Everyone feels anxious sometimes. Anxiety is a normal response to stimuli that could pose a threat to one’s wellbeing, and for thousands of years, it has been an integral component of human survival.
As children grow up, they encounter a wide range of new and challenging obstacles that may cause anxiety. From new experiences such as learning to drive, getting a job, or starting a relationship, to forming plans for the future, a teen’s life is full of decisions and obligations that may feel stressful. However, for some individuals, anxiety can be debilitating, seeping into numerous situations until it becomes disruptive to daily life.
When anxiety becomes overwhelming, it can begin to interfere with a teen’s goals and long-term emotional development. A teen for whom anxiety has become a significant barrier to personal happiness and fulfillment will need the support of family members and, in some cases, mental health professionals to learn to address stress in a healthy, constructive manner. But how can a parent be certain that a teen’s anxiety has become severe enough to warrant concern? When anxiety has become a diagnosable mental disorder, it often has the following characteristics:
Accompanied by Intense Emotional and Physical Responses
For individuals with anxiety disorders, feelings of stress and discomfort are accompanied by severe, potentially overwhelming physical and emotional sensations In addition to being restless or nervous on a regular basis, teens struggling with serious anxiety may have drastic emotional responses, such as yelling or crying, in response or in an attempt to avoid anxiety-inducing situations. Teens with anxiety disorders may be more likely to seem irritable, lash out in anger, or exhibit otherwise volatile moods.
Additionally, physical discomfort such as headaches, stomach pain, muscle stiffness, or general fatigue can also accompany anxiety disorders. Teens diagnosed with panic disorder can often experience more extreme physical responses to acute anxiety; during a panic attack, they may feel like they are choking or unable to breathe, experience trembling or dizziness, or feel tightness in their chest.
Frequent and Persistent
Individuals with anxiety disorders experience frequent, consistent anxiety over a prolonged span of time. Generally, their anxiety levels exceed the normal amounts expected for a given situation, causing extreme responses to everyday stressors. Teens may express this mental struggle by constantly seeking reassurance, but oftentimes, serious anxiety does not subside in response to normal comfort from parents or peers.
Anxiety can impact individuals in a number of ways. While a teen who frequently worries about a wide range of topics is likely experiencing generalized anxiety disorder, anxiety can also present in the form of obsessive compulsive disorder, which causes individuals to partake in compulsive rituals.
Disruptive to a Teen’s Normal Routine
One of the clearest signs that a teen’s anxiety levels have become abnormal is a change in his or her normal daily activities. When struggling with an anxiety disorder, a teen may have trouble going to sleep or sleeping throughout the night, or they may begin waking up unusually early. Anxiety can often curb an individual’s appetite, and may also fuel repetitive behavior, such as compulsively proofreading homework or repeatedly checking in on a loved one’s wellbeing. All of these symptoms can combine to make it far more difficult to concentrate, which can in turn complicate a teen’s school work, social life, and future aspirations.
A Barrier to Having Fun or Fulfilling Responsibilities
A teen’s anxiety is likely cause for concern if it has begun to interfere with his or her social interactions and priorities. A teen struggling with an anxiety disorder may avoid responsibilities such as school or work, shy away from new experiences such as learning to drive or applying to college, and withdraw from friends and extracurricular activities that he or she previously enjoyed. Consequences of this withdrawal, such as poor grades or the deterioration of friendships, can often exacerbate a teen’s existing anxiety.
A Detriment to Your Teen’s Self-Esteem
Anxiety may be a sign of a mental disorder if it begins to impact a teen’s self-esteem. Anxiety disorders frequently spur feelings of self-doubt and excessive self-criticism and, in many instances, can co-occur with other conditions such as depression or substance abuse.
Deciding to Seek Help
Although approximately 8 percent of children aged 13 to 18 experience an anxiety disorder, a 2015 study by the Child Mind Institute found that 80 percent of youth with a diagnosable anxiety disorder do not receive treatment. Failure to seek professional help for an anxiety condition can cause lasting issues as a teen matures into adulthood, increasing the risk for depression and substance abuse while making it more difficult for individuals to accomplish their personal goals. If you believe that your teen is currently battling an anxiety disorder, you should seek the advice of a trusted medical professional.