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How to Identify Anxiety in Teens

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Anxiety in Teens: How to Spot it and How to Help

Finding out your teen is dealing with anxiety can be a stressful and frightening experience. Will it go away by itself? Is it going to seriously affect their wellbeing in the long-term? Such questions can come to the forefront when you notice your teen has been acting anxious or exhibiting clear symptoms of anxiety. In this guide, we'll discuss how you can spot the different forms of anxiety, as well as cover what can be done to treat the often disabling symptoms of this common disorder.

How to Spot the Different Types of Anxiety in Teens

Spotting anxiety in teens may be a simple task if they're showing obvious signs and you're familiar with the symptoms of anxiety. Here are some of the various anxiety disorders that are common in teens:

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) – This is the most commonly diagnosed form of anxiety, as the tendency to experience this emotion varies depending on the topic the teen is focusing on. The primary symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder include:

  • Worrying and Expressing Concern About Numerous Issues - If your teen is frequently worrying about different issues in life like their health, the future, money, politics, and other topics all at once, they may have GAD. Although worrying alone isn't enough to conclusively diagnose someone with an anxiety disorder, if your teen keeps asking questions and expressing concerns about the same issues repeatedly, or seems to be having trouble handling relatively normal amounts of stress, they may have GAD.
  • Anti-Social or Rebellious Behavior – A teen with anxiety may spend a lot of time on electronic devices and avoiding other people. A teen who doesn't want to go places or isn't following instructions may be avoiding the activity due to fear and anxiety rather than rebelling simply for the sake of being in opposition of their parent(s).
  • Irritability and trouble sleeping – Anxiety can be taxing on energy levels, causing disruptions in sleeping habits. If you notice your teen has been having bouts of insomnia or sleeping in late, they could be having trouble falling asleep due to anxiety.

Social Anxiety Disorder – Teens with this disorder primarily experience anxiety when thinking about, preparing for, or engaging in a social activity, as they're overly concerned with the possibility of being embarrassed or judged by their peers. Teens with social anxiety disorder may frequently withdraw from interacting with friends, eating out, and doing other things that involve being around other people in public. Teens with this disorder will often skip class and attempt to drop out from school as well.

Separation Anxiety Disorder – Although this type of anxiety is more common in younger children, it can happen in teens as well, especially in situations where they're concerned about not being around their parents for an extended period of time. For example, if the parents are in the middle of a divorce, or if a parent has been incarcerated or is recently deceased. If your teen frequently worries about your wellbeing and has difficulty separating from you, they could be dealing with separation anxiety.

Panic Disorder – Panic disorder is a more aggressive and intense form of anxiety that seems to come out of nowhere and causes severe episodes known as “panic attacks”, which cause some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Dizziness
  • Hyperventilation (rapid breathing)
  • Palpitations (rapid heart rate)
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Shaking
  • Crying

Teens with panic disorder often fear going to places or doing things that might cause a panic attack.

Agoraphobia – This is similar to social anxiety and is considered a form of social anxiety by some psychologists. More specifically, it is defined as the fear of going to crowded public places due to the concern of being embarrassed, stranded, abandoned, or trapped.

Other Phobias that Cause Anxiety – There are literally hundreds of individual phobias that can cause acute bouts of anxiety in teens. However, usually, such episodes are directly related to encountering the subject of the phobia. For example, some teens may experience a panic attack after seeing a spider, or even at the mention of a spider in severe cases of arachnophobia.

Secondary Anxiety Symptoms in Teens

Aside from the signs and symptoms listed above, some teens develop their own personal ways of coping with anxiety. Paying attention to body language and facial expressions may reveal if your teen is having trouble dealing with emotional pressures. Here are some common coping mechanisms seen in teens with anxiety:

  • Compulsive nail-biting – Nail-biting, also referred to as onychophagia, is a very common symptom of anxiety and is one of the most widespread nervous responses that people often resort to when worrying about something.
  • Messing with hair – If you notice your teen frequently curling, twisting, or pulling their hair, it could be a sign that they're coping with anxious and worrisome thoughts.
  • Tapping Hands – Erratically tapping hands during stressful situations. Moving Legs and Feet – The urge to move legs and feet may stem from an anxiety disorder. In fact, Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) is categorized as an anxiety-related disorder.
  • Head Nodding – Excessive or unprovoked head nodding maybe a sign that your teen is trying to cope with unwanted thoughts by occupying themselves through head movements.
  • Frustrated and Hesitated Breathing – If your teen frequently has pauses in breathing (apneas) and then takes a hard, frustrated sounding breath, that's a clear sign that they may be experiencing anxiety-related emotions.
  • Other Physically Apparent Symptoms: Lip biting, sweaty palms, racing heartbeat, and trembling hands.

How is Teen Anxiety Treated?

In many cases, teen anxiety can be treated via cognitive-behavioral therapy, and/or a change in circumstances in the teen's life. It's possible for a teen to develop an anxiety disorder due to a specific event or set of events, and it's also possible for them to essentially “get over it” in time.

However, when the anxiety is causing severe symptoms that are interfering with their ability to optimally function in society and enjoy a high quality of life, then it makes sense to consider anti-anxiety medications as well. These are some of the most commonly prescribed anxiety medications for teens:

  • Benzodiazepines – This class of drugs includes Valium and Xanax.
  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) – Also called antidepressants. Includes Prozac, Paxil, Lexapro, Celexa, and Zoloft.

Aside from the above types of medications, other effective treatment options include biofeedback, meditation, and stress management programs.

Turning the Tide Only Takes a Few Minutes

While dealing with teen anxiety can be an intimidating and discomforting challenge, the good news is that it's a very treatable disorder that doesn't have to negatively impact your teen's life. The adolescent program at Houston Behavioral Healthcare Hospital has a remarkably high success rate in treating teens with anxiety and getting help for your teen is only a short phone call away.