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A Guide to Anxiety Treatment for Teens and Young Adults

anxiety treatment options for teenagers

Almost everyone experiences anxiety from time to time. Especially after a long and grueling pandemic, many of us have worried about things like health, finances, family, or success. However, for most people, these anxieties are temporary. When worry becomes persistent and pervasive—and fear meddles with your everyday life—it’s likely that an anxiety disorder is to blame. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health issue in the United States today, and young people are increasingly at risk.

Research shows that, in both 2021 and 2022, more than one in five teenagers reported symptoms of anxiety. These struggles were more prevalent among teenage girls, with over 30 percent experiencing the symptoms of an anxiety disorder.

However, it can be difficult to know when (and if) a teenager requires anxiety treatment. As teenagers navigate their way to young adulthood, it is common for them to experience things like low self-esteem, social anxiety, or performance-related stress. However, when their anxiety becomes disruptive of their daily life and functioning, and lasts for several weeks, professional treatment is recommended. Anxiety disorders are highly treatable and manageable, especially when caught early. 

Whether you are researching anxiety disorder treatment options, or wondering if your teen needs treatment for anxiety, you are in the right place. Below we answer common questions about anxiety treatment for teens and young adults.

Does My Teenager Need Anxiety Treatment?

If you believe your teen is facing excessive anxiety, and see that their constant worry or fear is affecting other areas of their life, they likely need anxiety treatment.

Anxiety can manifest in various ways, particularly in young people whose brains are still developing. With that in mind, it’s essential for parents, teachers, and caregivers to look for the signs of anxiety and provide appropriate support, if and when it’s needed. Some common signs to watch for include:

  • Excessive Worry

One of the tell-tale signs of anxiety in anyone is persistent, seemingly excessive feelings of worry and fear. These worries might be about various aspects of life, such as school performance, social relationships, family issues, or future events, even when there is no clear reason for concern. The worries may be so disruptive that it prevents teens from carrying out everyday tasks.

  • Physical Symptoms

Anxiety can manifest as physical symptoms, including headaches, stomachaches, muscle tension, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, restlessness, sweating, trembling, or rapid heartbeat. If your teen is complaining about feeling sick, without an explicable cause, it may be related to anxiety.

  • Avoidance Behaviors

It is common for teens with anxiety disorders to avoid certain situations or activities that trigger their anxiety, such as social gatherings, school events, or performance situations. They may also avoid talking about their worries and be resistant to getting help.

  • Sudden Changes in Mood

Increased mood swings and irritability can also be signs of underlying anxiety in teenagers. After culminating feelings of consistent anxiousness, teens may become easily frustrated, snap at others, or have outbursts of anger or tears.

  • Difficulty Concentrating

Anxiety can interfere with a teenager’s ability to concentrate and focus on tasks, leading to decreased academic performance, trouble completing assignments, or forgetfulness. National studies have highlighted the connection between anxiety disorder symptoms (intrusive thoughts, excessive worry, and impaired focus) with lower academic success in young people.

  • Pressure to be Perfect 

Some teens with anxiety strive for perfectionism, setting excessively high standards for themselves and becoming overly critical of their performance or accomplishments. This may pertain to their academic success, their athleticism, their appearance, or another area of their life that they care about. Teenage girls especially are vulnerable to the expectations placed upon them by peers and by society, leading to persistent symptoms of anxiety.

  • Social Withdrawal

There are different types of anxiety disorders, and social anxiety disorder is among them. Social anxiety involves social withdrawal or isolation from others. Teenagers facing this disorder may feel overwhelmed by social interactions or fear possible judgment from others. They may spend more time alone in their room or engage less in social activities than previously.

  • Changes in Sleep and Appetite: 

Teenagers battling anxiety will often experience difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or frequent nightmares. Anxiety may also cause restlessness throughout the day. But this isn’t the only way that anxiety affects one’s physical wellness. Anxiety can also affect appetite, leading to changes in eating habits such as overeating, undereating, or irregular eating patterns. Some teenagers will use food as a coping mechanism to manage their anxiety.

