Living with anxiety is difficult for most adults, and it can be especially tough for teenagers. As a parent, you might not know how to help your teen cope with anxiety. However, there are things you can do to support your child and lessen their anxiety. Below is a guide to help you understand and manage your teen’s anxiety, help them take control of their own anxiety, and find ways to support their mental health.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress, but this reaction might cause debilitating symptoms in teens. Usually, anxiety’s stress response helps people deal with potentially threatening situations by preparing them to respond physically. This “fight-or-flight” response is helpful when humans need to react quickly to a real threat. For example, if someone is about to be in a car accident, the extra adrenaline from anxiety can help avoid injury.
However, sometimes people experience anxiety even when there is no real threat. As many as 31.9% of teens experience anxiety in their everyday life, which can be difficult to manage. Symptoms of anxiety can include:
- Physical anxiety symptoms related to increased adrenaline, which include increased heart rate, trouble breathing, sweating, shaking, or feeling exhausted
- Emotional symptoms, which include feeling irritable, on edge, or easily annoyed are all common with teenage anxiety symptoms
- Cognitive symptoms, which include difficulty concentrating, feeling like your mind is going blank, trouble sleeping, or having intrusive thoughts
Different Anxiety Disorder Symptoms in Teens
In teens, these symptoms are very similar to those in adults. However, there are some unique symptoms that might show up in adolescents with anxiety. For example, some teens might develop skin-picking or hair-pulling habits as a way to soothe their anxiety. Others may start using drugs or alcohol to cope with their symptoms.
If your teen tells you they are panicking for no reason, or they say statements such as, “My heart is racing and I don’t know why,” or “I feel like I’m going crazy,” take these signals seriously. These are signs that your teen might be experiencing a panic attack, which is a type of anxiety attack that can be very intense and feel like it’s happening out of nowhere.
In addition to understanding general anxiety, it’s also important to know that there are many different types of anxiety disorders. Some common types of anxiety mental health issues include:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): People with GAD experience chronic and excessive worrying about many different things. It can be hard for them to control their worry, and it might cause them to feel restless, on edge, or easily fatigued.
- Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD): People with SAD feel overwhelming worry and self-consciousness in social situations. They might worry about being judged by others, or they might avoid social situations altogether.
- Specific Phobias: A phobia is an intense fear of a specific object or situation. For example, some people have a fear of flying, driving, or heights. It’s important to curb negative responses to phobias during treatment.
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): People with OCD have intrusive, unwanted thoughts, called obsessions. To try to control these thoughts, they might compulsively do certain behaviors over and over again. For example, someone with OCD might wash their hands excessively or repeatedly check that the oven is turned off. Pure OCD is also common, and teens might complain of having “Weird thoughts” or “Bad thoughts” that they can’t control.
- Panic Disorder: Teens with panic disorder experience regular, unexpected panic attacks. These panic attacks are sudden and intense episodes of fear that can cause physical symptoms such as a rapid heart rate, chest pain, or shortness of breath. After a panic attack, people might worry about having another one, which can lead to panic disorder. Your teen might start limiting themselves and refuse to go to places where they think they might have a panic attack.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): PTSD can develop after someone goes through a traumatic event, such as witnessing a death or being in a car accident. People with PTSD might have flashbacks of the event, avoid anything that reminds them of the event, and feel constantly on edge. Sadly, as many as 15% of teens between 13 and 18 years old suffer from PTSD after a traumatic incident. If your teen complains of flashbacks, inability to forget traumatic events, or has intense fears of triggers that remind them of a traumatic event, they might be suffering from PTSD.
There are many different types of anxiety disorders, and each one has its own set of symptoms. It’s important to talk to your teen’s doctor or a mental health professional if you’re concerned that your teen might have an anxiety disorder. They can help you figure out what’s going on and create a treatment plan that works for your teen. You can help your child manage their symptoms with the help of a trained professional.
