When it comes to anxiety and how it impacts children, teenagers often feel the brunt. Anxieties caused by darkening moods and mounting pressures from school, family, and peers can take an immense toll on a growing teen. Being a parent can bring on its own anxieties as well – how can I best help my child? How can I help him/her cope in a healthy way?
For these questions and more, I’m here to offer practical advice to parents on how to support teens in overcoming their anxieties. In this blog post I’ll be discussing the signs and symptoms of anxiety, along with helpful steps parents can take to make a difference.
Teenagers dealing with anxiety can try a variety of coping strategies such as engaging in regular physical activity, practicing yoga or mindfulness, and talking to friends or family. It is also important for teens to seek professional help from a mental health professional if needed.
Common Causes of Anxiety in Teenagers
Anxiety is a common problem experienced by adolescents and can have severe impacts on their mental, emotional, and physical well-being. While the causes of anxiety are highly personal and notoriously difficult to diagnose, there are several factors that may contribute to anxious feelings among teens. These can include:
- Genetically inherited traits or dormant psychological conditions acquired in childhood that become visible during adolescence.
- Uncertainty about their place in the world as they transition from childhood to adulthood.
- Lack of a clear sense of identity as teenagers strive for independence from their parents, often compounded by intense peer pressure from friends and social media.
- Significant life changes such as divorce, moving houses, new siblings, or a new school.
- Witnessing traumatic events or being exposed to difficult family dynamics and pressure to meet expectations.
- Abusive, neglectful, or non-supportive home environments, including verbal or physical abuse.
Though these circumstances do not automatically cause anxiety in teens, they can increase the likelihood of developing symptoms by creating an environment where fear is present. Furthermore, the adolescent brain may be particularly vulnerable because it is still developing its ability to navigate stressful situations effectively. Therefore, addressing potential causes and triggers of anxiety early on can prevent further deterioration in wellbeing down the road. With this in mind, it’s important for parents to recognize risk factors that could lead to anxious feelings in their children and how to address them at school—the next topic we will be discussing in depth.
- According to a survey published by the American Psychological Association, over 25% of adolescents ages 13-17 have had an anxiety disorder.
- Approximately 8.3% of adolescents aged 12–17 in the United States experience severe levels of anxiety, with 5.6% experiencing at least one panic attack during the past year.
- A study conducted in 2017 found that 65% of children aged 8-17 reported feeling stressed or overwhelmed and over half (52%) experienced physical symptoms such as headaches and stomach aches due to stress.
Stressful Situations at School
When it comes to stressful situations that can cause teenage anxiety, school is a common catalyst. For many teens, the pressures of taking advanced classes, achieving good grades, and navigating the complex interplay of social dynamics can be extremely overwhelming. On one hand, studies show that setting high expectations for yourself in school can give teens the motivation they need to stay focused and achieve their goals. On the other hand, too much pressure or an inability to reach those self-imposed goals can lead to feelings of self-doubt, unworthiness, or even depression.
To combat this issue it’s important for both parents and teachers to work together to create a supportive environment where teens feel comfortable expressing their concerns and anxiety related to their school performance. Parents should let their teen know they are there to support them no matter what grade they get on a test or assignment and should provide resources such as tutoring if needed. Additionally, talking through realistic goal setting with your teen can help them better manage their expectations and stay calmer around school assignments.
By recognizing when teenagers feel overwhelmed by school-related stressors and having empathetic conversations that normalize these emotions, it’s possible to help teens manage their worries before they become bigger issues. With understanding and support from all parties involved, teens can learn valuable skills that allow them to grow into independent and skilled problem solvers.
Sources of Support for Anxiety in Teenagers
Motivation for solutions is essential when it comes to helping teens overcome their anxiety. Therefore, knowing and connecting with the sources of support available is also necessary in order to help them manage their anxiousness.
