Teen Anxiety

 Everyone feels anxious from time to time; a feeling of worry, uneasiness, and fear of what may happen in the nearest future. Depending on the situation or possible threat, these feelings of anxiety could be mild or intense.

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Intro to Anxiety in Adolescence

Natural or situational anxiety is nonpersistent, lasting for only a few hours to a few days. A stage performance, a job interview or class presentation, a date or even a phone call can cause anxiety. Sometimes, it happens for no reason. This type of anxiety in teens is a normal, healthy reaction to some situations.

Situational anxiety is an important feeling that keeps people alert in situations of impending danger or change. However, teen anxiety and depression are mental illnesses that cause teenagers to have persistent feelings of anxiety in excess. Many young people develop anxiety disorders in adolescence, which may persist into adulthood.

Helping teens with anxiety is often different from treating adults with mental illness. Teens have different symptoms, characteristics, prevalence, and comorbidities. While teen depression and anxiety can develop quickly, there are many evidence-based treatments available. Rather than reviewing a long list of anxiety in adolescence articles, you can better understand teen anxiety with the resources available here.

Helping Teens with Anxiety

Everyone feels anxious from time to time; a feeling of worry, uneasiness, and fear of what may happen in the near future. Depending on the situation or possible threat, these feelings of anxiety could be mild or intense.

In some cases, these natural feelings can develop into social anxiety in teens. Young people who feel overwhelmed by these feelings can begin to pull away from their natural support systems. Teen social anxiety treatment and behavioral therapy can help these individuals better manage their anxiety disorders.

What Does Anxiety Feel Like?

People with anxiety disorders feel overwhelming amounts of fear, worry, uneasiness, and nervousness and these feelings are so persistent in the individuals that they become distracted and tense all the time, unable to function normally. Anxiety disorder interferes with personal lives, academic and extracurricular activities, and relationships with families and friends.

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Anxiety in Teens: Statistics

If you are wondering how to help your teen with anxiety, you are not alone. The anxiety statistics in teens show that teen social anxiety treatment and resources for teens with anxiety are urgently needed by many young people across the country.

A National Institute of Mental Health Statistics shows that about 25% of children and teens between the ages of 13 to 18 have one anxiety disorder or another and up to 6% battle severe anxiety disorder. This disorder may develop in a child as young as three, with symptoms exhibited at age 13 which then go with the child into adulthood without professional help.

For those children diagnosed with anxiety between the ages of 3-17, more than one in three also have behavioral challenges and/or depression. Less than 60% of diagnosed children in the United States received treatment for their anxiety disorder. Helping teens with anxiety early can potentially prevent them developing other physical or mental health conditions.

Anxiety strategies for teens should also take into account that many teenagers may also turn to substance abuse (drugs and alcohol) when they have an anxiety disorder. Studies show that when anxiety disorders in teens go untreated, teens are at higher risk to engage in substance abuse, miss out on important social experiences and milestones, and struggle in school.

Of 10,000 adolescents surveyed in 2016, two-thirds of those who developed an addiction to drugs or alcohol had at least one mental health challenge. Adolescents with prior anxiety disorders had the highest rates of substance abuse, with over 17% abusing alcohol and 20% abusing drugs.

Anxiety Symptoms in Teens

There are many symptoms and signs of anxiety in teens. Generalized Anxiety Disorder in teens will have different markers from the signs of social anxiety in teens. There are social, emotional, and physical symptoms of anxiety disorder in teens.

It can be easy to miss the signs of anxiety in adolescence and write these symptoms off as normal growing pains, but ignoring signs of depression and anxiety in teens can have long-term life consequences. Your pediatrician or a behavioral therapist can help you develop supportive anxiety strategies for teens that can restore confidence and teach powerful coping techniques.

When you witness these signs of panic disorder, GAD, or social anxiety symptoms in teens, it might be time to look deeper into the causes:

  • Restlessness
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Poor academic performances
  • Withdrawal
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Nervous shaking
  • Irritability
  • Intense sweating
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pains
  • Loss of interests
  • Shaky hands
  • Tense muscles
  • Angry outbursts
  • Compulsive behaviors
  • Panic attacks

What Causes Anxiety in Teens?

The exact causes of anxiety disorder in teens are not known. While the study of phobic and anxiety disorders in children and adolescents is rapidly progressing, researchers are still determining exactly what causes depression and anxiety in teens.