Causes of Teen Anxiety
There are many factors that can contribute to anxiety in teens. Some teenagers might be more prone to anxiety due to genetics. If someone in your family has anxiety, your teen might be more likely to develop the condition. In addition, environmental factors can play a role. For example, if your teen is going through a difficult time at school or home, this might contribute to their anxiety.
Lack of coping skills is another common cause of anxiety in teenagers. If your teen doesn’t know how to deal with stress, this can lead to anxiety. Teens might also develop anxiety due to peer pressure or social media. For example, if your teen is constantly seeing perfect lives on Instagram, they might start to feel like they’re not good enough. This can lead to anxiety and lower your teen’s self-esteem.
It’s also important to note that anxiety can be both a cause and an effect of substance abuse. For example, some teens might start using drugs or alcohol to self-medicate their anxiety. Around 20% of people with a substance use disorder are diagnosed with depression or anxiety and vice versa. Substance abuse can also worsen anxiety. It’s important to be aware of this dual diagnosis and get help for both conditions if necessary if you’re concerned that your teen might be struggling with anxiety and/or substance abuse.
Fortunately, anxiety is a highly treatable condition. There are many different types of treatment available, and the best option for your teen will depend on the severity of their anxiety and their individual needs.
Mental Health Therapy
If your teen is suffering from chronic anxiety, PTSD, or other anxiety disorders, they might benefit from mental health therapy. There are many different types of mental health therapy, so it’s important to talk to a therapist to find out which one is right for your teen.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is one of the most common and effective types of therapy for anxiety. CBT can help your teen understand and change their thoughts and behaviors. This type of therapy can be done in individual or group sessions, and it’s often used in combination with other types of treatment.
- Exposure Therapy: This is another type of mental health therapy that can be helpful for treating anxiety. Exposure therapy involves gradually exposing your teen to the things they’re afraid of. This can help them learn to cope with their anxiety and eventually overcome their fears. ERP is another type of therapy that can help certain anxiety disorders such as OCD.
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): This is a type of therapy that can be used to treat anxiety and other mental health disorders. DBT focuses on helping your teen develop coping skills, such as mindfulness and emotional regulation. This type of therapy can be done in individual or group sessions.
In some cases, medication might be necessary to treat anxiety.
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, can help treat anxiety by increasing levels of serotonin in the brain. This type of medication can be helpful for treating depression as well.
- Benzodiazepines are another type of medication that can be used to treat anxiety. These medications work by reducing the symptoms of anxiety. However, they can be addictive and should only be used short term. Your mental health professional can help you figure out if this type of medication is right for your teen.
In addition to therapy and medication, support groups can also be helpful for treating anxiety. There are many different types of support groups available, such as those for specific anxiety disorders or general anxiety support groups. These groups can provide a safe and supportive environment and can be combined with outpatient treatment. For teens that struggle with social anxiety, groups can also help them practice social skills and interact with others.
It’s also important to encourage your teen to practice self-care. This includes things like getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, and exercising regularly. These things can help reduce stress and improve your teen’s overall mental health.
How to Get Help For Your Teen’s Anxiety
As a parent, never dismiss your teen’s claims if they struggle with anxiety and want to get help. Trust is important in these situations, and you should always seek professional help if you’re concerned about your teen’s mental health.
If you think your teen might be struggling with anxiety, the first step is to talk to them about it. If they’re open to talking, try to ask questions and listen without judgment.
You should also make an appointment with a mental health professional. This could be a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist. A professional can help you and your teen figure out if they have anxiety and what the best course of treatment is. Once your teen is open to discussing their anxiety, you can work together to find the best treatment option for them.
Get Help For Your Teen’s Anxiety Today
Anxiety can be a difficult thing to deal with, but you don’t have to do it alone. Clear Recovery Center’s Teen Program offers an evidence-based and individualized treatment approach designed to treat teenage anxiety and other mental health issues. Don’t hesitate to call today if you think your teen might be struggling with anxiety.