Anxiety Mental Health

Sleep Anxiety in Teens: What Is It?

Is your teen struggling to regulate their sleep schedule? Are they often up at odd hours and can’t get out of bed until late the next day? Has your teen been complaining about a lack of sleep or being unable to concentrate at school? What your child may be experiencing is referred to as sleep anxiety in teens, which can develop from an existing anxiety disorder.

What is Sleep Anxiety?

Sleep anxiety is not insomnia. Rather than being unable to fall asleep for no discernable reason, people with sleep anxiety cannot fall asleep because of a fear of falling asleep.

Unforunately, it’s a common anxiety, ranging from discomfort or worry about falling asleep, to sheer panic or phobia symptoms related to sleep, also known as somniphobia.

In other words, teens who have sleep anxiety are somehow anxious about falling asleep and will try to delay sleeping as much as they can, even if they want to sleep.

Sleep Anxiety Is Complex

Sleep anxiety in teens, and sleep anxiety in general, is a complex issue because sleeping is often inherently tied to mental and physical health, especially anxiety symptoms. A lack of sleep can greatly amplify feelings of paranoia, anxiety, and fear, meaning that trying to avoid sleep can actively make a teen’s anxiety surrounding sleep much worse.

Sleep anxiety has its share of physical and mental symptoms, as well as co-occurring disorders. Common issues that co-occur with sleep anxiety include sleep paralysis and nightmare disorder.

Sleep Paralysis and Nightmare Disorder

Sleep paralysis is a condition wherein a person may wake up from REM (rapid eye movement) sleep while their body is still under the effects of a self-induced paralytic state (called muscle atonia).

This state is triggered by the brain during deeper forms of sleep to avoid excessive thrashing during sleep and keep us from hurting ourselves in our dreams. However, waking up while paralyzed can be massively distressing. Because the body isn’t quite awake yet, and the mind is still in a half-sleeping state, it is also very common to experience vivid hallucinations as a result.

Because of the combination of immobility and hallucinations, sleep paralysis stories often involve “demons” or “monsters” that appear in the corner of the eye or are actively hovering/standing near the sufferer.

Some researchers even believe that old stories of demonic hauntings and possessions – such as the infamous story of the incubus sitting on a victim’s chest – are early examples of sleep paralysis being retold in myth or art form. In these cases, we become the victim of our own imagination and the brain’s capacity to translate fear and distress into nightmarish imagery.

These episodes can greatly affect a teen’s anxiety around falling asleep. Sadly, sleep paralysis is relatively common – as many as one in five people experience an episode of sleep paralysis occasionally, and over three-fourths of these episodes involve some form of hallucination. For many teens who experience sleep paralysis, anxiety surrounding sleep can become a serious long-term issue and make recurring episodes more common.

Sleep Anxiety vs. Other Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders are the most commonly diagnosed mental health issues in the world, including the United States. Conditions like generalized anxiety disorder, social phobia, and post-traumatic stress disorder affect millions of people every year, and many of them experience symptoms for years and years.

Most anxiety disorders have their onset in adolescence, meaning teens experience a spike in these conditions as they enter adulthood. Dealing with sleep anxiety in teens is particularly important because of the way sleep plays a role in modulating our mental and physical health – without proper sleep, the body becomes more susceptible to illness, less resilient to stress, and struggles with recurring problems.

Unfortunately, one of the more common signs of a lack of sleep is recurring sleep paralysis. This can serve to further deepen a teen’s fear of sleeping, creating a powerful and destructive cycle.

The Onset of an Anxiety Disorder

While the onset of an anxiety disorder may be triggered by a distressing experience or particular event, most cases of anxiety occur randomly, and their cause can often be traced back to family history. However, while genes are a major contributing cause in anxiety disorders, there are other risk factors that make anxiety more common – and protective factors that improve a teen’s resilience against anxiety symptoms and make them less of a problem over time.

Learning to minimize these risk factors and build on your teen’s protective factors is important. Sleep is a big part of it.

Is Sleep Anxiety a Form of Insomnia?

Insomnia is described as a problem with falling asleep or an inability to fall asleep. In a way, sleep anxiety does include insomnia as a symptom, as teens don’t want to fall asleep. But rather than being unable to, it is a teen’s fear that affects their ability to sleep. As such, the answer to treating sleep anxiety in teens is not quite the same as other forms of sleeplessness or insomnia.

Addressing Sleep Anxiety in Teens

Paradoxically, the most direct way to treat sleep anxiety in teens is to help them improve their sleep hygiene and naturally induce a healthier sleeping schedule.

If there are other psychological or physical barriers to good sleep – such as sleep apnea or narcolepsy – medical instruments and several different forms of medication may be necessary.

If a teen’s reluctance to fall asleep is not accompanied by another form of sleep disorder, then a more effective answer would be a comprehensive anxiety treatment plan, including individualized talk therapy and, if needed, an anti-anxiety medication.

Improving a teen’s sleep can help them address their sleep anxiety by bringing them back to a state of calm, deep, fulfilling nightly sleep.

Consider Professional Help

Sleep hygiene and sleep anxiety in teens is not an easy subject to tackle. It can take radical change to help a person truly address their sleep – including physical activity, a change in diet, aromatherapy, and a major rework to the bedroom, from dimmed lighting to better temperature control, a different mattress, and certain bed-related rules, such as limiting the bed to only sleep (meaning, no lying in bed while reading, studying, or playing games) and cutting off screen time after 9 pm.

Consider talking to a professional at Visions Treatment Centers about addressing your teen’s anxiety symptoms and sleep-related problems.

Anxiety Mental Health Stress

What are the Causes of Anxiety in Teens?

Anxiety disorders remain the most diagnosed mental health condition in the world, among adults and adolescents alike. While being anxious in certain moments is a healthy response to stress and uncertainty, an anxiety disorder is characterized by overwhelming feelings of fear and worry, even under non-threatening circumstances. And when it comes to teenagers, many things can contribute to anxiety. So, what are the causes of anxiety in teens?

Teens are arguably more anxious than they’ve ever been, with a number of confluent factors to blame, from the rise in information technology to the growing pressures and responsibilities teens are subjected to, such as hefty student loans, early career paths, inordinate expenses, mass inequality, and a constant social media news cycle dominated by tragedy and panic.

Yet environmental factors, such as stress, aren’t always to blame for teen anxiety. Most teens aren’t just experiencing anxiety symptoms as a result of societal ennui or climate change. They worry about the same things teens have generally worried about for generations: school, relationships, social status, driver’s licenses, parents’ approval, competitions, and more. But why do some teens worry about these things a lot more than others? And as asked earlier, what are the causes of anxiety in teens? Let’s take a closer look at teen anxiety and figure it out together.

Defining Teen Anxiety

As mentioned previously, the defining characteristic of an anxiety disorder over a healthier, more measured anxious response are the factors of frequency, relevance, and intensity. While stress is ultimately subjective, there is a difference between feeling nervous about a test and feeling some form of heavy dread in nearly every waking moment.