Several different factors are considered to contribute to depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and social anxiety disorder in teens. These might include environmental and biological factors, a chemical imbalance between the brain’s norepinephrine and serotonin, learned behavior, societal factors, genetics, overactive fight or flight response, or childhood trauma.

According to Psychology Today, the 10 reasons teens have so much anxiety today include:

  1. Using digital devices as an unhealthy escape mechanism.
  2. A culture that creates an unrealistic expectation of constant happiness.
  3. Exaggerated praise given by parents and authority figures that creates self-doubt.
  4. Unreasonably high expectations for personal and academic success.
  5. Lack of training and guidance in developing emotional skills.
  6. Parents and caregivers who are overly protective, which reinforces feelings of fear and worry.
  7. Lack of experienced and helpful guidance in how to face fears in a health and productive way.
  8. Parenting styles based on guilt and fear, which interfere with children learning to deal with difficult emotions.
  9. A lack of unstructured play and unsupervised social interactions, which are essential to developing the skills to resolve conflicts.
  10. A family hierarchy where the children feel they are in charge or have all the power, leaving them without confident leadership and guidance.

How Gender Relates to Anxiety Disorders in Teens

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Studies of anxiety in adolescence and adulthood strongly suggest that females are more likely to develop an anxiety disorder than males. Even strongly controlled statistical analyses demonstrate a gender difference, with anxiety in teen girls up to twice as likely to occur as anxiety in teen boys.

Data indicates that as early as age six, girls are already twice as likely as boys to experience an anxiety disorder. Anxiety in adolescent females was also found to be associated with alcohol use, while that was not often a factor with anxiety in teen boys. Agoraphobia, separation anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder were also associated with illicit drug use when combined with anxiety in teen girls, but this was less common in teenage boys.

Some teens also experience anxiety about their gender identity and/or sexual orientation. Studies suggest that these young people may experience anxiety and depression twice as often as other teenagers who do not face these issues. Teens in the gender minority have higher rates of depression, suicidal thoughts or actions, social anxiety, generalized anxiety disorder, and exposure to trauma. Helping all teens with anxiety to overcome these disorders can benefit their development and help them learn healthy ways to cope with their unique life challenges.


Types of Anxiety Disorders in Adolescents

Generalized Anxiety Disorder in Teens

This is the most common type of anxiety disorder in teenagers and adolescents. It can occur as early as age six with symptoms being noticeable at age eleven. The teenager with a generalized anxiety disorder is constantly worried and has an intense fear of a range of possible occurrences. The teenager or young adult worries daily about performing poorly in their academics, their family separating or even their friends leaving them.

They may also worry excessively about things like weather reports, how they look, and how they are perceived. Generalized anxiety disorder in adolescence has no specific trigger. Often, the teenager facing this disorder has low self-esteem and the feelings of worry persist for a very long time.

Panic Disorder in Teens

This kind of anxiety disorder produces panic attacks not triggered by any particular situation or environment. It occurs very suddenly in the teenager who experiences intense fear and, in a moment, goes into fight or flight mode. They suddenly have a sense of impending danger over which they have no control.

These intense episodes of anxiety can trigger a panic attack, causing the young person to have difficulty breathing or focusing on anything. During a panic attack, the teenager may have physical complaints of chest pain and also feel nauseous, dizzy, and numb. These symptoms are accompanied by intense sweating, choking, and inability to shake the feeling that they are dying.

Social Anxiety Disorder in Teens

Social anxiety in teens is very specific to a certain environment or situation. Teenagers with social phobia feel overwhelmed and very nervous when in a social setting. When this happens, they may withdraw and isolate themselves from other people for fear of being judged or because of feelings of embarrassment.

Social anxiety disorder in adolescence may last for a long time and affect a young person’s normal routine negatively. Sometimes, these social phobias may also manifest as extreme fear of a particular place, thing, or situation.  Children and teenagers who develop social anxiety in adolescence may even develop selective mutism where they are too scared to even talk. 

Early teen social anxiety treatment can help prevent the development of other phobias. When social phobias are left untreated, some teenagers may develop new phobias like these:
  • An unhealthy fear of enclosed spaces known as claustrophobia
  • Fear of open spaces called agoraphobia
  • Fear of spiders called arachnophobia
  • Fear of height called acrophobia
  • Fear of dogs called cynophobia
  • Fear of traveling or flying in an airplane
  • Fear of falling asleep, known as sleep anxiety in teens

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) in Teens

This is a common anxiety disorder that affects children, teenagers, and adults. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 1 in 100 adults and 1 in 20 teenagers in the United States are dealing with OCD.

