Whether it’s school pressures, romantic woes or conflicts with friends, teens have a lot on their minds. The teenage years can be tough, and occasional feelings of anxiety are a normal part of life and growing up.
Teen Anxiety in the US
- Nearly 1 out of every 3 teens will experience an anxiety disorder.
- 80% of children and teens with an anxiety disorder are not getting the help they need.
However, when anxiety is constant, overwhelming and disrupts your teen’s life, it can be a sign of an anxiety disorder. Knowing your teen is experiencing anxiety can be scary, but anxiety in teens is common, and there are many ways you can help your teen manage it.
Anxiety Vs. Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Anxiety is another word for worry, and for teens, it usually centers around a specific event, like an upcoming test or a fight with a friend.
Symptoms of anxiety in teens include:
- Difficulty relaxing or concentrating
- Trouble sleeping
- Physical symptoms, such as muscle aches or tension
Feelings of anxiety are common and often come and go. But anxiety that sticks around for long periods of time may be a sign of an anxiety disorder, such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
Signs of generalized anxiety disorder include anxiety that:
- Is constant — even when there is no obvious reason to be worried
- Negatively impacts their social life, schoolwork or relationships
- Leads to irritability, trouble sleeping and difficulty concentrating during most days
- Makes them want to avoid activities, school or hanging out with friends
- Causes physical pain, such as muscle tension, headaches and stomach aches
Occasional anxiety will often go away on its own, but general anxiety disorder typically needs to be treated to allow your teen to enjoy a happier, worry-free life.
Causes of Anxiety in Teens
Anxiety is on the rise. The US National Survey of Children’s Health, 2022 Data Book shows that children in the United States are experiencing a mental health crisis, with rates of anxiety and depression at unprecedented levels.
There are a few factors that may be causing this recent surge in teen anxiety.
High Expectations That Keep Getting Higher
Whether it’s getting the starring role in a musical, becoming the best soccer player on the field or getting into the college of their dreams, there are plenty of ways your teen might feel pressured to succeed. This can lead to them feeling stressed and anxious.
A Changing World That Can Seem Scary
World events such as the global pandemic, political turmoil and school shootings can foster challenging feelings for teens. Simply turning on the news or surfing the internet can lead to feelings of anxiety.
Social networks like YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok play a major role in how teens feel, especially since most teens use these platforms daily. Social media can impact their self-esteem and view of the world — and sometimes not in a positive way.
While social media can help teens feel connected, it can also lead to bullying and comparing themselves to others. In turn, it can make teens feel isolated and heighten anxiety.
Helping Your Teen Navigate Anxiety
Everyday anxiety is completely normal — but that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to help your teen ease these nagging feelings.
To help your teen calm anxious thoughts:
- Talk to them about their worries. Emphasize that it’s okay to have these feelings and that you are there to support them.
- Help them build coping skills. They might listen to music, exercise, meditate, practice deep breathing or count slowly to 10, 20 or 30.
- Be a positive role model. When you experience frustration or anxiety, model a calm response.
- Encourage good sleep habits. Anxious teens often have trouble sleeping, so help them promote good sleep by setting a regular schedule, limiting exposure to light close to bedtime and encouraging them to avoid caffeine.
- Help them use social media in a healthy way. Model limiting your own screen time, and set times when the whole family is screen-free. Also, encourage your child to stop following people who post negative comments on social media.
If you believe your teen’s anxiety is more severe and may be an anxiety disorder, it’s important they manage these very real feelings. Fortunately, treating anxiety in teens is manageable and effective. By talking to your child’s pediatrician, they can help create a plan to help your teen manage their anxiety, and get the help they need.
Keep in mind — if your teen ignores or dismisses feelings of anxiety, it has the potential to lead to serious mental health problems, such as depression and substance abuse.
Everybody deserves to live a happy, anxiety-free life.
Do you have more questions about teen anxiety? Your teen’s pediatrician is here to help. Set up an appointment to discuss supporting your teen as they manage anxiety.