In general, most teens with an anxiety disorder are diagnosed with one of the following:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder is characterized by feelings of overwhelming dread or worries, even in the absence of any reason to worry. Teens with GAD may feel like a weight is pushing down on them all the time and may feel fatigued for no reason.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterized by unwanted and uncomfortable intrusive thoughts and ritualistic compulsions that temporarily soothe them. This cycle can often be self-destructive and difficult to break.
  • Panic disorders are diagnosed in teens who experience multiple recurring panic attacks, often in short succession.
  • Phobias are extreme fears, even in response to non-threatening stimuli, such as pictures or stories.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is characterized by a number of symptoms surrounding a traumatic event, such as avoidance, dissociation, or hypervigilance. Also known as a stress disorder, PTSD can affect and change the way the brain responds to stimuli.

Among teens, social phobia (social anxiety disorder) and generalized anxiety disorder are the most common types.

What are the Causes of Anxiety in Teens?

The causes for each of these anxiety disorders differ. Some conditions are inherently more genetically determined than others, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder. Some are almost necessarily triggered by an environmental experience, such as post-traumatic stress. In general, however, all diagnoses of anxiety ultimately require a combination of both internal factors (family history) and external factors (stress, bullying, trauma).

Protective Factors

Protective factors, and the lack thereof, can also modify the severity and kind of anxiety a person experiences. Teens growing up in fractured households with loveless parents or in abusive situations are much more likely to develop symptoms of anxiety later in life, whether in adolescence or adulthood.

Meanwhile, a healthy parent-child relationship, a stronger community bond, and greater access to mental health resources within the community can each act to minimize and reduce the likelihood of a developing anxiety disorder.

The Specific Cause Can be Complex

The difficult thing about anxiety disorders is that they are complex both in their treatment and in their causes. It’s hard, if not impossible, to narrow down a specific cause for any given anxiety or stress disorder, even in cases of trauma.

A person’s traumatic experience may be a powerful contributing factor to their panic attacks or PTSD, but it isn’t a simple one-to-one – if a bus crash leaves half of its survivors with PTSD and the other half without, the traumatic event itself isn’t the only relevant factor.

Genetics, Biology, and Anxiety

Our genetic understanding of anxiety and stress disorders as a whole has improved over time, but we haven’t isolated what specific genes make the onset of anxiety symptoms more likely. Even in this regard, it’s impossible to find the anxiety gene – there are a number of biological markers that affect a person’s likelihood of responding to stress in a way that triggers a long-term disorder.  

Ultimately, we have more control over individual risk factors than genetic markers. Minimizing these risk factors in your teen’s life can not only help them avoid anxiety disorders but can also help them cope with them in a better way.

Treating Teen Anxiety

Treatments for teen anxiety differ from condition to condition. In most cases, talk therapy is paramount, although therapists will adapt their approach to match a patient’s condition. For example, there are unique talk therapy options for post-traumatic stress disorder versus obsessive-compulsive disorder or generalized anxiety.

Medication is sometimes helpful, but not always. Anti-anxiety medication is prescribed sparingly and may not always be needed. It can help reduce the severity of certain episodes and help therapy become more effective. The goal, in the long term, is to cope without medication.

Because anxiety disorders are often co-occurring with other mental health problems, including depression or substance use, treatments must be individualized. A patient with an anxiety disorder may need concurrent treatment for their addiction or their depressive symptoms, as well. If you want to learn more about treatment plans for your anxiety disorder, contact a medical professional today.

What You Should Do

If you or your teen is struggling with anxiety issues, consider seeking professional help. You might not need therapy, but you might also feel better if you did decide to visit a therapist a few times a month.

While medication is also proven effective in the treatment of anxiety, it usually takes a backseat in the proper long-term treatment of most anxiety disorders, with a few acute exceptions. Learning to confront the sources and causes of your anxiety, develop healthier coping mechanisms, and adopt lifestyle changes that help affect your anxious thoughts in a positive way are often much more constructive than simply relying on medication.

Teen Anxiety Disorder Treatment at Visions

All it takes is one step forward. You don’t need to schedule a physical interview with a therapist – consider looking for online resources to get started, book a video call, or try out an online test verified by a mental health professional for anxiety. These tests don’t replace an official diagnosis but may help point you in the right direction.

No matter what, you’re never alone. There are effective treatments for every form of anxiety, and help is around the corner. If your loved one is struggling with anxiety, support them in their quest to find a better way to deal with their negative thoughts and emotions.

To get started with treatment, get in contact with us at Visions Treatment Centers.

Anxiety Communication

How to Help Anxiety in Teens

It’s only natural to want the best for our kids – but that only makes it much harder when we find out that nothing we do seems to work. Anxiety disorders, like other mental health disorders, are complex and require a long-term treatment approach that combines individual therapy with support structures and medication. It’s not something we are equipped to deal with, let alone our kids. However, there are many ways you can learn how to help anxiety in teens.

Finding the best way to support your teen while they are struggling with anxiety can be difficult. But don’t let that diminish or erase the power you do have. Parents are ultimately a teen’s most important therapist because while they might not be professionally trained, they are always there, and that’s crucial.

Learning more about anxiety and how your actions can help your teen cope with their symptoms not only empowers them to better deal with their condition over time but gives you the means to provide meaningful help to your teen, while contributing to your own mental health.

Like any system, a family needs to work together to stay healthy. In that sense, contributing to your teen’s mental wellbeing also means making a contribution to yours. Let’s see how you can help.

What is Teen Anxiety?

On its own, anxiety is a synonym for fear or worry. It is the feeling of dread that precedes something unfortunate, whether imaginary or real. In a psychiatric sense, an anxiety disorder is an inappropriate, extreme, or generalized and overwhelming sense of fear or dread.

Teens with anxiety disorders are breaking down mentally over imagined dangers, or struggle to cope with both physical and mental symptoms of fear developed through chronic stressors, or very acute and traumatic experiences.

Anxiety itself is a normal human emotion. We tend to move into a state of stress in anticipation of something stressful, and it’s normal to feel nervous about an upcoming exam or a confrontation with someone else.

Disordered Anxiety

But disordered anxiety is misplaced and destructive. It robs our teens of their creative and cognitive abilities, slows learning and understanding, and can hold teens back from developing on par with their peers. Meanwhile, anxiety disorders can escalate, developing into worse physical and mental symptoms and co-occurring problems, such as depression, self-harm, eating disorders, and/or recreational substance use.

Teens are just as much at risk for anxiety as adults, even if their stressors and worries might not feel as “pressing” to an adult. The entire point of an anxiety disorder is that your teen’s fears and worries aren’t justified, regardless of what is triggering them.

Finding the Root of the Issue

Getting to the root of the issue isn’t always easy – post-traumatic stress symptoms can be traced back to the triggering event, but something like a generalized anxiety disorder can develop in a teen’s tween years simply due to inherent genetic factors.

