common anxiety disorders a person can have.

Anxiety in Teens: Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD)

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Social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia, refers to an anxiety disorder that causes a person to fear social situations or interactions. Symptoms of social anxiety disorder include fear of humiliation or embarrassment in social situations, avoidance of social situations, panic attacks, physical symptoms such as sweating, blushing, heart palpitations, a racing heart, or rapid heartbeat, trembling or shaking, and social withdrawal or isolation. Some people with social anxiety disorder turn to substances, such as alcohol, to cope with the condition. Social anxiety is far more extreme than just being shy or introverted. It isn't a personality trait. Instead, social anxiety disorder is a mental health condition that can impact a person's life in many different areas.

Specific Phobias

Specific phobias categorized as a type of anxiety disorder where a person is excessively afraid of a particular circumstance, object, or situation. People with specific phobias tend to avoid their phobia at all costs. These phobias are more than just "quirks" and can impact a person's life pervasively. Symptoms include an intense feeling of the need to escape a particular situation or circumstance, especially one that exposes them to their phobia, excessive worry or fear surrounding the phobia, panic attacks, and physical symptoms such as shaking, trembling, nausea, heart palpitations, dry mouth, and trouble breathing.

Agoraphobia

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Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder characterized by the fear and avoidance of places, circumstances, or situations that have the potential to cause anxiety, panic, a sensation of helplessness, embarrassment, or feeling as though one is trapped. Some people with agoraphobia begin to fear leaving the confines of their homes at all, or they may avoid leaving home for extended periods of time. Typically, it's exacerbated when someone is in places where it would be hard to escape (for example, a plane or elevator), when someone is afraid of the loss of control, or when someone is at risk of feeling helpless, weak, powerless, or embarrassed. Agoraphobia can cause panic attacks at times. Risk factors for agoraphobia include but aren't limited to trauma, family history, personal history of separate anxiety disorders, or personal history of another mental health condition.

Panic Disorder

Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder characterized by panic attacks that seemingly come out of nowhere or out of the blue. Panic attacks can be very scary for the sufferer; some people even feel as though they're going to die while experiencing a panic attack. Symptoms that may occur during a panic attack include feeling lightheaded, sweating or chills, shaking or trembling, shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea or G.I. distress, heart palpitations, a rapid heartbeat, numbness, tingling, dizziness, and derealization, disassociation, or depersonalization.

Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety disorder refers to a mental health condition marked by a pervasive fear of separation. Someone might fear being separated from a particular individual, such as a caregiver, or they may fear separation from multiple people. It is typically diagnosed in children.

Treatment For Anxiety

One of the most effective and well-known treatments for anxiety disorders is cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT.  CBT is often short term but you can go for as long as you like, and many people use the skills and thought processes that they learn in cognitive behavioral therapy for the rest of their lives. For certain types of anxiety disorders, exposure therapy is included in a person's treatment plan and can be highly beneficial. Different treatments work for different people, even if they have the same mental health condition, so it is crucial to do what works for you. Don't give up if you do not find the right treatment right away. Some people choose to take psychiatric medications in addition to going to therapy. Always remember to consult your prescribing doctor before starting, stopping, or changing a medication regime.

For all guidance regarding treatment options, please consult a licensed professional.

Finding A Teen Counselor for Anxiety in Teens

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To find a teen counselor or a counselor that works with teenagers, you may consult your child's primary care physician for a referral. Another route to take is to search the web for "teen counselors near me." You can also check out an online directory of counselors and therapists in your area who work with teens and anxiety disorders, or you can contact your insurance company to see what they cover and forms of talk therapy and counseling. Therapy for teens with anxiety can be conducted both in-person and online, which is beneficial to know in the time of the coronavirus. Online cognitive behavioral therapy has been shown to be just as effective as an in-person treatment, so know that it is a viable, safe, and well-researched option to consider.

Even if you don't have an anxiety disorder and are instead dealing with stress or life stressors, therapy or counseling is a viable option that can help. Some people, including teens, face symptoms of anxiety or depression that are situational rather than something that can be attributed to a mental health condition. Teens face a variety of life stressors, such as family life, college, learning to handle finances, balancing work and school, friendships, and relationships that may impact their mental health. A teen counselor can make a big difference in an adolescent's life. At your teen's high school or college, there may be resources, such as a counseling center, available.

Take The Anxiety Test

Are you wondering if you have an anxiety disorder? If so, you can take the free, confidential test here on mind-diagnostics.com. Although this online test isn't a replacement for seeing a provider who is qualified to diagnose mental health conditions, it is an excellent way to get insight into your symptoms. Go to this link to take the anxiety test: https://www.mind-diagnostics.org/anxiety-test.