It’s important to note that experiencing some of these symptoms occasionally is normal, but if they persist over time, interfere with daily functioning, or significantly impact a teenager’s quality of life, professional evaluation and support may be warranted. If you suspect that a teenager is struggling with anxiety, it’s crucial to approach them with empathy, validate their feelings, and offer reassurance and support. Additionally, do not hesitate to seek guidance from a mental health professional. The best way to treat anxiety disorders in teenagers is through professional, evidence-based treatment methods.

What are the Most Effective Anxiety Treatments for Teens?

Every individual’s experience with anxiety is unique, and as you explore treatment options for your teenager, try to keep this top-of-mind. No one, single type of anxiety treatment is effective for everyone. Teens battling anxiety disorder require a custom treatment plan, based on their needs and the severity of their mental health concerns. Often, a combined approach to treatment is recommended – offering teens multiple treatment modalities like talk therapy, support groups, medication, and holistic activities.

In addition to offering teenagers a personalized treatment plan, it’s also important to look for an anxiety treatment program that is specially designed for young people. Being around peers of the same age, as well as the same gender, can help teens and young adults feel a sense of community and belonging—knowing there are others walking in similar shoes. Clinicians in these programs are also experienced in treating teens and supporting young people’s own, unique experiences with anxiety.

Now, with all that said, there are certain approaches to teen anxiety treatment that evidence supports. According to The Child Mind Institute, “The most effective treatment for anxiety in teenagers is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), combined, if needed, with antidepressant medication.”

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Anxiety

Cognitive behavioral therapy, commonly known as CBT, is a type of talk therapy that has been highly successful in treating anxiety disorders in teens. Broadly speaking, CBT focuses on how thoughts, feelings, and behaviors influence one another. It teaches teenagers how to identify negative thought patterns and manage difficult symptoms through practiced coping techniques.

Cognitive behavioral therapy helps teens (and young adults) work through their anxiety by shifting their thought patterns. It helps them recognize emerging anxiety symptoms or triggers, and teaches them how to focus on the present and respond in a different, healthy manner. CBT focuses on helping teens develop concrete skills for coping, while also providing structure for addressing anxiety. At the same time, it allows them to be involved in their treatment and actively take ownership of the healing process.

While CBT has been found to be particularly effective for teenagers with anxiety, it’s important to remember that treatment is not always straightforward or one-size-fits-all. As a parent, your best next step would be to speak with a clinician or treatment professional, and coordinate a mental health screening for your teen

Choosing the Right Anxiety Treatment Provider for Your Teen

According to WebMD, approximately 13 percent of adolescents have anxiety that warrants clinical or psychotherapeutic treatment. If you believe your teenager is one of these individuals, do not hesitate to intervene and seek help right away.

Anxiety treatment providers will vary in their approach, mission, and community. As implied above, the most important things you can do when seeking treatment for your teen is to find a program that is:

  • Flexible and customizable, tailored to your loved one’s needs
  • Multifaceted, with multiple treatment modalities available
  • Evidence-based, offering therapies that have proven to be effective for anxious teens (like CBT)
  • Gender-specific, so that your teen feels safe and supported without pressure from the opposite sex
  • Age-oriented, with other peers of similar age groups also undergoing treatment
  • Trauma-informed, as many teenagers struggling with anxiety have experienced traumatic events or abuse
  • Engaging, where your teen can be an active participant in their treatment  
  • Supportive, with options to involve family in the therapeutic process

If you are unsure where to begin in the search for anxiety treatment, you may always start right at your child’s primary care provider. Speak with your family doctor about any concerns you might have, or symptoms you have noticed, and request a mental health evaluation.

Alternatively, you may contact a treatment professional for guidance and support. Turnbridge is a recognized mental health treatment provider for teenagers and young adults battling anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders. We are just one call away at 877-581-1793.