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Our teen years are undoubtedly an anxiety-inducing time, no matter your situation.

Not only do you have to contend with a wave of new and confusing hormones, but how we view the world (and our place in it) also changes rapidly. If you are worried about whether your teenage child is suffering from anxiety, you may have noticed several changes in their behavior and are seeking the best ways to support them.

Our latest article looks into what anxiety really means in teenagers, why young adults tend to feel anxious, signs and symptoms to look out for, and how you can seek treatment and support your teenager through this tricky time in life.

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What is anxiety, and how is it different in teenagers?

Anxiety is a nervous disorder that is extremely common and typically leaves the sufferer with prolonged worry, fear, or uncertainty about the future or a specific event. Someone with a generalized anxiety disorder will have anxious thoughts more than the average person and find this anxiety impacts their whole life, often leaving them unable to complete daily tasks and live a happy, fulfilled life.

Anyone can fall victim to bouts of anxiety at any age, though due to our developmental differences, this may manifest in different ways depending on how old you are. Anxiety in teenagers usually has to do with internal worries, unlike younger children, who tend to fixate on external fears, like monsters under their beds. As a person hits their teen years, they are likely to worry about school performance and how others view them and their bodies. While this, to an extent, is normal and a process we all go through, extended periods of worry or even obsession could indicate your child is suffering from a period of anxiety or even generalized anxiety disorder.

Causes of anxiety in teenagers

Our teenage years can be a very vulnerable part of our lives, leading us to worry about things we had perhaps never considered in our younger years. There are many causes and explanations as to why your teenager might be experiencing anxiety that cover the whole spectrum of their life. Read on below to understand what might be causing anxiety in your teenager.

School performance

As your child moves into their teen years, they may have more of an eye on the future. They could be considering what they want to do for a career and thinking more about the steps they need to take to achieve this goal. This can put far more pressure on them academically than ever before. Your child might feel anxious about performing well in school and getting consistently good grades.

Others opinions

Unlike in our childhood or teen years, we start to care far more about what others think of us. Typically this revolves around peer opinion and what friends and classmates think of them. This can be a tough time, as your teenager might be highly conscious of their appearance, the activities and hobbies they pursue, and how they act around others in social situations.

Issues with body confidence

It is natural for every teen to feel self-conscious about their bodies now and again. During these years, there is pressure to abide by specific societal body standards. However, this can affect some teens more than others. You may notice your teen start developing anxiety around their weight, height, or even skin if they suffer from hormonal acne.

Worry about the future

Though not quite adults yet, teenagers are beginning to take on more independent responsibility and starting to realize the weight of the future ahead of them. Whether learning to drive or thinking about further education and career prospects, this can cause your child a lot of worry and concern.

Signs and symptoms of anxiety in teenagers

Some many common signs and symptoms align with your child’s anxiety issues. If you identify with any of the symptoms below, it is worth discussing with your teenager to figure out the best way to relieve their feelings of worry. Read on to discover the main signs and symptoms of anxiety in teenagers.

Apparent fear and worry about daily life

If you notice your child either verbally or non-verbally expressing fear and worry about daily activities, this indicates they are struggling with anxiety. For example, they may express fear about going to school each day, meeting up with friends and peers, or going out shopping.

Irritability and aggression

Anxiety does not always manifest as overt worry or fear. Sometimes it can come out as irritability or aggression in teenagers. This is typically due to the fact they have not reached a stage of emotional development to identify perhaps or be able to communicate their true feelings. Building frustration surrounding this may make arguments, rudeness, and mood swings more likely in your teenager. While this can be difficult for any parent to cope with, it is essential to look beyond what your child is expressing on the surface and consider why they might be acting this way. Persistent irritability, seemingly without cause, is a good indicator of underlying anxiety.

Lack of concentration

Anxiety can take over our entire minds. Whether it’s intrusive or cyclical thinking, it can make it very hard to concentrate on the tasks. If your child is suffering from anxiety, you may notice a drop in their ability to concentrate. Whether it is on their favorite tv show, reading a book, or perhaps their teacher has been in touch concerned about a drop in their concentration in class, these are strong indicators of underlying issues.

Self-esteem issues

As we have discussed, the teenage years can be challenging regarding self-esteem and body image. Not only do teens have a growing sense of the societal pressures around them, but they may also start caring more about romantic attention and attraction from others. If your teen is overly concerned about their appearance, this can manifest in anxiety. For example, they may worry that no one will ever go out with them because of their weight, height, or other aesthetic traits. These feelings may make them withdraw socially, become more introverted or irritable, and avoidant around specific topics of conversation.

Social withdrawal

Commonly anxiety creates feelings of danger or a fear of people thinking badly of you. For these reasons, the condition can often make teens withdraw from the social activities they once enjoyed. You might notice your child start to isolate themselves more, even around family members they feel comfortable with. Social anxiety is widespread in teens and usually arises from a fear of looking stupid in front of others or not being liked and accepted. If your child starts spending more time in their room and skipping social events with their friends and family, they could display signs of anxiety.

Avoidance of responsibilities or new situations

Anxiety is a condition that typically leaves you with little energy or drives to complete tasks, even those you enjoy. It can also create a feeling of brain fog, meaning you forget things easily. If your teen has anxiety, you might notice they start neglecting their responsibilities. For example, household chores or tidying their rooms. They may also avoid new situations and take up new hobbies, and they don’t have the mental capacity to cope.

Physical illness

Anxiety isn’t all in mind. Left long enough, it can soon manifest physically in your teen. The intense feelings of worry and fear that come with the condition mean that nausea and vomiting are common. You may also notice intense fatigue, muscle ache, and pain from constant tension. If you notice your child developing physical illness in response to specific events, they may be dealing with anxiety.

Drop in school performance

With a lowered ability to concentrate, your teen is likely to drop school grades when struggling with anxiety. Sadly this poor performance often only exasperates the teen’s anxiety, creating a vicious cycle. If you notice grades start to slip, or perhaps your teachers express concern about your child’s performance, anxiety might be the root cause.

Trouble sleeping

Anxiety can keep a person up late at night with swimming thoughts of fear and worry. It can mean a massive disturbance in your teen’s sleeping quality, which is vital, and their brains are still developing and need adequate rest. You may find your teen struggles to get to sleep or stay asleep due to intrusive anxious thoughts.

Drug/substance abuse

Anxiety can cause teenagers to turn to drugs and other substances in some more extreme cases. This is typically in an attempt to relieve constant anxious feelings, whether through drinking alcohol or taking other drugs. This is extremely serious and should be addressed as soon as possible if you suspect this to be the case with your child.

How anxiety in teens can be treated

While accepting that your child is struggling with anxiety issues can be difficult for parents, there are many avenues of support to help you and your teenager. Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most common and effective treatment options for anxiety disorders. These sessions will allow your teen to understand their feelings and reassess the most healthy ways to deal with them in the future. Alternatively, some medications for anxiety disorder are also an option for teenagers who don’t find help with talking therapy.

How can I best support my teenager with anxiety?

While treating your teenager’s anxiety should be left to professionals, they will need a lot of support from their parents and family to start feeling like themselves again. One of the best ways you can support your child is not to ignore the issue and hope it will go away. If you notice your child exhibiting signs of anxiety, talk openly with them and ask them how you can help them. Present yourself as a safe and open listening ear that they can talk freely about their feelings at any time.

You might also want to encourage health and wellness in your teen to help limit the effects of anxiety. For example, suggesting they talk to a therapist, exercise regularly, and join more social groups. Above all, be patient and as understanding as possible with your child during this tricky time. Anxiety can feel very isolating, so always remain close even when your teenager pushes you away.