Different Types of Anxiety

Anxiety disorders are not just some of the most common disorders in the world, but they also encompass a large variety of different conditions.

Some are more known than others, such as social anxiety, generalized anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Some are less familiar, such as panic disorders and niche phobias. Every anxiety disorder has its own treatment plan and considerations. Some of the more common anxiety disorders include:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder – Generalized anxiety disorder is the most common type of anxiety and is characterized by chronic worry and a blanket of fear over almost every waking moment. It can cause immense stress and both physical and mental fatigue. This fear often exists without any triggers or provocation.
  • Social Anxiety Disorder – Social anxiety disorder or social phobia is characterized by overwhelming feelings of dread in social circumstances, whether it’s being introduced to someone new or being asked to speak in public. Most cases of social phobia involve one or two specific fears, such as a fear of crowds or fear of public speaking. Some cases of social phobia are more intense and widespread.
  • PostTraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – PTSD is characterized by multiple different sets of symptoms, including hypervigilance, unwanted remembering, dissociation from the event (or reality itself), selective amnesia, generalized anxiety, and panic attacks.
  • Panic Disorder – Panic disorder is characterized by multiple recurring panic attacks within a short period of time. Panic attacks are physical manifestations of anxiety that feel like a heart attack, including shortness of breath and a sense of impending doom.
  • ObsessiveCompulsive Disorder (OCD) – OCD is characterized by obsessions (unwanted thoughts and intrusive fantasies) coupled with compulsions (ritualistic or repetitive behavior that soothes the anxiety and temporarily delays the thoughts but may cause them to return shortly). This cycle can be self-destructive, especially if the compulsions can cause harm, such as excessive handwashing.
  • Phobias – Phobias are intense fears characterized by recurring nightmares and fight-or-flight reactions even in innocuous circumstances. Someone with an intense fear of spiders won’t just be unable to look at a picture of them but might experience frequent unwanted thoughts about spiders in their clothing, or underneath carpets, in shoes, or on the ceiling, without any warning or triggers.

How to Help Anxiety in Teens at Home

As a parent, your support is crucial. Many teens nowadays are aware of anxiety disorders and may even go to certain lengths to hide their symptoms to avoid a diagnosis, or the stigma that is still attached to mental health issues. However, encouraging your teen to talk openly about their worries and anxieties can be an important form of support.

Be there to listen to them and help reassure them that they can be honest about how they feel with no judgment from you. Anxiety disorders can take normal worries and amp them up into major problems, and it’s important to acknowledge the way your teen feels, rather than try to minimize these feelings or tell them that they’re blowing them out of proportion.

While it’s understandable that you’d want to “explain” that your teen’s anxieties are exaggerated, it’s not a sentiment that works or makes them feel better. It just makes them feel worse for feeling the way they do. Instead, help them find constructive ways to deal with their anxieties, such as encouraging them to take up a coping skill that has worked for them in the past (like journaling, drawing something, or playing an instrument), or help distract them (watch a comedy together, go for a walk outside, or cook something together).

Stress Management and Coping Skills

Stress management and coping skills are both crucial parts of anxiety treatment. Many anxiety conditions can get better or worse over time. Some are tied to a specific time period or are strongest after a traumatic event. Professional treatments, including therapy and medication, can help manage and even minimize the impact an anxiety disorder can have on your teen’s life.

But it is their continued commitment to certain learned coping skills – and your continued support, as a friend or family member – that help them keep anxiety symptoms in check. These might include sports, creative endeavors, their dream job, nature getaways, or healthy rituals, such as maintaining a good sleep schedule, developing a cooking habit, or finding other constructive outlets for their stress and anxiety.

Stress management, on the other hand, is the prophylaxis for anxiety. It is meant to help keep stressors down and avoid mental fatigue that may lead to exacerbated anxiety issues. This can include avoiding mental rumination, avoiding procrastination, better sleep and diet, regular exercise, and healthier relationships.

Get Help for Teen Anxiety at Visions Treatment Centers

Sadly, there is no replacement for professional treatment. If you or a loved one are struggling with anxiety, it’s in your best interest to seek professional help. Therapy can be a big step forward and can help you lead your best life. Reach out to us at Visions Treatment Centers for more information.


Combating High Functioning Anxiety in Teens: Symptoms & Treatment

While mental health disorders encompass a huge range of symptoms and differentiated conditions, more people struggle with anxiety than any other type of mental disorder. Anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental health issues diagnosed in teens. But not all forms of anxiety are debilitating or disabling, such as high functioning anxiety.

High functioning anxiety describes symptoms of anxiety in people who are otherwise still high achievers among their peers, whether it’s at school, work, or even home (through household tasks and life skills). Anxiety does not preclude hard work or success – but success does not indicate happiness or good mental health, and a capacity for stress is not always a useful indication of a person’s mental wellbeing.

We know from research that anxiety has a detrimental effect on academic performance and cognition. Teens are less likely to internalize lessons and more likely to forget the facts if they’re preoccupied with anxious thoughts and have a harder time focusing.

In adolescents especially, fear of failure and overly high expectations (often self-generated) can lead to excessive academic stress and pressure. This attitude is self-destructive, especially for young adults facing the oncoming pressures and stressors of adulthood.

But kids with high grades can still struggle with anxiety. A study of 500 school children showed that as many as 3.9 percent of students with very good grades scored high on anxiety tests. Lower than their peers with poor grades (14.1 percent), but still significant. Knowing what high functioning anxiety looks like and how it sets itself apart from debilitating anxiety can help us gain a better understanding of how to help teens struggling with high functioning anxiety.

High Functioning Anxiety vs. Other Anxiety Disorders

First and foremost, high functioning anxiety is not a disorder. There are no clinical criteria for it. It is not listed in the DSM-5 or other resources for diagnostic criteria in psychiatry. However, “high-functioning” is a common descriptor for cases of mental health problems where a patient effectively copes with their condition, albeit in an unhealthy way, or continues to function in spite of their diagnosis. A diagnosis of high functioning anxiety usually falls under Persistent Depressive Disorder (PDD).

Difficult to Identify

One of the primary characteristics of any mental disorder is that a patient is struggling with their condition, meaning it has a material and tangible effect on their life, such as the threat of self-harm, relationship problems, or trouble at school, work, or home.

High functioning anxiety can be difficult to identify because a teen with high functioning anxiety can mask their symptoms and continue to achieve great things. In many cases, teens with high functioning anxiety are doing well at school and in their extracurriculars but still feel overwhelmed from time to time by anxious thoughts or unwanted thinking.

Masking Symptoms

In other, more dangerous cases, high functioning anxious teens might be masking their symptoms through effective yet potentially destructive short-term coping mechanisms.

These are coping mechanisms with long-term consequences, whether it’s something as simple as bottling up a traumatic experience or using drugs like alcohol and marijuana to regularly combat anxious thoughts and continue to “function.”

