Teen anxiety is on the rise, alongside other mental health issues. While most people know about conditions such as social anxiety disorder, depression, ADHD, and bipolar disorder, it’s important to note that anxiety disorders are by far the most common type of mental health issue across genders, ages, and nations worldwide. In the US alone, an estimated one in three teens between the ages of 13 and 18 will or have experienced symptoms of an anxiety disorder.
We need to do better for our teens, including learning to identify the telltale signs of anxiety and help them cope as early as possible.
In this article, you will discover the five common teen anxiety symptoms.
Common Teen Anxiety Symptoms
Teens who are constantly on edge, feel wired at all times, cannot stop worrying about certain things, or worry about problems that do not exist or aren’t nearly at the magnitude that they imagine them to may be struggling with anxiety.
Pair these thoughts with an increase in severity and longevity – negative, harmful, and impairing thoughts lasting weeks and months – and it’s easy to understand why anxiety disorders are a huge problem.
They keep teens from doing well at school, engaging with their friends, and developing as healthy adults. They can impact teens physically by cutting short sleep, affecting appetite, and straining the heart.
Here are five common teen anxiety symptoms.
Panic and Hyperventilation
Not all anxiety results in panic. Many cases of anxiety may involve a blanket feeling of stress, an overarching dread or doom – but in some cases, that feeling can bubble over and erupt into an acute attack of severe stress. Panic attacks are more common in teens who experience panic disorder, which involves multiple bursts of panic within a short period.
Panic attacks are experienced as severe physical episodes of discomfort, shock, fear, and confusion. They include a tightness in the chest, an accelerated feeling of time, a burst of adrenaline, and difficulty breathing, resulting in short, snappy breaths (hyperventilation) and chest pains.
Teens can experience panic attacks with or without a trigger. Sometimes, panic attacks result from an acute stressor – such as a phobia, or a traumatic event. But they can also occur on their own, even in calm moments, such as the middle of the night.
Panic can be very difficult for a teen, especially in the moment. If you or your loved one is experiencing a panic attack, it may help to start grounding them – take their hand and let them feel you by their side. Encourage them to breathe slowly, take the lead by breathing with them.
Emphasize slow breaths in. Sometimes, it helps to hold that breath for a few seconds, before breathing out slowly. Deep breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps calm you down when your fight-or-flight response is kicked into overtime.
If a certain trigger caused the panic, take them away from it to the nearest quiet or calm corner. If they’re bad with crowds or strangers, for example, take them to a quiet and calm room.
Trouble Sleeping and Restlessness
Restlessness and poor sleep hygiene is one of the most insidious and underrated anxiety symptoms in teens. Teens already don’t get the kind of sleep they really need, and anxiety can make that a lot worse, turning opportunities for deep rest into a shallow sleep, or no sleep at all.
Help your teen improve their sleep hygiene by taking minor, but meaningful steps towards better sleep. A few key things to bear in mind to improve sleep hygiene include:
A dark and cool room. It’s easier to fall asleep in a calm and cold environment. Not too cold!
Restricting the bed to sleep. If your teen spends a lot of time doing things in bed that aren’t sleeping – such as gaming, reading, or watching videos – encourage them to do these things elsewhere, such as a couch.
Cut screen time an hour before bed. Lights can keep us up, even when they aren’t blue lights (like most screens are).
Use calming scents and a pre-bed ritual, such as a warm shower.
Certain supplements can help. Things like maca root and ashwagandha have been shown to improve sleep. At a doctor’s recommendation, consider melatonin.
Feeling Nervous Around Others
Social anxiety, or social phobia, is one of the most common types of anxiety disorders. We’re not all inherently extroverted, but social anxiety goes a step further.
It can be difficult to cope with social anxiety in adolescence – teens aren’t always nice to each other, and learning to exist in the wider social world and make friends can be immensely challenging for teens who don’t feel comfortable around strangers. The internet can help, sometimes, but it can also amplify the issues around social anxiety by creating a perfect vector for anonymous victimization and vicious online teasing.
For teens with social anxiety, therapy may be a crucial starting point. Learning to identify and dispel anxious thoughts and make behavioral changes when meeting others – through school, mutual acquaintances, or group therapy – can help deal with symptoms of social anxiety.
Gastrointestinal Problems in Teen Anxiety
Did you know that your gut acts as a second brain? The state and well-being of the microbiome in a person’s gastrointestinal tract can affect their mental health, influencing mood and stress.
Similarly, higher stress is associated with poorer digestion and gastrointestinal problems. Some teens who experience anxiety are also more likely to struggle with irritable bowel syndrome. Furthermore, Crohn’s disease is more closely associated with depression and anxiety.
Dietary changes may help calm your teen’s stomach problems and improve their anxiety. Talk to your doctor or a dietitian about how you can help identify your teen’s food intolerances and ideal dietary choices.
Another common symptom of anxiety is negative self-talk. Affirmations can help teens combat negative thoughts, although they can be difficult to integrate initially. Compliment your teen’s strengths, make them feel seen and heard, and celebrate their victories as often as possible.
Discourage them from putting themselves down, and help them embrace new hobbies or interests that might give them another outlet for their talents or help them realize that they’re capable of more than they might expect. Support and compassion are crucial.
It’s Not Your Fault
When dealing with teen anxiety, it is vital to impart two things on your teen: first, it’s not their fault. Second, though it might feel that way most of the time, they are not powerless. Coping mechanisms do work – they don’t make anxiety go away magically. Still, they can help mitigate feelings of stress, reduce anxious thoughts and attacks, reduce the impact of the mental and physical symptoms of anxiety, and grant your teen greater power over their state of mind.
It’s also important to remember that coping skills and habits are equally crucial on good and bad days. It’s not just that certain behaviors help deal with anxiety when it appears – it’s that applying these behaviors daily helps combat how often anxiety manifests itself and the degree to which you may get anxious.
Teen anxiety can be complex and challenging to address. Most teens benefit immensely from the support and ongoing involvement of their loved ones. But sometimes, that’s not enough. Sometimes it’s appropriate and necessary to help your teen seek professional treatment for their anxiety. Consider talking to your teen about getting help together.