General Anxiety Disorder in Teens

Teens with general anxiety disorder may experience symptoms from other anxiety disorders, including minor compulsions or obsessions, panic attacks, and more.

Teens and even young adults suffering from general anxiety disorder typically feel nervous and afraid even about normal, day-to-day things, which wouldn’t usually cause such anxiety. General Anxiety Disorder or GAD is separate from symptoms/disorders such as paranoia and refer to a sense of fear and unease over normal things, rather than delusions of being hunted or a specific, pervasive fear of pursuit.

Sometimes the anxiety may have a rational cause but the severity of it is extreme and uncontrollable, causing a person to be distracted and even unable to carry out their usual responsibilities.  Other times, the anxiety might be unconnected to any logical reason or event, existing with severity for no apparent reason, and persisting, despite attempts to defuse the fear. Teen general anxiety disorder is usually diagnosed if these feelings persist for half a year or longer. What does teen GAD look like?

  • A sense of the anxiety creating more anxiety, causing a downward spiral where the symptoms continue to worsen, despite efforts to calm thoughts
  • Fear of normal, everyday occurrences, or any number of different issues, including money, grades, social standing, health, and more
  • Teens with general anxiety disorder may experience symptoms from other anxiety disorders, including minor compulsions or obsessions, panic attacks, and more

Causes of Teen General Anxiety Disorder

Genetic predisposition – teens with a family history of anxiety or a personal history of anxious personality traits and short episodes of anxiety are at a much greater risk of developing anxiety. Some research indicates that unique neurobiology is at fault, but the exact cause is actually unknown. Whether anxiety is caused by something in the brain or not, there is a higher likelihood of it occurring in a teen with a family history of anxiety.

Drug use – certain drugs, from alcohol, nicotine and caffeine to amphetamine and meth may trigger and worsen preexisting anxiety issues, cause panic attacks, and generally increase a teen’s chances of developing an anxiety disorder.

Environmental factors – specific traumatic experiences, or excess stress experienced on a regular basis can kickstart the development of an anxiety disorder. In many cases, teens may already have the disorder but would not experience flare ups until times of stress.

How Can I Help My Teen with a General Anxiety Disorder?

Be understanding – it’s understandable that this is a hard time not only for your teen, but for you as a parent. Recognizing what you can and cannot do to help your teen is the first step, and that means learning to be patient about how they approach their treatment, and how they make progress. Everyone progresses differently, so avoid feeling frustrated if your teen struggles to overcome certain thinking habits or anxieties. Give it time and understand that it will take much patience for your teen to feel “normal”. Also, remember that, to a degree, worry and anxiety are normal, especially for teens on the cusp of adulthood. Help them manage their emotions and stay safe and healthy, but don’t deny them normal and healthy expressions of worry and anxiousness. Being calm in face of a tumultuous future is not always realistic.

Learning more about the issue – anxiety is a very broad topic, with many discussions, questions, controversies, and established facts. Learning more about its causes, mechanisms, and various different treatment plans can help you better understand what your teen is going through, and what they might need to get better.

Tell them it’s okay – teens struggling with anxiety generally worry about one thing more than anything else: the future. They are likely to have a set plan in mind for how things are supposed to work out, and they fear that they would be unable to follow said plan, or that if they mess up in the slightest way, they will lose everything they ever dreamt of. It’s important to reassure your teen that life doesn’t work that way, and that they are not expected to do things perfectly or know everything. Try to teach them that failures and struggles are normal and important, and that flexibility is what matters most, being able to adapt to the circumstances at hand.Video Player

What Types of General Anxiety Disorder Treatment Are Available?

It’s common for a person to have difficulty deciding whether they have an anxiety disorder, or if they’re just feeling stressed out and anxious. Because of this, it’s also common for a person to wait much longer than they should to seek help addressing their anxiety, which ultimately, allows the anxiety to worsen.  What we always recommend is, it’s better to seek some sort of help or treatment, in case you have something more serious than just “normal stress” going on.  This way, the uncomfortable, debilitating effects of the anxiety can be minimized, and issues can be addressed immediately.

Talk Therapy – This form of therapy can be extremely successful for teen general anxiety disorder treatment, providing a person with some level of relief and improvement in a relatively short amount of time.  The therapist can help a person identify negative thought patterns and provide insight as to why these thoughts are harmful, and illogical.  A therapist can also help a teen adopt lifestyle choices to minimize the effects of anxiety, from avoiding coffee and energy drinks, to using exercise to make use of excess energy.

Medication – There are several different medications a person can take as a part of teen general anxiety disorder treatment, usually only for a short period of time, to help combat some of the overwhelming symptoms teens may struggle with during therapy. Because generalized anxiety disorder is considered chronic, medication may also be prescribed specifically to help manage flare ups during particularly stressful times.

Relaxation Techniques – Learning how to calm down after extensive worrying is important not only for flare ups of anxiety, but for life in general. Worrying is normal but doing it too much and too often is destructive in any person’s life. There are countless viable ways to relax, but the key is finding an effective one. A skilled therapist can help your teen figure out what works best for them, at home and on the go.

Skills and Hobbies – Sometimes, the best way to help someone with anxiety is to build them up. Helping a teen identify skills and hobbies and encouraging them to do things they’re good at will give them the ability to more confidently say no to flawed thinking and call upon previous successes to understand that they have a reason to feel like they can do something. Of course, moments of doubt will occur, and teens who are skilled at something can still doubt their ability or falter in the last moment – but by turning those moments of failure into teaching moments about becoming better, and building confidence, teens learn not only to manage their feelings better, but to think more positively about their future, and feel more relaxed about what may come.


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Teen General Anxiety Disorder Treatment at Paradigm Treatment

Treatment for generalized anxiety disorder is highly individual, based on the various factors and circumstances that exist for each teen. However, there are certain factors that make treatment more effective.

A Calming Environment – Paradigm Treatment’s locations are all designed to be facilities where teens can genuinely enjoy their stay, and feel welcome, rather than being intimidated or worried over what their treatment might entail. Contrary to some outdated beliefs and common tropes, mental healthcare is not draconian, torturous, or ineffective – at Paradigm Treatment, we utilize a variety of treatments to simply help teens feel at ease, better explore their own thoughts and behaviors, and figure out their own way to cope with anxious feelings and negative emotions.

Among Other Teens – There is a social aspect to Paradigm Treatment that helps teens adjust to living at home and going back to school after treatment, by continuing to interact with others while simultaneously receiving one-on-one individualized treatment through skilled therapists and doctors.

Frequently Asked Questions About Teen General Anxiety Disorder

Usually, an anxiety disorder will not go away on its own, and it is much more likely for symptoms to worsen over time. While your anxiety may in fact simply be an isolated event, related to a specific source of stress, it does not hurt to check in with a professional and explore your options in case the feeling doesn’t go away.

Having anxiety issues in the family means future generations have an increased risk of developing anxiety than the norm, but that does not mean they will struggle with anxiety disorders, nor does it mean that they have a particularly high chance of developing any given anxiety disorder. Less than a fifth of the general population develops an anxiety disorder, which makes it one of the most common forms of mental illness. But it’s also important to note that if caught early, most anxiety disorders are among the most treatable mental illnesses.

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