Teens who feel anxious from time to time might not need professional treatment now but could still benefit from learning how to address and cope with these thoughts before they interfere and turn into a greater, debilitating issue in the future.

Meanwhile, teens who rely on short-term yet destructive coping mechanisms to deal with their anxious thoughts and continue functioning may end up paying the price sooner rather than later, especially in cases of substance abuse.

Recognizing High Functioning Anxiety in Teens

If high functioning anxiety does not keep someone from doing well at school or their job, how can it be identified? By looking for other telltale signs of anxiety. These include:

  • Physical symptoms such as unexplained pains, sudden shortness of breath, and random chest pains.
  • Physical tics, like teeth grinding, clenched jaws and associated jaw pain, scratch marks, shortened nails/nail loss (from biting), and hair loss (from pulling).
  • Rising substance use, including nicotine, alcohol, and illegal substances such as prescription medication (including recreational use of ADHD medication).
  • Avoiding friends and family, isolating more often.
  • Tendency to drift away and not be “present” in the moment.
  • Losing track of time often (consistently too late/too early).
  • Becoming emotionally distant or unreachable.
  • And more.

These symptoms of anxiety might not reach a point in a teen’s life where they become candidates for a diagnosis of an anxiety disorder. However, they may be a sign that your teen is potentially at greater risk of anxiety issues, substance use, or depressive problems in the near future, especially if they have a personality that causes them to be harder on themselves, even after failure.

Furthermore, helping a teen with high functioning anxiety learn to identify and develop healthy, strong coping skills against their symptoms and thoughts can help them build resilience and preemptively prevent a future diagnosis. In this case, it’s preventative medicine rather than a cure.

Treating High Functioning Anxiety

High functioning anxiety is addressed in teens like most other anxiety disorders: by talking with a professional. Talk therapy or psychotherapy is the most effective treatment for an anxiety condition, usually in combination with other forms of therapy, including experiential therapy and medication (especially when comorbid conditions are involved, such as depression or substance use).

In teens with high functioning anxiety, taking the opportunity to discuss these fears and anxious thoughts with a professional gives them the chance to nip things in the bud by learning to differentiate between signs of potentially disordered anxious thinking and a healthy amount of self-awareness and doubt.

Modalities like cognitive behavioral therapy also help teens learn to apply lessons from therapy in their day-to-day life and utilize their thinking to affect their emotional and mental health.

Addressing High Functioning Anxiety at Home

In addition to a treatment plan, another important component of long-term emotional and mental health is support at home and within the community.

Parents, siblings, and friends alike can help teens with high functioning anxiety by encouraging them to take breaks from time to time, to stick to healthy physical habits such as a strict sleep schedule, less caffeine, a better diet, and to bring them along on social activities to keep them from isolating themselves.

Staying Consistent

Some days and weeks feel harder than others, but consistency can help overcome and eliminate most anxious episodes and help teens find a better balance in their life.

For more information about anxiety treatment for teens, contact us today. Our team of professionals will be glad to speak to you.


How to Deal With Teenage Anxiety

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health issue in the worldAmong US adolescents alone, an estimated 31.9 percent struggle with an anxiety disorder (38 percent of girls and 26 percent of boys). This is a significant portion of teens, and it doesn’t change much in adulthood. Currently, about 31.1 percent of US adults report experiencing symptoms of an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives.

What makes anxiety so common, why is it such a big deal, and how to deal with teenage anxiety? We’re all anxious about something at some point in our lives – but being anxious or worried is not a sign of disorder. An anxiety disorder differentiates itself from regular worry by being prevalent, irrational, and consuming. Anxiety disorders are characterized by choking and immobilizing feelings of worry that engulf and ruin a person’s day, day by day, to the point of interfering with their personal, academic, and professional lives.

Teens are affected by anxiety more heavily than adults, partially because the onset for most anxiety disorders is during the teen years – but for many people, these issues can persist throughout life.

Coping with teenage anxiety doesn’t just make life easier for teens. Learning to cope with anxiety problems as early as possible can improve symptoms and quality of life in the long term. These coping skills and stress management tools are vital, but they aren’t easily learned. It takes time, support, and access to the right resources to build a personal repertoire for dealing with anxious thoughts and avoiding cyclical behavior.

What Are Anxiety Disorders?

Anxiety disorders are characterized by different symptoms. While there are dozens of specific diagnoses, most people who struggle with anxiety generally have one of the following forms:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder – this is the most common form of anxiety disorder and describes a form of anxiety that is felt without any specific triggers or direction. 
  • Social anxiety disorder – a form of anxiety felt around social situations, feeling worried about being awkward constantly, worrying about embarrassment all the time, avoiding people and groups out of fear. 
  • Panic disorder – a condition characterized by frequent panic attacks following an overwhelming amount of stress. Panic attacks include feelings of tightness around the chest, shortness of breath, and hyperventilating
  • Phobias – phobias are irrational fear and constant intrusive thinking around one specific thing, such as concepts (crowds, enclosed spaces), specific animals, or situations (the dentist’s office, being injected with a needle). 
  • Selective mutism – this is a rare condition associated with anxiety disorders, wherein a person fails to speak, especially in social situations. People with selective mutism might not talk to strangers, even after an introduction. In general, selective mutism occurs the most in young children. But it can be an issue in older kids as well.

Some conditions are considered anxiety disorders, anxiety-adjacent, or were previously classified as anxiety disorders—these include stress-related conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder and separate diagnoses like obsessive-compulsive disorder.

While PTSD is a condition characterized by a constant fight-or-flight reaction to stimuli because of a traumatic experience, OCD is a severe anxiety disorder characterized by a cycle of unwanted, obsessive thoughts and temporarily soothing compulsions, which in turn fuel more thoughts.

In general, recognizing anxiety in a teen isn’t about trying to diagnose them with something right off the bat. It is enough to realize that your loved one might be doing worse at school or responding less to people around them because they’re struggling with anxious and unwanted thoughts. Important signs and symptoms to watch out for include:

  • Physical reactions to normal situations, such as flinching often, shaking, or trembling. 
  • Frequent unexplained headaches and stomachaches. 
  • Elevated levels of stress, even when things are normal. 
  • Worrying constantly about things that aren’t relevant, thinking back on scary situations even in a calm context. 
  • Talking about feelings of impending doom. 
  • A physical feeling of weight on the chest and shoulders. 
  • A mood that often varies, including high irritability and random bouts of sadness.

