Common Causes of Anxiety in Teens and Young Adults

Teenagers don’t have fully developed brains until they are in their early twenties or even later. Your teen is expected to take on adult responsibilities, but they don’t have the skills or the brain development necessary to really care for themselves. Your son or daughter has probably had many moments where they didn’t know what they were doing. Frustration mixed with a lack of ability when it comes to “adulting” raises teenage anxiety levels.

While anxiety is a normal response to some events and situations in life, it’s not healthy to feel anxious all the time. As an adult, you might wonder what teens have to be anxious about. After all, they’re not in the position to worry about putting food on the table, paying the mortgage, or raising children of their own. Here is a list of seven things common in a teen’s life that can be causing that teenage anxiety.

Today’s teenagers are under a lot of stress and tend to place high expectations on themselves. Most teens want to do well in school and might expect to go to prestigious universities. Many participate in after school sports and part-time jobs. Today’s teens also volunteer, participate in community events, have chores at home, and want to maintain active social lives. These expectations not only make teens feel stress, but they also leave little time for decompressing, having quiet time, and even sleeping. Sleep deprivation adds to anxiety and anxiety makes it harder to sleep, creating a vicious cycle.

Your teen’s hormone production ebbs and flows during adolescence. Sometimes your teen might feel anxious, upset, depressed, and angry for no reason at all. Some of this is likely caused by hormonal fluctuations. Teenage boys are dealing with testosterone surges, and teenage girls are dealing with hormonal shifts due to menstruation. Combined with a lack of experience in dealing with these feelings and general immaturity, hormones are a recipe for stress and teenage anxiety.

Teenagers don’t have fully developed brains until they are in their early- to mid-twenties or even later. Your teen is expected to take on adult responsibilities, but they don’t have the skills or the brain development necessary to really care for themselves. Your son or daughter has probably had many moments where they didn’t know what they were doing. Frustration mixed with a lack of ability when it comes to “adulting” raises teenage anxiety levels.

Teens are at an awkward stage where they want the approval of their parents but they also want to do things that rebel against parental authority and society. This is frustrating for teens and parents alike. When they are met with parental disapproval, it’s natural that they feel stressed and anxious. At the same time, they continue with actions that are not what their parents would have them do. This is a necessary and natural stage of development, but it is stressful for everyone involved.

Kids today are under a lot of pressure from their peers. Peer pressure can be positive or negative, but both types raise stress levels. For example, being pressured to shoplift or commit some other crime is stressful and an example of negative peer pressure. If your teen’s peers are all getting excellent grades, applying to good universities, and dating the captain of the football or cheerleading team, this puts a lot of pressure on your own teen to conform and keep up.

Another type of anxiety that is exacerbated by peers is social anxiety. Your teen might dread going to school and talking to people. This condition can be caused by bullying or it can just appear seemingly out of nowhere. Shyness and social anxiety are not the same thing, but some people assume they are just shy when, in fact, they have social anxiety.

Many teens experiment with alcohol and, in some cases, drugs. They know they shouldn’t be doing this and that their parents will disapprove. Peer pressure might also be involved. All of these factors can lead to teenage anxiety before, during, and after the experimentation. Worse, some teens will go on to become addicted to these substances, which raises anxiety levels even higher. Finally, some teens who are anxious already will turn to these substances as a form of self-medication. It rarely works; instead, anxiety levels go up, which leads to more self-medication.

Some teens have depression, which can present at the same time as teenage anxiety. The symptoms of depression can overlap with the symptoms of anxiety, so sometimes it’s difficult for parents to know which mental health concern is responsible for which symptoms. The symptoms of depression include:

  • Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or despair that last longer than two weeks
  • Social isolation, not wanting to leave the house or even the bed
  • Physical symptoms like headaches, stomachaches, muscle aches, and fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Eating too much or too little
  • Trouble concentrating and making decisions
  • In severe cases, suicidal ideation

Managing Teenage Anxiety

If your teen has anxiety, there are some lifestyle changes that you can recommend that might help. If they don’t help or if the anxiety is affecting your child’s daily life, it’s time to see a mental health specialist. Start with your pediatrician or family doctor, who can run some tests; sometimes vitamin deficiencies or hormonal imbalances can cause symptoms that mimic anxiety. If nothing physical is found, then your teen will be referred to a mental health provider. In the meantime, try some of these tips:

  • Encourage your teen to get daily exercise. Evidence shows that exercise can reduce the symptoms of anxiety. If your teen isn’t involved in a sport, try inviting them to walk or run with you before or after dinner or suggest a game of soccer in the backyard. If you have a dog, ask your teen to take responsibility for walking it each day.
  • Encourage your teen to eat a healthy diet. Too much sugar, a high-fat diet, and other poor eating habits can exacerbate anxiety. Have your teen focus on eating more vegetables, whole grains, fruits, dairy products, and lean sources of protein.
  • Help your teen evaluate his or her schedule. It could be that they’re overextended. You might have to ask them to drop one or two activities if they’re too stressed out by their obligations. Time management techniques can help, too.
  • Teach your adolescent about relaxation techniques. Visualization, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, yoga, and breathing exercises can all help your teen take charge of his or her anxiety.

Working with your teen to help them get through this period of transitioning from childhood to adulthood can help minimize teenage anxiety and set the stage for a lifetime of good mental health.

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