7 Signs of Anxiety in Teens and Adolescents

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Anxiety can affect us at any age, but it’s no secret that anxiety disorders are becoming increasingly common among young people, particularly teenagers and adolescents. If you think your child may be suffering from an anxiety disorder, here is some helpful advice on how to support them, and when to seek professional assistance.

What Is Teenage Anxiety?

Anxiety is completely normal, and most of us will have experienced it at some point in our lives when facing worrying or stressful situations. However, when anxiety becomes overwhelming, it can become a problem and have an impact on your daily life.

For teenagers and adolescents today, there is often huge pressure across different areas of their lives. Generally, they might be worrying about school performance, friendships and relationships, money, bullying or a number of other common problems. While these things are all relatively normal, it’s important as a parent to be able to recognise when anxiety is becoming more than just an emotion and potentially developing into a disorder.

The 7 Key Signs Of Anxiety In Teens And Adolescents

With many anxiety disorders, signs and symptoms can present in a fairly obvious way. However, it’s important to note that for teenagers and adolescents the lines may blur between personality shifts, hormonal changes and signs of anxiety disorders. For example, excessive sleep has been known to be a symptom of anxiety and depression, but is also extremely common in young people as they develop and go through puberty.

Below are 7 key signs your child may be struggling with an anxiety disorder. If you aren’t sure whether they are showing symptoms, use this anxiety test.

1. Significant emotional changes

Of course, we all experience emotional changes throughout our lives, but you may notice significant shifts over a short space of time if your teenager is struggling with anxiety. For example, they may be showing signs that they are having difficulty concentrating at school, or perhaps they struggle to stay alert and focussed during conversations. Other changes to look out for include:

  • Unexplained outbursts and general frustration
  • Consistent alertness / hyperawareness
  • Short temper
  • Concentration issues
 

Although many of these things can be harmless and simply side effects of puberty, consistent outbursts and significant emotional shifts can have a serious impact on your teenager’s relaitonships with their friends and other family members.

2. Changes to academic performance

Many teens and adolescents struggle academically, but sudden changes to performance may be a sign that your child is feeling overwhelmed, or that other anxiety symptoms (such as sleep problems) are having an impact. You may notice that they are missing deadlines, procrastinating more often or simply losing interest.

Sometimes anxiety sufferers can also channel their emotions into performing exceptionally well at school. While there’s a positive side to this, it’s also important to be aware that this could eventually lead to burnout and may be having an effect on their relationships and wellbeing in general.

3. Unexplained physical issues

Certain aches and pains could simply be due to puberty and hormones, but looking out for patterns in your teenager’s physical symptoms can help you identify signs of a potential mental disorder. Look out for the following:

  • General, consistent aches and pains
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Stomach problems or changes to eating habits
 

Monitor the frequency of these issues and encourage your child to explain how they are feeling whenever they arise. You may wish to contact your teenager’s GP if you are not sure whether the problems they are having are related to anxiety. Alternatively, you can use this anxiety test to gain further clarity on whether or not your child may be suffering from an anxiety disorder.

4. Sleeping problems

Sleep disturbances can range from having difficulty falling asleep to frequent nightmares and an inability to stay asleep throughout the night. If you are noticing that a teenager or adolescent is sleeping more or less than usual, or seeming tired even when they are sleeping excessively, it might be time to seek professional help.

5. Anxiety or panic attacks

Anxiety and panic attacks can be frightening for teenagers and their parents. Often, the behaviours and emotional responses that occur during these attacks can seem extreme, and sufferers may even seem like they want to cause harm to themselves.

Anxiety sufferers may experience a full panic or anxiety attack that could last from minutes to hours, or they may experience isolated symptoms that are milder. General symptoms of an anxiety or panic attack include:

  • Stomach pains
  • Chest pains
  • Sweating and shaking
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Difficulty breathing or heavy breathing
  • Numbness or tingling
 

6. Social problems

Anxiety disorders can have an immense impact on how a teenager feels when interacting with friends and family members. Relationships may suffer and you may notice that your teenager has less interest in their social life all of a sudden. If you suspect they might be avoiding their friends or not taking part in activities that they usually enjoy, this can certainly be a sign of either an anxiety disorder, depression or another mental illness.

7. Changes in general behaviour

General behavioural changes can be an indicator of an anxiety disorder in teens and adolescents. General behavioural changes may include signs of compulsion, such as arranging or organising things more frequently, or washing hands more often. Other signs of general behavioural change include suddenly avoiding social situations, withdrawing from activities and explosive emotional outbursts.

How To Find Help For Your Teenager

Knowing when and how to calm anxiety in teenagers can be difficult for parents and caregivers. Below are some practical examples of ways you can help your child to cope with feelings of anxiety and avoid becoming overwhelmed:

1. Communicate

Talking to a struggling adolescent about their emotional or behavioural issues may be challenging at first, especially if they are exhibiting confrontational behaviour or are unreceptive to you. The more you encourage your teenager to open up about how they are feeling, the easier it will be to earn their trust and support them through their difficulties. Suggest going for a walk, spending an evening relaxing together, or make time for weekly chats over the phone if it’s more difficult to get face-to-face time together, and this will help them start to open up and talk.

2. Encourage self care

When experiencing symptoms of anxiety, self care is a must. While it’s important to give them space, encouraging your teenager to take care of themselves (be it through eating well, exercising or doing more of what they enjoy) can make a huge difference to how they are affected by their symptoms. Having a healthy lifestyle can mitigate the impact of certain symptoms, such as sleeping problems, and will also be better for their social life.

3. Remind them they are not alone

Suffering from an anxiety disorder can make your teenager feel extremely lonely, especially if they are struggling to communicate with you and your family about the symptoms they are experiencing. It’s vital that they are reminded frequently that they are not alone, and to reaffirm your support of them during this time. You can also encourage them to read or watch blogs and videos online about people discussing their experiences of anxiety, and look for support groups within your community.

4. Seek professional help

Noticing symptoms of anxiety in your teenager can be concerning for parents and caregivers. If you think that your teenager is suffering from a persistent anxiety disorder, we encourage you to seek professional help. With expert guidance, you can better understand what your child is going through and how to help them without them feeling overwhelmed or suffocated.

Mavish Sikander

Mavish Sikander

Mavish is a BABCP Accredited CBT and EMDR Therapist and CBT Clinical Lead at Psymplicity.

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