This is a disorder in which an individual obsesses over a particular unwanted thought, image, or impulse, which then causes extreme anxiety and stress. Once an obsession has developed, the individual is compelled to deal with stress and anxiety by engaging in a particular habit or behavior. They may impulsively clear their room repeatedly or wash their hands, count, or check if a door is locked. Excessive concerns about safety or health are examples of OCD.

Even when the teenager knows or suspects that he has an unhealthy obsessive-compulsive behavior, they are unable to stop. Obsessive-compulsive behaviors are very repetitive and time-consuming, and they may interfere with the healthy daily routines of a teenager’s life.

Separation Anxiety In Teens

This is an intense worry in children and adolescents of being away from their parents or another person. They become very afraid that their parents or security figures are abandoning them or may not return to pick them.

While this is more common in younger children, separation anxiety in adolescence can take other, less obvious forms. The teenager may become very reluctant to leave home, may skip school, and may avoid other social meetings. They may also deny that they feel anxious about being separated from home.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in Teens

PTSD is a serious type of anxiety disorder in teenagers that have experienced a frightening situation or traumatic event. The shock of the event may cause them to have flashbacks, dreams, or relapses in situations that trigger traumatic memories.

Witnessing a violent crime or a natural disaster or being involved in an accident may cause PTSD in teenagers. This disorder has a negative impact on almost all aspects of life, with additional feelings of anxiety surrounding normal environments that might trigger a flashback. After a traumatic experience, taking an anxiety questionnaire for teens might allow for treatment before symptoms of PTSD develop.

5 Tips for Teens with Anxiety Challenges

There are ways for young people to manage stress and low levels of anxiety themselves. These anxiety tips for teens can help young people who are looking for natural ways to manage their feelings of fear and worry:
  1. Healthy lifestyle. Getting enough sleep, eating healthy meals, and exercising promote physical health and improve the levels of brain chemicals that support feelings of wellbeing.
  2. Schedule relaxation. Teens with anxiety can enroll in classes in meditation, yoga for relaxation, or tai chi or make use of online or self-directed courses. Deep breathing and relaxation techniques are very helpful to those managing their anxiety.
  3. Set limits on social media use. Taking regular breaks from social media allows the brain time to focus on positive thoughts and creative activities. Getting away from the unrealistic world of media in all forms allows teens to reconnect with nature, reality, and themselves.
  4. Practice positive self-talk. Anxiety can feel like a rat running the same wheel of worry over and over again. Many people find that when they consciously replace negative thoughts with positive ones, they can reduce anxiety and promote self-confidence.
  5. Connect with supportive people. Friends, family, and counselors can help individuals with anxiety gain perspective and learn healthy coping mechanisms. Remembering that everyone feels anxious, unsure, and afraid at times can open the doors to the resources that are truly helpful.

Community Support and Anxiety Groups for Teens

Developing a sense of community with other teenagers who are dealing with anxiety disorders can be an empowering source of anxiety relief for teens. There are in-person and online groups for teens with social anxiety, OCD, GAD, PD, and PTSD. You might find professionally managed peer-to-peer groups at anxiety treatment centers for teens or choose an online community for support.

Coming together to openly discuss the debilitating symptoms and fear of public humiliation that many teens feel because of their disorder helps young people understand how common these disorders are and that they are not alone in their struggle. In these support groups helping teens deal with anxiety, they share strategies, tools, and techniques that work in the real world of today’s teenager.

The SCARED Anxiety Test for Teens

One of the most commonly used anxiety quizzes for teens is The Screen for Child Anxiety Related Disorders or SCARED). One of the best resources for teens with anxiety, SCARED is designed to measure the current level of anxiety a child or teen is experiencing. This basic anxiety questionnaire for teens can help a young person recognize when their levels of fear and worry are reaching the level of a medical disorder.

When creating anxiety worksheets for teens to fill out, omit the scoring section of this test. The young person can take this test more than once, to track the success of various anxiety strategies for teens. Helping teens dealing with anxiety to quantify and feel in control of their fears can be one of the best anxiety activities for teens.

The young person is asked to answer each of these questions with a 0, 1, or 2.

