Is your teen struggling with anxiety? Discover the most effective strategies parents can use to help teens overcome anxiety. All our articles are written by professional therapists.
In this article:
- Learn about anxiety disorders that can affect people of all ages
- Understand what anxiety can look like in teens
- 6 strategies to help teens with anxiety to try out now
An Introduction to Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety can take many different forms. Some common types of anxiety include generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and panic disorder. In order to understand how teens are affected by anxiety, it is helpful to have a better understanding of what all these different terms mean!
GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder)
When assessing for GAD, clinical professionals are looking for some the following symptoms:
- The presence of excessive anxiety and worry about a variety of topics, events, or activities. Worry occurs more often than not for at least six months and is clearly excessive.
- The worry is experienced as very challenging to control. The worry in both adults and children may easily shift from one topic to another.
- The anxiety and worry are accompanied by at least three of the following physical or cognitive symptoms (in children, only one of these symptoms is necessary for a diagnosis of GAD):
- Edginess or restlessness
- Tiring easily; more fatigued than usual
- Impaired concentration or feeling as though the mind goes blank
- Irritability (which may or may not be observable to others)
- Increased muscle aches or soreness
- Difficulty sleeping (due to trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, restlessness at night, or unsatisfying sleep)
Social Anxiety Disorder
Social anxiety disorder can show up with physical and psychological symptoms when people are in social situations. It’s important to look out for both.
Social interaction may cause the following physical symptoms:
- Excessive sweating
- Trembling or shaking
- Difficulty speaking
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Rapid heart rate
Psychological symptoms may include:
- Worrying intensely about social situations
- Worrying for days or weeks before an event
- Avoiding social situations or trying to blend into the background if you must attend
- Worrying about embarrassing yourself in a social situation
- Worrying that other people will notice you are stressed or nervous
- Needing alcohol to face a social situation
- Missing school or work because of anxiety
A panic attack is a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause. Panic attacks can be very frightening. When panic attacks occur, you might think you’re losing control, having a heart attack or even dying.
Many people have just one or two panic attacks in their lifetimes, and the problem goes away, perhaps when a stressful situation ends. But if you’ve had recurrent, unexpected panic attacks and spent long periods in constant fear of another attack, you may have a condition called panic disorder.
Although panic attacks themselves aren’t life-threatening, they can be frightening and significantly affect your quality of life. But treatment can be very effective.
Panic attacks typically begin suddenly, without warning. They can strike at any time—when you’re driving a car, at the mall, sound asleep or in the middle of a business meeting. You may have occasional panic attacks, or they may occur frequently.
Panic attacks have many variations, but symptoms usually peak within minutes. You may feel fatigued and worn out after a panic attack subsides.
Panic attacks typically include some of these signs or symptoms:
- Sense of impending doom or danger
- Fear of loss of control or death
- Rapid, pounding heart rate
- Trembling or shaking
- Shortness of breath or tightness in your throat
- Hot flashes
- Abdominal cramping
- Chest pain
- Dizziness, lightheadedness or faintness
- Numbness or tingling sensation
- Feeling of unreality or detachment
If your teen is exhibiting any of these signs of anxiety, the best thing you can do is take them to therapy! A licensed clinician will be able to assess your child for an anxiety disorder and come up with goals for therapy that’ll help your child learn to manage their anxiety better.
Anxiety in Teens
As someone who has been working with teenagers for the last six years, I have come to learn what causes anxiety in teens. The main things that cause anxiety in teens are school, friendships and relationships, academics, and one’s concern of their internal or external appearance.
It feels that every year there’s more pressure on teens to pick the right college and major, get straight A’s, do extracurriculars, etc! No wonder so many teens experience anxiety.
Teenage years are hard for everyone. It’s a time where puberty is happening, friendships can feel unstable, homework load can feel unmanageable, and when one is more likely to start exhibiting symptoms of a mental health disorder.
Some signs that your teenage child may be struggling with anxiety are physiological symptoms that can’t be explained by medical tests, constantly wanting to stay home from school due to not feeling well, and withdrawing from friends and family.
When I’ve had clients come in for therapy who are struggling with anxiety, typically they say their stomach hurts often and they don’t feel well. I’d encourage parents to have their child come to therapy to get assessed and also to see their primary care physician to rule out any medical symptoms or diagnoses.
6 Strategies to Help Teens with Anxiety
Everyone can benefit from having someone to talk to who’s not their parent or friends. Best Therapies staff includes therapists that specialize in working with anxiety in teens. In therapy, your child will be able to learn coping skills to manage their anxiety more effectively, be able to find the root cause of the anxiety, and have someone to discuss the thoughts that anxiety cause that may be hard to share with friends and family!
Moving one’s body moves the stress out of the body. Have a dance party, take a mindful walk, or take your pets for a walk. I would encourage you to help your teen find an activity that they enjoy that helps them move their bodies. It’s not about being focused on calories or intensity, but about how good it feels to move one’s body!
Have your teen assessed by someone who specializes in working with teens to see if medication would be helpful. As a teen, medication was a huge part of my healing! I refer folx to Meridian Psychiatric Partners. A psychiatrist will do a thorough assessment of your teens mental health. They’ll ask about mental health history in the family, symptoms that the teen experiences, when those symptoms started, and assess for other mental health conditions such as depression or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
Meeting other teens who understand can be crucial. It can be so nice to feel not alone and realize everyone struggles with something. You can search for therapy support groups on Psychology Today. I think group therapy is a great way for teens to make community with other teens experiencing similar issues and to be able to discuss with people who get it what it’s like to be a teen with anxiety!
Speak kindly to yourself! The way you speak to yourself matters. Model to your teen that it is cool to be kind to yourself. When I work with teens I try to help them stop saying things to themselves like, “you’re so stupid” or “you’re not normal because you struggle with anxiety.” Instead, I encourage them to say things like “you made a mistake and that’s okay! As humans, we make mistakes and the only thing that matters is that we grow from our mistakes,” or “so many people struggle with anxiety! Normal is overrated and what’s important is that you realize struggling with anxiety is a common experience that you don’t need to feel shame about!“
Practice grounding exercises
5 senses exercise (5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can touch, 2 things you can smell, and one thing you can taste), mindful breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation are some of my favorites. When you take your teen to therapy, your teen will learn many grounding exercises that they can practice inside and outside of therapy. For one to experience the most benefit from therapy, it is important to take what one learns in therapy and utilize it outside of therapy on a regular basis.
It’s okay to not be okay. You and your teen will get through the hard times that come your way. Some teens will struggle with anxiety into their adult years and that’s okay. It can be scary to hear that, but the important thing to note is that your teen can work on managing their anxiety with ongoing medication and therapy. Many people live with lifelong anxiety and go on to live really meaningful lives. It’s not about always being happy, but savoring the moments of happiness when they come.
As a teen, the best way my parents supported me was by taking me to therapy. If you want your teen to work with someone who gets what it’s like to struggle as a teen, I’d love to work with them. If you’re worried about your teen’s mental health, take them to a therapy appointment and see how it goes. Try out a few different therapists to find the right fit for your teen! A meaningful therapeutic relationship with one’s therapist can be an anchor in the midst of living in a world where life can be really hard sometimes.