For starters, family members can provide a great deal of support to teenagers experiencing anxiety. Research has found that having good family relationships can be beneficial for mental health. Furthermore, studies have shown that adolescents whose mothers had high levels of sensitivity reported lower psychological distress symptoms compared to adolescents with less sensitive mothers (Hommer et al., 2016). Family members can be an important source of assertiveness and advice when solving daily stressors. They can also aid in developing problem-solving skills by discussing the importance of facing challenges instead of avoiding them.
Another source young adults can access are friends. It is natural for adolescents to want to connect with one another during turbulent times, as peers may be more understanding than adults. Although there is still much debate on whether being surrounded by other anxious people can actually compound feelings of anxiety, family therapist Kimberly Etheridge believes it may be beneficial if done in “moderation” (Dennedy-Griffin et al., 2019). Having the ability to talk through emotions and relate to one another can result in positive outcomes such as increased self-esteem and more favorable views about themselves.
Finally, mental health professionals are an excellent source for teens struggling with anxiety. Mental health professionals can offer effective treatments such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, coaching sessions, or psychotherapy depending upon the underlying issue causing anxiety (NIMH, 2016). A mental health professional can help identify behaviors that contribute to downward spirals and assist with creating coping methods best suited for the teenager’s needs regarding their individual situation and goals.
Ultimately, there are many sources of support available for teenagers dealing with anxiety including family members, peers, and mental health providers. Having a wide range of support resources will increase motivation to tackle each stressful situation experienced by the teenager and will result in improved ways to reduce anxiety symptoms over time.
What are some warning signs that a teenager may be dealing with anxiety?
There are a number of warning signs that a teenager may be dealing with anxiety, ranging from physical symptoms to Changes in behavior. Some common physical symptoms include difficulty sleeping, feeling tired all the time, headaches, or stomachaches. Changes in behavior can encompass avoidance of activities or events that may bring on anxiety; withdrawing from friends, family and other social settings; tearfulness or moodiness; irritability; compliance or perfectionism to mask anxious feelings; or sudden changes in eating habits. It’s also common for teenagers to become increasingly dependent on substances like alcohol or drugs in an attempt to cope with their feelings of unease or fear. In some cases, teens may become overly focused on the future, difficulty making decisions, and an intensification of existing phobias. In any case, if these warning signs are present and persistent over a period of time, it is important to reach out to a healthcare professional who specializes in helping teens overcome anxiety.
What are some practical ways to manage anxiety in teenagers?
Practical ways to manage anxiety in teenagers include:
1. Developing a regular routine for the teenager, including set times for meals and sleep, which can help instill a sense of order and control in an otherwise chaotic world.
2. Encouraging open communication and expressing a willingness to listen without judgement. This can help provide teens with the opportunity to vocalize their worries and receive feedback and reassurance from their parents.
3. Establishing healthy coping strategies such as exercise, relaxation techniques, journaling, or creative outlets like drawing or painting that teens can turn to when they are feeling anxious.
4. Taking time out for self-care activities like yoga, nature walks or mindfulness activities so teens have an outlet for managing stress and anxiety.
5. Seeking professional counseling if needed; talking with an experienced therapist can give teens the tools to recognize triggers and cope with stress in a productive manner.
What types of therapies or treatments can help teenagers cope with anxiety?
Therapy or treatment for teenage anxiety can involve Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Exposure Therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). CBT teaches teens to identify and challenge unhelpful thoughts that lead to anxiety. Exposure Therapy gradually exposes teens to anxiety-causing situations to help them understand that they can handle their anxiety without avoiding the situation. DBT helps teens identify and manage emotions by teaching improved interpersonal skills, distress tolerance, and mindful awareness. Lastly, ACT focuses on accepting one’s anxious thoughts and using psychological flexibility to learn new behaviors that are healthier and less stressful.
All of these therapy approaches have an evidence base backing up their effectiveness in reducing teen anxiety. In addition, support from parents, friends, counselors, and even peers can be key in helping teens become more comfortable with their anxiety and ultimately gain control over it.