Alleviating Teenage Anxiety

Anxiety disorders are mental health issues, which means that the best way to deal with them is to seek professional help. But that doesn’t mean you’re powerless as a teen’s parent, relative, or friend. There are ways you can address their anxieties in addition to recommending that they see a professional. These include:

  • Driving them to an appointment with a therapist. Some teens don’t want to seek help out on their own, especially if their worries mean they feel they don’t deserve the help or that it wouldn’t improve their situation.
  • Being there to listen to them. Sometimes it can help to provide a space for a teen to be with someone else without necessarily saying or doing anything. Sometimes, that space is also a good place to bring up some anxious thoughts and feelings. While therapy is central to helping individuals find ways to combat anxieties in their own heads, there are ways you can help a loved one by lending them an ear.
  • Take charge of your mental and physical health together. Whether someone you know regularly feels anxious or has already been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, there are different ways you can help them. Go do things you used to enjoy doing together. Pick up new hobbies. Play some music. Make a commitment to eat better together. Share tips to make healthy living easier. Encourage sleeping at an earlier time and talking to a professional about sleep issues.
  • Creating a home environment conducive to healthy living. If you meet with a therapist, talk to them about what you can do to help your teen feel better at home, and continue their anxiety treatment over time. You don’t need to treat your loved one like a patient, but their therapist might have tips for how you can better recognize when something makes them uncomfortable and how to help them build their confidence through skills learning ample rest and recovery, and a focus on self-esteem.

Treatment Processes for Teenage Anxiety

Treating teenage anxiety often starts at home, but there are still elements of the treatment process that can require professional help. Anxiety medications might help reduce symptoms, particularly in teens with severe reactions to social or phobia-related situations.

A large part of the treatment process is one-on-one therapy. Talk therapy, usually in the form of cognitive behavioral therapy, centers around helping teens identify and change maladaptive and harmful thoughts and behaviors through thought exercises, logical thinking, dialectics, and working with a therapist.

If your loved one has been struggling with anxiety, getting them the help they need is crucial. If they’re already in treatment, then talking to their therapist (or to them!) can give you greater insight into what might help them feel better and how you can support them.

Anxiety Stress

The Impact of Anxiety and Stress in Teens

Teens are worried. They’re worried about themselves, they’re worried about their chances in the world, they’re worried about the state of things. And between a pandemic, lockdowns, the news, and social media, teens have been getting more steadily worried in the past two years than perhaps ever before.

It’s normal to worry. There are many things in life that can be described as uncertain at best, and teens are caught in the middle of many awkward moments.

They’re not quite children, but they aren’t adults either, meaning they’re struggling to juggle newfound responsibilities while still facing an inevitable lack of agency. Becoming a teen also means accepting change on a near-daily basis.

Physical changes, social changes, societal changes. In addition to growing responsibilities, teens are subjected to new hierarchies and environments, a switch from middle to high school and college, thoughts about careers, and “adult” problems, from safe sex to avoiding drugs.

But anxiety is more than worry. There’s a difference between having a hard time and being paralyzed by fear. There’s a difference between moments of anxious thought and uncertainty, and a constant feeling that things aren’t right. There’s a difference between worrying about exams, or catching up to others in height and growth, and experiencing panic attacks, frequent self-deprecation, and difficult, intrusive thoughts.

It’s also very difficult for most parents to differentiate between anxious thoughts and normal teen behavior. Teens aren’t little kids anymore, and many of them are quite good at hiding their emotions. But there are still telltale signs that parents need to beware of and symptoms that require attention.

How Anxiety Can Affect Teens

Beyond the usual worries, an anxiety disorder can be a debilitating issue for a teen. Anxiety disorders are the most common kind of mental health disorder, affecting roughly 30 percent of adolescents.

Anxiety disorders are known for their characteristic symptoms of paralyzing fear or worry, but it’s worse than that. Many anxiety disorders are coupled with physical symptoms, as well, from hyperventilation to full-blown panic attacks.

Teens can learn to mask these feelings, hiding the fact that they’re struggling to breathe or feeling their heart racing in what would otherwise be considered completely normal circumstances. To a teen with anxiety, certain situations that are otherwise non-confrontational or dangerous can become an insurmountable source of stress.

Some teens deal with these overwhelming emotions by finding ways to avoid the things that cause them to panic, even indirectly, such as by complaining about headaches or stomachaches. In many cases, these somatic pain symptoms are real, caused by the stress associated with the anxiety.

These anxious thoughts can slow personal growth, as well. Kids diagnosed with anxiety disorders have a harder time concentrating and retaining information. They will have a harder time learning and understanding what they’ve learned. They may still be more than capable enough of passing classes and delivering good grades, but at a great cost to their mental wellbeing.

In fact, while anxiety can make it harder to learn, many anxious kids become overachievers to the detriment of their health. Caught in a cycle, they’re fueled by a fear of underperforming, which further feeds the anxieties that make it harder for them to perform.  

What Are Teenagers Anxious About?

There are many reasons to be anxious as an adult. Prices are skyrocketing, we’re in the aftermath of multiple successive recessions, world markets are still reeling from a historic pandemic, wages remain stagnant, and more. Yet teens can feel these anxieties as well, and many understand them the same way adults do.

Anxious teens are worried about the world they’re growing into, on top of their own pressures to perform well, get into a good college, find a great paying job early on, pursue their dreams, find their dream, be in a relationship, and juggle a million other perceived responsibilities and expectations – many of which they are placing upon themselves.

Expectations serve as a massive underlying foundation for teen worries and anxieties, especially unrealistic ones. Even supportive parents who work hard not to define their wishes for their teens may find an anxious teen grappling with massive expectations for themselves.

The body is another common source of anxiety for teens. Teens are worried about being too short. Too tall. Too fat. Too skinny. Not muscular enough. Not strong enough. Not fast enough. They want a smaller nose, or a bigger nose, or different hair, or better skin, or a different jawline, or a different voice.

Couple these anxieties with the fact that teens experience growth spurts at different points in their adolescent lives, and they become massively magnified. Some kids in school look like they’re 19 at age 15 and are naturally gifted athletes. Others might look like they’re 12 despite approaching senior year.

What Parents Can Do

It can be challenging to parent a teen with anxiety issues. They’re often much harder on themselves than you could be on them, and they might not be very receptive to praise or affirmation.

Offering your support is an important first step. Give your teen a safe space at home to talk about their feelings and their worries, to rant and discuss how they really feel. Talk to them about getting help together to seek effective ways to reduce the pressure they feel and help them thrive.

Group therapy and family therapy are good alternatives to one-on-one therapy if a teen feels uncomfortable going into therapy alone for the first few times. In addition to therapy, doctors can help your teen by prescribing medication that might reduce the severity of their symptoms, enough to help therapy achieve a greater impact in the long term.

The catalyst for change in many cases of anxiety is a teen’s own capacity to identify and correct their self-destructive or irrational thoughts. But it takes time, patience, and a lot of support to overcome the impulse to be self-critical or self-loathing and focus on the positives for a change.

Getting Help for Teen Anxiety

Teen anxiety issues can be co-dependent on other mental health problems, including depressive thoughts or teen drug use. A proper treatment plan encompasses a teen’s issues in their entirety, treating the person, not just the diagnosis. Be sure to find someone your teen likes working with, someone they trust and can confide in. Comfort is important.

Anxiety Depression

How to Cope with Anxiety and Depression (Advice for Teens)

If you experience the debilitating symptoms of anxiety or depression, you may be interested in learning how to cope with anxiety and depression.