0 = Not True or Hardly Ever True
1 =  Somewhat True or Sometimes True
2= Very True or Often True
  1. When I feel frightened, it is hard to breathe.
  2. I get headaches when I am at school.
  3. I don’t like to be with people I don’t know well.
  4. I get scared if I sleep away from home.
  5. I worry about other people liking me.
  6. When I get frightened, I feel like passing out.
  7. I am nervous.
  8. I follow my mother or father wherever they go.
  9. People tell me that I look nervous.
  10. I feel nervous with people I don’t know well.
  11. I get stomach aches at school.
  12. When I get frightened, I feel like I am going crazy.
  13. I worry about sleeping alone.
  14. I worry about being as good as other kids.
  15. When I get frightened, I feel like things are not real.
  16. I have nightmares about something bad happening to my parents.
  17. I worry about going to school.
  18. When I get frightened, my heart beats fast.
  19. I get shaky.
  20. I have nightmares about something bad happening to me.
  21. I worry about things working out for me.
  22. When I get frightened, I sweat a lot.
  23. I am a worrier.
  24. I get really frightened for no reason at all.
  25. I am afraid to be alone in the house.
  26. It is hard for me to talk with people I don’t know well.
  27. When I get frightened, I feel like I am choking.
  28. People tell me that I worry too much.
  29. I don’t like to be away from my family.
  30. I am afraid of having anxiety (or panic) attacks.
  31. I worry that something bad might happen to my parents.
  32. I feel shy with people I don’t know well.
  33. I worry about what is going to happen in the future.
  34. When I get frightened, I feel like throwing up.
  35. I worry about how well I do things.
  36. I am scared to go to school.
  37. I worry about things that have already happened.
  38. I feel nervous when I am with other children or adults and I have to do something while they watch me (for example: read aloud, speak, play a game, play a sport).
  39. I feel nervous when I am going to parties, dances, or any place where there will be people that I don’t know well.
  40. I am shy.
  41. When I get frightened, I feel dizzy.
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How to Get Help for Teens with Anxiety

With the help of mental health professionals or therapists, it is possible to treat and manage anxiety disorders. Doctors and therapists can provide lasting anxiety relief for teens. However, it is important to engage the help of a professional as soon as symptoms are noticed. The earlier the diagnosis, the earlier the treatment can start and the better the outcome is likely to be. The best way to get help is to ask for it and keep pursuing the issue until you find the resources you need.

Despite the treatability of this disorder, up to 80% of children and teenagers with diagnosable anxiety disorder do not get the treatment they need. When helping teens with anxiety, a medical professional thoroughly assesses and evaluates the teenager’s condition, ruling out other possible health problems or coexisting conditions. Using a collaborative treatment approach, a psychiatrist then formally diagnoses the mental illness.


On assessment and evaluation, the mental healthprofessional recommends a combination of treatment plans for the teenager. Thecombination of the treatment plan may include:

Psychotherapy: This is also called “talk therapy” and it uses several methods to treat the teenager. These methods include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). The professional therapist, using CBT and DBT, teaches the patient new ways to deal with and manage anxiety in triggering situations. The professional also guides and counsels the teenager, teaching him or her several coping mechanisms, and engages in breathing and relaxation exercises.

Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PET), where the patient makes a list of things that cause anxiety or fear and learns to deal with them or listens to recordings of themselves recounting their most traumatizing experiences, as well as family therapy, may be used by the professional to treat anxiety disorder.

Psychotherapy may also be used alongside Selective Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) to treat people with an anxiety disorder. SSRIs are medications, usually antidepressants, prescribed for treating anxiety disorders in children and young adults.

Medication combined with psychotherapyused for up to 12 weeks has been found to effectively treat teenagers with thisdisorder. Although they do not substitute for professional healthcare, healthyhabits, exercises, andengagements that enhance general human wellbeing are also a great help with thetreatment of anxiety disorder. These habits and exercises may include healthynutrition, good sleep patterns, meditation, yoga, and effective communicationwith friends and family.
Children under the age of 8 might need these questions explained to them, but the person using the anxiety workbook for teens or administering the test should not coach or attempt to “correct” any answers. Scores greater than 25 may indicate an Anxiety Disorder, and particular questions are designed to identify panic disorder, GAD, separation anxiety, social anxiety, and school avoidance.

SCARED can be used as a starting point in determining how to help your teen with anxiety, as a social anxiety test for teens, or to test the success of anxiety coping skills for teens. Many groups for teens with social anxiety and published tips for teens with anxiety recommend taking this self test to create a benchmark.

Helping teens with anxiety starts with clearly recognizing there is an issue developing. If you or a young person you care about is scoring 30 or above on this kind of test, it might be time to move beyond anxiety tips for teens and seek professional evaluation, diagnosis, and possible treatment for an anxiety disorder.

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