The fears and worries of children with anxiety often focus on things outside themselves, like the dark, wild animals, monsters, or scary things happening to the people they love. During adolescence, anxiety usually shifts inward and often looks like perfectionism. Worrying about their appearance, grades, and being liked can amplify into severe anxiety or even result in panic attacks. Managing anxiety in teens can be very difficult without professional support, such as therapy and/or medication, in an anxiety treatment program.
Knowing that anxiety symptoms in teens may look very different than people at other life stages, both childhood and adulthood, helps families become aware of warning signs. Awareness is the first step toward accessing help for a teen with an anxiety disorder. Learn more about teen anxiety, managing anxiety symptoms, and how to access evidence-based treatment by reaching out to Pennsylvania Adult & Teen Challenge (PAATC). We are here to answer your questions. Complete this online form or call us at 844.442.8673 to connect with one of our staff.
Anxiety Triggers in Teens
Teenagers can develop anxiety at or around puberty, or the onset of adolescence can exacerbate an already-existing anxiety disorder. In the teen years, most of the focus of severe anxiety is on three main things:
- The perception of others – A teen can become fixated on how they are viewed by peers, whether or not they have friends and a fear of embarrassing themselves. Considering these worries are fairly normal for teens anyway, a teen with anxiety can be virtually crippled by fears about how they are seen by others.
- Perfect performance – Many teens with anxiety are intensely burdened by their worries about not being “good enough”—as a student, athlete, or friend. They drown themselves in work, to their detriment, though this behavior is often praised by adults as a solid work ethic. Overachievement and anxiety about being perfect will burn out an anxious teen quickly.
- Perfect appearance – Teenagers who don’t have anxiety disorders have a tough time dealing with their changing bodies. Those with anxiety can be very negatively affected by even seemingly inconsequential and totally normal things, like growing taller, changing voices, the onset of menses, as well as the timing of all these things. If the changes happen earlier or later than all their friends, anxiety is only amplified.
How do you know your teen is suffering from anxiety above and beyond the normal worries of adolescence?
Anxiety Symptoms in Teens
Teenagers can respond to anxiety in numerous ways. Some withdraw and avoid sources of stress, while others become angry, tempestuous, and rebellious. Families can keep their eyes on signs that seem like changes in behavior or suddenly exaggerated versions of recognizable traits.
Some of the common signs of anxiety disorders among teens are below. Realize that not all teens with anxiety present the same way.
- Fear and avoidance of new situations. A new school or move to a new city can seem paralyzing.
- Physical symptoms that may be anxiety related. Chronic headaches, stomach pains, or nausea and vomiting are common among teens with overwhelming anxiety.
- Meltdowns over workload stress. Normal school workloads can become overwhelming and lead to school refusal or dropping grades.
- Distractibility and loss of focus. It is hard for teens overburdened with anxiety to concentrate on things.
- Increased dependence. Some teens need reassurance often and seek it from parents who may see it as a developmental reversal. This is help-seeking which can be shifted to constructive use.
- Aversion to criticism. The teen’s self-conscious anxiety recoils at the slightest whiff of criticism, even when it is constructive and delivered with love.
- Substance abuse. Many teens will self-medicate with alcohol or drugs to escape from their anxiety symptoms. This, combined with the poor self-regulation typical of teens, can lead to addiction.
Depending on how your teen responds to parental concerns, you may have a hard time broaching the subject of anxiety with them or explaining that you want to get them help.
Managing Anxiety in Teens – PAATC Can Help
Talk to our staff about the ways to introduce your concerns to your teenager. We are here to answer your questions about teen anxiety and treatment. Anxiety can be effectively treated and your teen can live a full life unfettered by the constraining symptoms of an anxiety disorder. Let PAATC help you and your teen on this journey.