The adolescent years are a whirlwind of change. As your child grows into a teenager, you may notice significant shifts in their behavior. They will try on different personalities, strive to establish independence, and begin to place more importance on their social lives. However, some changes can be symptomatic of mental health problems. Learn how to help a teenager with anxiety in today’s blog post.
What is Anxiety?
When your adolescent is anxious, they are preoccupied with feelings of worry or dread. These concerns may be tied to a concrete event, like an upcoming presentation. They might also manifest without any obvious cause. Everyone feels nervous from time to time, but if these feelings persist for days or weeks at a time, it may be a sign of a more serious problem.
Diagnostic criteria for childhood anxiety disorders differ from those meant for adult patients. Among young people, for example, worries tend to center around their performance at school or in after-school activities. They may excessively worry about punctuality, the opinions of others, and even global events. The main thread is an unstoppable sense of dread.
Signs of Anxiety in Teens
Teenage emotions are overwhelming, and your child may not know how to cope with these new, intense feelings. Parents must be alert for signs of anxiety in their adolescents.
Anxious behaviors include:
- Approval-seeking – Looking for near-constant reassurance about their performance or worries.
- Perfectionism – Redoing tasks because of dissatisfaction with “less-than-perfect” work.
- Over-conforming – Trying exceptionally hard to fit in with others.
- Uncertainty and low self-esteem – Not feeling confident in themselves or their abilities.
- Isolation – Becoming emotionally closed-off from the family and friends.
- Withdrawing in social situations – Refusing to interact with others.
- Hypervigilance – Jumpiness; being startled by the slightest thing.
- School avoidance – Skipping school to avoid anxiety-inducing people and situations.
Your child may not know that their symptoms are associated with anxiety. They also might not have the words to explain what they’re feeling (or why). Here are a few common descriptors that your teenager may mention.
- Fast, pounding heartbeat
- Muscle tension
- Upset stomach
- Sweaty, clammy palms
- Shaking or trembling
- Nervousness or mild sense of uneasiness
- Intense dread or worry
- Fear of rejection or ridicule
- Fear of failure
A teenager with anxiety may also experience panic attacks. These episodes may begin for no apparent reason. Suddenly, your teen becomes dizzy and short of breath. They hyperventilate and struggle to get control of their emotions. If you notice this behavior, your child needs professional intervention.
What Causes Anxiety?
There are many potential reasons that your adolescent is anxious. Some researchers believe that certain people are born with a predisposition to anxiety. Due to genetics, someone with a family history of mental illness is more likely to develop this condition. Others assert that parental socialization may teach children to be overly sensitive to “threats” in the world around them. Traumatic experiences in youth are also common catalysts of anxiety disorders later in life.
As mentioned above, simply “being a teenager” is a risk factor for certain mental health conditions. As the brain develops, new fear-based neural pathways are established. Because of this, your child may become more sensitive to certain stimuli. The stresses associated with puberty, including hormonal shifts and bodily changes, can also catalyze negative feelings.
Essentially, anxiety can come from a variety of places. This is why parents should seek a treatment program that addresses each area of their teenager’s life.
How to Help an Anxious Teen
Anxiety is common among teens, and for some, it becomes a major concern. Their constant worry impacts their ability to function at school, interact with others, and enjoy their lives. Helping your child to manage their anxious feelings is a crucial task at this stage. Here are a few ways that you can provide the support your teenager needs.
Encourage Them to Open Up
Create a safe, non-judgmental space for your child to share their concerns. If they can openly discuss the things they’re worried about, you can reassure them. This is also a great way to identify causeless, chronic anxiety that requires clinical intervention.
Don’t Shut Them Down
It’s easy to brush off the things that teenagers obsess over. While adults may see prom or exams as small problems, they are everything to an anxious teen. Instead of telling your child that they’re being ridiculous, listen to what they’re saying and validate their feelings.
Help Them Meet Challenges
Resist the urge to shield your child from everything that makes them anxious. They can’t avoid school or people forever, and the teenage years are a great time to learn this. Don’t let them skip school, recitals, or big games. Instead, equip them with positive affirmations and take baby steps. For example, if your child is nervous about giving a speech in front of the whole class, you can encourage them to practice in front of the family first.
Be a Good Role Model
If you’ve dealt with anxiety, tell your teen what happened, how it made you feel, and how you dealt with it. That can help your child to feel understood. They’ll also know that they’re not alone and that you understand their problems. From here, they can watch how you handle your anxious feelings in the future.
Make Time to Relax
Sometimes, anxiety is the product of constant activity. Adolescents today often participate in multiple extracurricular activities that create busy schedules. Be sure to set aside time to relax as a family. This can be designated reading time, a quiet hour where they can listen to music, or time spent outside on a relaxing walk around the block. Giving your teen a way to blow off steam can keep anxiety from building up over time.
Focus on Healthy Choices
Teenagers are notorious for eating junk food and staying up all night. Poor nutrition and an irregular sleep schedule can contribute to anxiety, depression, and a whole host of mental health concerns. Be sure to work with your teen to foster healthy habits.
Get Professional Help
If your child’s anxiety does not respond to the suggestions above, they may require clinical intervention. Treatment programs are available for young people dealing with mental illness. At The Forum, we offer an adolescent-specific treatment plan for teens with anxiety.
To learn more about our walk-in, telehealth, and by-appointment services, contact The Forum.