Why Generalized Teen Anxiety Disorder is Common Today

Kimberly is a young adult. She does very well in her classes, is an incredibly talented dancer, and has a close relationship with her mother. However, when she was in her early teens, she began to experience a level of anxiety that kept her from functioning. When she was clinically assessed, her psychologist was not able to pinpoint a particular source of her anxiety. Such as a traumatic event or social phobia. Instead, Kimberly has  free-floating anxiety, which is anxiety that is unrelated to a realistic, known source.

Teen Anxiety Disorder

After reviewing her symptoms, the severity of her impaired functioning, and the mental health history of her family, Kimberly was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). It’s a diagnosis to those who experience excessive and irrational worry for at least six months. The excessive anxiety interferes with the ability to function and usually consists of extreme anxiety for everyday matters.

There are various types of Anxiety Disorders, of which GAD is one. In general, a teen anxiety disorder is a mental illness in which a teen experiences an excessive or unrealistic amount of worry, anxiety, and fear. Anxiety that is excessive  is different than the level of anxiety that a teen might have prior to an exam. But, experiencing anxiety every morning upon waking might be symptomatic of a disorder.

Free-floating Anxiety

Also, those with teen anxiety disorder tend to have free-floating anxiety, as Kimberly experiences. You might feel anxious or nervous before performing in the school play. But feeling anxious for no defined reason might point to a mental health condition. An individual who carries an underlying feeling of anxiety and tension throughout the day may very well have a diagnosis of Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

Some clinicians feel that the mental illnesses typically diagnosed for children, teens, and adults are indicative of our time. For instance, GAD might be the result of the collective anxiety that seems to lie just beneath the surface of society. Adults, and especially teens, who are already undergoing a psychologically stressful stage in life, have academic, family, occupational, and relational demands placed on them. The expectations of society, friends, family, teachers, peers, and co-workers can become overwhelming. At times, this overwhelm may not be overt. It can reveal itself through psychological symptoms that eventually become pervasive enough to become a mental illness.

General Anxiety

Robert Stolorow, clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles, described society’s general anxiety in this way:

I describe our era as an Age of Trauma. The tranquilizing illusions of our everyday world seem in our time to be severely threatened from all sides. By global diminution of natural resources, by global warming, by global nuclear proliferation, by global terrorism, and by global economic collapse. These are forms of collective trauma in that they threaten to obliterate the basic framework. In which we as members of our particular society have made sense out of our existence. They create a vague state of anxiety. An existential anxiety, from  our own existence and the existence of all those whom we love.


This existential anxiety might not be felt explicitly but it can show up in the mental illness of adults and teens, such as it has in Kimberly.