Do you have a hard time concentrating? Do you sometimes struggle with unexplained aches and pains? Does your mind keep repeating things to put you down, such as negative memories, self-deprecating comments, or self-loathing thoughts? Do you find yourself anxious and worried about everything, yet nothing in particular – or something in particular, but all the time, even when it’s irrelevant? 

Anxiety and depression are the most common mental health diagnoses in the world. Nearly one in five Americans struggles with an anxiety disorder, and about one in ten struggle with depression. Among people with anxiety, as many as 60 percent may have depressive thoughts. Finally, the most common onset for these mental health issues is adolescence, an already complicated time in our lives to begin with. 

Teenage anxiety and depression are still on a rise, and while teens need to learn ways to cope with their fears and thoughts, it’s important to realize that this is always a team effort. Whether you’re a teen, a friend, or a parent, learning more about how to overcome anxiety and depression is crucial, as is knowing how and when to provide support. 

In this article, you will learn how to cope with anxiety and depression.

How are Anxiety and Depression Linked?

The link between anxiety and depression is far more than tangential. These are often comorbid conditions, meaning that they frequently co-occur in patients. 

Comorbidity matters because the way these conditions affect each other can affect treatment – and it can affect the ideal treatment strategy, including certain coping strategies. 

Comorbid mental illnesses are particularly poorly understood because there isn’t as much research on them as physical comorbidities, and they can be harder to identify as it’s tricky to try and attribute each symptom to one or the other condition(s). 

But as far as mental health comorbidities go, anxiety and depression are still the most researched. We know that specialized treatment plans can be implemented to address both diagnoses, and we know that when anxiety and depression symptoms present themselves together, they can reinforce one another, so concurrent treatment – meaning addressing both anxiety and depression at once – is critical.

The elements that tie anxiety and depression together are multifaceted. For one, there may be a genetic component. Teens with both anxiety and depression may have a genetic predisposition towards either or both. 

The primary symptom of anxiety and depression is also very similar, in that both can be defined by negative or maladaptive thinking. A person with a mood disorder will additionally have a low mood and may have a much harder time cheering up. 

Environmental factors matter as well. Both depression and anxiety are common in high-stress environments, especially during childhood. People with post-traumatic stress disorder, a form of anxiety, are more likely to be depressed as well. 

These conditions feed themselves in a cyclical fashion. Anxious thoughts can trigger an irrational response to an insurmountable or uncontrollable problem, leading to inevitable failure and the inability to fulfill unrealistic expectations, which can trigger self-loathing, guilt, and depression. Similarly, depressive thinking can lead to more negative and worrying thoughts, and that fear feeds anxiety. 

Identifying Anxiety and Depression

Anxiety and depression have multiple hallmark characteristics, as well as more obscure symptoms. 

  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Oversleeping
  • Low energy levels
  • Physical response to stress (rapid heartbeat, hyperventilation, abdominal pain)
  • Persistent low mood
  • Repeated comments on suicide and self-harm
  • Unexplained pain
  • Sudden change in appetite (both gain and loss)
  • Sudden loss of interest in hobbies
  • Irrational fear

It can be difficult to differentiate between disordered behavior and normal stress response. Not every period of sadness is a depression, and not every pre-exam stress-related rant is an anxiety attack. 

Keep in mind that an important defining characteristic for disordered thinking or behavior is that it plays an active role in disrupting a teen’s day-to-day life, causing havoc on their responsibilities, interests, and relationships over the course of multiple weeks. If you’re not sure, it always helps to talk to your teen and bring up the idea of visiting a professional together. 

Identifying Useful Coping Skills for Teens

Coping skills are tools teenagers can utilize to reduce the impact that life’s stressors can have on them, and reduce the severity of their symptoms. Coping skills are not necessarily a replacement for therapy and treatment. They’re a supplemental tool to help improve a teen’s quality of life and resilience. Most coping skills revolve around: 

  • Helping teens build up confidence and self-esteem
  • Helping teens vent their emotions and thoughts in a healthy way
  • Helping teens have fun and feel better

Effective coping skills include: 

  • Journaling
  • Crafts and art projects
  • Drawing and painting
  • Walks in nature
  • Exercise
  • Social activities

An effective treatment plan for both depression and anxiety utilizes coping skills as a way to teach teens that they can affect their mental health in the long-term, in coordination with important treatment modalities such as: 

Can You Cope Alone?

There are a lot of topics surrounding mental healthcare and self-care, and it’s important not to misunderstand this trend as meaning that we all need to take sole responsibility for our mental health. 

Yes, how you feel and what you do obviously plays the largest role in your mental health.

But support is crucial. Many people fail to seek out the help they need without a push or intervention from their loved ones. Many fail to adhere to treatment schedules without their loved ones. And at the end of the day, whether or not we struggle with anxiety or depression, we all need friends and family to be around. 

You shouldn’t feel pressured to take the matter of treatment into your own hands, at all. Seek help. Talk to an adult. Get to a counselor. Schedule a therapist. Or, ask your parents or teachers to help you navigate available resources and do these things with you.

Coping skills are the same way. They aren’t necessarily a means for you to be self-reliant in treatment. They play a role in helping you reduce the impact of the stressors around you and improve your quality of life by reducing the severity of your symptoms. They might, but don’t necessarily need to replace therapy and medication.


Coping with Social Anxiety During the Holidays

Social anxiety issues tend to peak during the holidays, alongside other metrics of stress, for a majority of Americans. 

While culturally, the holidays are all about family and making a good cheer, the reality is that different factors heavily contribute to increased unease and tension in the last weeks of the year – from tumultuous family behavior to economic unease, poor weather, weather-related travel delays, increased road accidents, and most recently, a new wave of pandemic cases

But for teens with social anxiety, the holidays also mean frequent get-togethers and more social contact than usual. It can mean Christmas parties, dinners with extended family members, and holiday drinking. It means catching up, talking about oneself, and being in a metaphorical spotlight. Understanding how social anxiety works can help us better understand why the holidays are a huge trigger for many teens and adults struggling with social unease. 

What is Social Anxiety?

Most people have a mild fear of being on stage or being the center of attention in a negative way. Many people, even among extroverts, might struggle to fit into an unknown environment or feel immediately comfortable in a new social setting. 

But social anxiety in the psychiatric sense describes a disorder wherein a person displays an irrational fear of public and social interaction, on the opposite spectrum of the everyday extrovert. Socially anxious people are more than just introverted – they become uncomfortable around new people, feel physically uneasy in crowds or within large groups, and are constantly worried about other people’s perceptions of themselves. Common social anxiety fears include: 

  • Fearing activities around other people, especially eating, sports participation, or public speaking. 
  • Fearing interaction with other people, with particular discomfort towards self-expression and intimate situations. 
  • Fearing physical contact with others, being worried about blushing and sweating, being too clammy, being shaky, breathing too hard or too fast, struggling with hyperventilation, heart palpitations, and lightheadedness. 
  • Fearing judgment from others for no particular reason, making up potential scenarios where things go wrong, playing past mistakes or potential mistakes in the mind, strongly fearing embarrassment as though it were inevitable. 

