Anxiety is the body’s normal response to stress, but being in a constant state of worry is a cause for concern. Chronic anxiety, also known as anxiety disorder, is characterized by excessive, intense fear or panic, and disrupts a person’s ability to function normally. These feelings can go on for weeks, months, or even longer, and become overwhelming. The effects of anxiety disorders can ultimately impact a person’s physical health, emotional well-being, and social skill development. This is especially true for teenagers, who are still developing mentally and physically.
It is estimated that close to 1 in 3 teenagers face an anxiety disorder. However, it’s likely that even more are affected by anxiety’s symptoms. According to the Pew Research Center, 70 percent of teenagers feel that anxiety and depression are major problems among their peers—and almost all believe that these issues are more prominent than bullying, drug abuse, and poverty.
Unfortunately, the number of teens facing anxiety disorders is only increasing. Experts report we are in the middle of a youth mental health crisis. Between the COVID-19 pandemic, elevated use of social media, increasing academic pressure, and violence in our schools and communities, modern teenagers have a lot to worry about.
So, what can parents do about it? If you are a parent and concerned about the effects of anxiety on your teenager, it is important to educate yourself about this condition. Know the signs of anxiety, and know when to seek help for your son or daughter. Anxiety can create a lot of distress in the lives of teenagers, but it does not have to. Anxiety disorders can be treated and managed effectively.
Common Signs of Anxiety Disorders in Teens
Common signs of anxiety include persistent fear or worry (especially without cause), overthinking, withdrawal from social activity, and avoidance of difficult situations. For teenagers, however, these symptoms are frequently accompanied by self-esteem and/or body-image issues, declines in school performance, and a constant need for reassurance. Sometimes, anxiety often presents itself as physical ailment, too, without an otherwise explicable cause.
There are different types of anxiety disorders, each with their own symptoms and effects. Common types of anxiety in teenagers include:
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Social anxiety disorder
- Separation anxiety
- Panic disorder
No matter the type of anxiety, however, one thing is evident. Anxiety disorders have a way of interfering with daily living and bringing down a teen’s quality of life.
The Effects of Anxiety on Teenagers’ Lives
As noted above, anxiety disorders hinder a person’s ability to carry out regular activities, like attending school, getting dressed, and going to sleep at night. For teenagers, anxiety impacts various aspects of their lives, including:
- Social life.
Whether or not a teenager has social anxiety, any anxiety disorder can impact their social skills and social well-being. On one end, if a teen is struggling with social anxiety, they may avoid social situations altogether and struggle to build friendships with peers. However, anyone with anxiety might experience feelings of inadequacy, fear of being judged, or an inability to communicate with others. Sometimes, anxiety makes it hard to get out of bed and go to events or obligations—which, in turn, makes it hard to meet and bond with other people. This can have a clear impact on a teenager’s social life.
School is a common root of anxiety in teenagers, though it’s not typically the main, driving force. Usually, anxiety in youth has to do with certain aspects of school. For example, many students worry excessively about their performance (in class or on the field). Others have a fear of interacting with other students or participating in class. Some may be afraid – or embarrassed – of having a panic attack during school hours. This, in turn, leads many teenagers to experience declines in grades. School refusal, according to The Child Mind Institute, is common among teens with anxiety, and it can significantly affect their grades and academic status.
- Mental health.
Anxiety disorders are mental health disorders. However, when teens experience an anxiety disorder, and it goes untreated, they are more likely to experience other mental health disorders down the road. For example, there is a strong link between anxiety and depression. In fact, The Child Mind Institute reports that generalized anxiety disorder is considered a pre-cursor for depression. This is because the constant worry associated with GAD affects a person’s quality of life, which in turn can lead to sadness and hopelessness. Anxiety is also commonly associated with body image issues, especially in teenage girls, and can in turn feed into eating disorders or other mental health issues.
- Physical health.
The effects of anxiety can become physical. Many teenagers who experience anxiety will also experience physical ailments without an explicable cause. For example, they may frequently complain of stomachaches, headaches, nausea, muscle tension, and/or shortness of breath. It’s no secret that the body and the brain are closely connected. However, according to Harvard Health, the reason anxiety becomes physical has to do with a person’s autonomic nervous system. When you are anxious or under stress, the fight-or-flight response goes into effect, and causes physical symptoms to appear. On top of this biological reaction to anxiety, those with anxiety disorders frequently lose out on sleep. And when you do not sleep enough, you are also more vulnerable to physical ailments like gastrointestinal problems, chronic pain, and even certain diseases.
- Substance abuse.
People—particularly young people—who struggle with anxiety commonly turn to drugs or alcohol to “self-medicate” their symptoms. Drugs and alcohol can provide a temporary escape from feelings of anxiousness. However, this substance use can quickly spiral out of control. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimates that those suffering from anxiety disorders are twice as likely to abuse drugs than the general population. And this puts them at increased risk for substance addiction.
These are just five of the many ways that anxiety can affect teenagers. Other effects of anxiety include:
- Sleep problems
- Withdrawal from family and friends, and/or social activities
- Low energy
- Inability to relax
- Extreme self-consciousness or sensitivity to criticism
- Difficulty concentrating and focusing
- Focusing on/talking about adverse outcomes and fears
- Inability to control negative thought patterns
- Panic attacks
How to Mitigate the Negative Effects of Anxiety
As a parent, you want nothing more than to see your children healthy and thriving. If your teenager is facing issues with anxiety, and struggling with the side effects, know that there are ways you can help. Here are some steps you can implement immediately at home:
- Validate your teen’s emotions and fears. Do not brush them off or say, “don’t worry about that.” Rather, listen to them and acknowledge how are they feeling without judgement or dismissal.
- Be there for your teenager. Parents play an important role in the success of teens, and having a strong relationship with your child is considered a protective factor against mental health disorders. Do not hesitate to give your child love, empathy, support, and encouragement.
- Teach them about self–care and stress-management. Your teenager may need help learning ways to cope with their anxiety symptoms, or ways to prioritize their mental health. Help your teen learn these skills by teaching stress management techniques like journaling, meditation, exercise, healthy eating, and relaxation. Encourage your teen to find ways to channel their stress and enjoy their time, which might mean carving personal time out of their busy days to catch up on a TV series, read a book, take a walk, or get coffee with a friend.
Finally, look into therapy and treatment options. Therapy is extremely beneficial for teenagers dealing with anxiety. A licensed therapist can help your teen understand the root of their anxiety, the triggers that cause anxious feelings, and healthy ways to manage them when symptoms arise. Experts agree that one of the most effective types of treatments for teens with anxiety is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which teaches strategies for changing negative thought patterns and finding healthy ways to cope.
If you are feeling overwhelmed about your teen’s struggle with anxiety, you are not alone. You can always start your research by calling Turnbridge. Turnbridge is a recognized treatment facility helping adolescents and young adults with anxiety and other mental health disorders. Call 877-581-1793 to learn more.