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, 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.