Signs of social anxiety differ from person to person, based on certain personality traits, the severity of the problem, and the situation they find themselves. It’s important to know that social anxiety symptoms are not just mental, but also physical. Social anxiety can lead to excessive sweating and shallow, rapid breathing, nausea, and panic attacks. 

Teens with social anxiety will behave awkwardly, struggling to make eye contact, will be largely passive (not interacting with others willingly), and are much more likely to turn to substances to help act as a “social lubricant”. 

Because the holidays are usually punctuated by more social gatherings and meetings with others than any other period of the year, beginning with the arrival of the Thanksgiving season, teens who struggle with social anxiety will feel more stressed out and may struggle to concentrate on their work or studies, function normally, or deal with their thoughts. They may be more likely to use substances, self-isolate and avoid all contact, or become emotionally distanced from others. 

Helping a teen cope with these issues is crucial, especially at this time of year. Effective coping mechanisms for social anxiety differ from teen to teen, but here are a few common and important tenets. 

Effective Ways to Cope with Social Anxiety

Goal setting is an important part of learning to cope with social anxieties. Coping strategies exist not to turn an anxious teen into a social butterfly, but to help them reduce the level of anxiety they feel on an everyday basis, especially in social situations. Naturally introverted teens may still prefer to keep to themselves and might not always open up to strangers on first meetings.

But through coping exercises, they can learn to accept that behavior, understand that others aren’t out to judge them at first glance, can handle silences in conversations, and know that they can’t be friends with everyone – and that they don’t have to be.

When coping with anxiety during the holidays, it helps to focus on harm reduction rather than trying to be someone you might not be.   

Set Healthy Boundaries

One of the most important lessons when coping with social anxiety is setting healthy boundaries. It is not healthy to coop up in your room all day, every day. But for an introvert, it is similarly not healthy to give way to everyone else’s desires for you to spend time around others, and have little to no time to yourself. 

Teens struggling with social anxiety tend to need more time to themselves, to reflect, rest, and recuperate. Because the holidays are punctuated by so many social events, it’s important to strike a balance between enjoying your own company and spending time with friends, family, and new people. 

Keep a Realistic Schedule

For teens who struggle with different mental health issues, especially anxiety, depression, or ADHD, the loss of structure is one of the most severe blows to their mental health over the holidays. 

Having a defined day-to-day schedule can help build consistency in a teen’s mind, keep thoughts from spiraling out of control, and will help them manage both their mood and their thoughts. 

But with the holidays comes a laxer approach to planning – long nights, late hours, waking up midday, eating at odd times, overeating, and overdrinking can all lead to a cascade of mood issues for teens who are used to the structure and balance that comes with a healthy schedule. 

Even while school is out and other concessions are made, it’s important to support your teen in building a daily schedule that helps them continue to cope with intrusive or unwanted thoughts and worries. Substituting classes or extracurricular activities for hobbies and exercise can be a good first step.  

Hands Off the Eggnog

Casual teenage drinking is a coming-of-age rite of passage, but it can be particularly destructive for teens struggling with anxiety. Social anxiety in particular can make it easier for teens to feel dependent on substances as they help them deal with their worries, push their thoughts into the background, and fight back against their inhibitions. 

But these perks are short-lived and come with the downsides of early drinking, including increased anxiety in the long term, a higher risk of dependency, risk-taking, and cognitive decline. 

Talk With a Professional

Shyness and introversion are normal personality traits, and while we can learn to become more assertive and comfortable in social settings, we shouldn’t necessarily strive to become radically different from who we are. 

But social anxiety is something else and can be destructive for a person’s chances in adulthood. Seeking professional help early on can ensure that your teen develops the kind of coping tools necessary to face the stressors of adult life, and exercise mastery over their negative thoughts. Consider getting help today.


Things You Should Never Say to Your Teen with Anxiety

Teenage anxiety is on the rise, with many teens struggling to find their path forward through a tumultuous and confusing future. Some teens worry about their prospects in a post-pandemic world, while others are struggling with the stress of balancing remote studies and adjusting to a new social environment while preparing for an unknown future in a world beset by climate catastrophes, dangerous disease variants, and a global refugee crisis.

For teens without an anxiety disorder, growing up right now is a scary prospect. But for teens struggling with anxiety issues, it can feel all too overwhelming. 

Helping your teen come to terms with their condition and learn to cope with it is no small feat. Your teen may seem slow to adapt or learn given their worries and fears, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t sharp. They often know what’s wrong, and the self-doubt and frustration paralyze them even further. Like an ouroboros, it’s a self-cannibalizing cycle

True help from a friend or loved one cannot come through surface remarks, short tempers, or remaining uninvolved. Anxiety disorders are often long-term, which means your teen needs support in seeking the right resources to combat their thoughts and feelings, develop coping mechanisms, identify and avoid unnecessary stressors, and learn to live life to the fullest. 

Knowing what to say is important, but it’s just as important to know what not to say. Here are a couple of things you might want to keep in mind when talking to your teen with anxiety. 

Don’t Worry About It

Reassurance can be a powerful tool. But it doesn’t quite work for teens with anxiety in the same way it might for someone else. 

A person with anxiety, regardless of what kind of diagnosis they’re facing, will constantly be bombarded with intrusive what if’s that supersede logic, and even trust in other people. They may love you, believe you, and put their faith in you, but there’s still going to be an incessant grain of doubt deep within them that constantly undermines any effort on your behalf to provide them with simple reassurances. 

In fact, in certain situations, a simple reassurance can send someone with anxiety into a deeper panic, as they’re trained to know that that’s something people say when things have gone wrong

Depending on the situation at hand, you may want to try saying a few different things. If it’s something your teen has already handled in the past – like a difficult exam, a speech in front of the class, or a party – remind them of how they handled it last time, and that they held their own, overcame their panic, or even had fun. By recalling and relating to an earlier experience, a teen may be able to soothe some of their worries. 

Calm Down

We’ve all heard that one before. It’s a command, and one that dismisses your teen’s worries rather than addressing them. You might just want them to take things down a notch so you can breathe for a moment and address the situation logically.

But your teen isn’t in the mindset to do that right now. Telling them to calm down when they aren’t capable of doing so as a direct result of their condition only serves to frustrate them, on top of feeling panicked. In the same way, telling someone to just breathe is also unhelpful. Breathing exercises don’t work for everyone, and it’s just as commanding. 

Instead, you can suggest to breathe together, or try out different grounding exercises to help someone find their way out of a moment of panic. 

Just Get It Done

Frustration hits us all eventually, and there will be times when we’re asking a teen with anxiety to take on a task for us – only to run into an issue when they’re overwhelmed by said task. But we need it to get done. So, we tell them to go and “just do it”. 

Tough love never works. It might feel like it does, sometimes, but it just leads to your teen hiding their symptoms, bottling themselves up, and feeling far more stressed out and alone than ever. They become defensive and hesitate to talk to you about their problems. 

You’re Seen and Heard

We see messages like this everywhere on social media – calling attention to a mental health condition, and telling people that they’re heard, felt, seen, or understood. But these words are just words – even when they’re coming from a loved one. 

If you’ve had anxiety issues in the past, these words can be powerful, provided they’re backed up with past experiences. It can and truly does help to hear from someone else with anxiety and get an insight into what it was like for them. 

But if you didn’t, then relating to your teen in that way – or worse yet, providing an empty platitude – can be condescending at best, and insulting at worst. 

Understanding Teen Anxiety Better

There are a few important tenets to keep in mind when talking to a teen with anxiety issues. 

  • Reassurances rarely work. Instead, try to empower your teen, or remind them of past experiences where they’ve overcome similar issues. 
  • Berating or being tough on a teen with anxiety makes things worse. Yes, exposure therapy can work in certain cases, but that’s a much more gradual and nuanced process than crudely “facing your fears”. 
  • If you can relate to your teen, then that can be a big help. But if you can’t, tell them you can anyway – or relating their stress to the stress you might be facing, such as going “yeah, well I’m having a hard time at work too” – will just alienate your teen. 

Last but not least, consider professional help. It’s not easy coping with an anxiety disorder alone and developing the tools needed to combat these intrusive and frustrating thoughts and feelings. 

Getting Real Help Together

Anxiety disorders can be treated through a combination of talk therapy, group therapy, family therapy, and medication

Different therapeutic modalities help address anxiety in different ways – from identifying physical and creative coping mechanisms, to learning to communicate better with your loved ones, handling anxiety in the long-term, seeking vocational training and skills training to prepare for the workplace at one’s own pace, and much more.


How to Help Teenagers with Anxiety

Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health issues on the planet. An estimated 18 percent of the world population struggles with anxiety symptoms, and among adolescents in the US, it’s estimated that about a quarter are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.  

Anxiety is much more than just worry. It’s a gnawing and overarching set of symptoms that eats its way into every thought, leaving many teens consistently thinking up worst-case scenarios, struggling with sleep and concentration, and feeling mentally and physically exhausted.  

However, anxiety is not untreatable. While common, there are many ways you can help teenagers with anxiety.  

Types of Anxiety Disorders in Teens 

Anxiety disorders come in different shapes and sizes. The most common diagnosis is a generalized anxiety disorder, a condition characterized by overarching worry and panic.  

Teens with a generalized anxiety disorder will expect the worst, maybe worried about things they have no reason to worry about.  

Social anxiety disorder is another common form of anxiety among teens. In this case, their symptoms revolve around fears and worries of public perception, being talked and gossiped about, struggling to make friends, not being able to open up to others, shutting down around strangers, and panicking at the idea of being in an unfamiliar group, or in the center of attention.  

Phobias are another common type of anxiety. Whereas generalized anxiety and social anxiety cover broad feelings of fear and worry, phobias are an intense and overwhelming fear towards one thing, be it an animal, a scenario, or a concept.  

Coming face to face with triggers may cause a panic attack, a combination of physical and mental symptoms such as nausea, difficulty breathing, sweating, heart palpitations, inability to concentrate, and numbness.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is also a type of anxiety disorder or stress disorder. In cases of PTSD, a specific traumatic event or series of chronic stressors creates a mental wound of sorts.

PTSD occurs most often as a result of violence, particularly sexual assault, but is also common among people who experienced the horrors of war, including soldiers and refugees. PTSD is characterized by changes in the brain that include an increased sensitivity or hypervigilance, and mental consequences of trauma, such as re-experiencing the fear and dread of their trauma, developing extreme measures to avoid any memories of it, or dissociating completely from it.

Other anxiety disorders include panic disorders, which are characterized by frequent and unprovoked panic attacks, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, which couples an intrusive, irrational, and discomforting thought (the obsession) with a tic or behavior that provides a very short-term feeling of relief (the compulsion).

Among all these conditions, the overarching similarities and combined characteristics of an anxiety disorder are intrusive fear and irrational worry. Teens who struggle with some form of anxiety typically won’t respond well to attempts to explain their worries away, or worse yet, being told to “stop worrying”. Their thoughts feel uncontrollable and recurring.  

Dealing with Anxiety at Home 

Teens with anxiety are more sensitive to external stressors, and their symptoms become worse with compounding pressure. This can come from home (a troubled marriage, frequent fights, poor relationship with parents, bullying siblings), from school (pressure to perform, bullying at school), or elsewhere (worrying about the future, medical problems, poverty, depression).  

Identifying and relieving some of these stressors is one way to help fight back against anxiety. Work with your family to create a better environment for your teen. Help them create a sanctuary for themselves at home. 

This can be especially difficult if your teen has overbearing or aggressive siblings. They might feel isolated and lonely due to how they’re treated by others, which can worsen their symptoms.  

Talking to your teen about their specific worries and fears also helps, even if it doesn’t always make them go away. Having someone to explain things to, and go over each worry together, can help make them feel not quite so threatening. While teens with anxiety may require more reassurance than other teens, it can help them in the short term.  

If anxiety runs in the family, then retelling your own experiences as a teen struggling with worries and feelings of inadequacy or panic may help your teen understand that they aren’t alone. That in itself can be a huge deal. Teens with anxiety issues are generally aware that their own thoughts and worries are holding them back, and it can be yet another source of loneliness and frustration. Knowing these are things many people fight with on a daily basis, with success, can give them hope and comfort.  

Finally, it’s also important to discuss the option of seeking professional help.  

When to Get Help  

Feelings of fear and anxiety are normal responses to stress, and it’s no wonder that teens and adults alike are experiencing more anxiety as a result of the pandemic, alongside other societal and global issues.  

But once these feelings are elevated to the point that they consistently impede and hinder your teen on a daily basis, and present themselves alongside physical symptoms, even without triggers, then your teen might be struggling with more than just a healthy response to stress.  

Does Medication Work?  

There are many different medications for anxiety, and it’s rare that a doctor will prescribe them without concurrent talk therapy and behavioral treatment. Treating anxiety, both in the short-term and the long-term, is often more about finding healthier ways to cope with these thoughts.  

Certain forms of anxiety – such as OCD and PTSD – require very specific therapies to overcome certain behavior and intrusive thoughts. When medication is prescribed, it can take the form of beta-blockers, anticonvulsants, antidepressants, and more.  

How to Help Teenagers with Anxiety in the Long-Term  

For many teens, an anxiety disorder or certain symptoms of anxiety are more than just the result of temporary environmental factors and may become a lifelong issue.  

It’s in these cases that life-long protective factors, family support, and therapeutic habits become the backbone of treatment. Teens with anxiety will learn to cope with their condition in ways that best suit them.  

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