With approximately 18 percent of the population suffering from an anxiety disorder of some type, anxiety is one of the most common mental health conditions affecting teenagers and adults. Anxiety is not a disorder in and of itself; in fact, it’s helpful in many different situations. When it begins to affect daily life, however, it becomes a disorder and no longer a helpful occurrence. If you are concerned that your adolescent might have a teen anxiety disorder, read on to learn about what these disorders are and what the signs and symptoms are. You will also find out how to help your adolescent cope with this condition.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
General anxiety disorder, or GAD, is when an individual worries more often than they don’t worry. The person might worry about things that have already happened or things that might possibly happen. Often, the worry is focused on events that are not likely to happen; the person might even realize that those events are not likely to happen, but they find it hard to control their worry and anxiety.
A teen dealing with GAD might worry excessively about schoolwork, going to college, that his or her friends are angry, that they don’t have enough friends, that they aren’t going to be successful, that they don’t have the right clothing to wear, and so on. GAD doesn’t always happen on its own; often, it is associated with depression occurring at the same time.
Most of us have felt the physical signs of stress and anxiety. They include a rapid heartbeat, sweating, hyperventilation, trembling, and the inability to sit still. These unpleasant sensations kick in as a result of the body producing adrenaline during or after a scary or dangerous situation. For example, if you have nearly missed being in car accident or you witness a violent interaction, you might experience this adrenaline surge.
For someone with panic disorder, they get the adrenaline surge without anything dangerous or traumatic triggering it. Your teen might have the physical signs of anxiety in the middle of class, while on the public bus, or while walking down the street. This can cause the teen to avoid being in the situation that seemed to provoke the attack, and some teens will begin refusing to leave the house to avoid having another scary panic attack.
Social anxiety is one of the most common anxiety disorders affecting both teenagers and adults. A teen with social anxiety might feel panicked or stress-ridden when in a situation where they need to interact with strangers, give a report in front of their classmates or even make a phone call. He or she might avoid going to school or sports practices. Some adolescents with social teen anxiety disorder will be comfortable with their own friends but won’t want to interact with others outside of their circle of friends.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
A teen who has gone through some traumatic event (child abuse, a sexual or physical assault, a house fire, a hospitalization for a life-threatening illness or injury, the loss of a family member, etc.) could develop post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Often associated with war veterans, PTSD often manifests as nightmares, flashbacks, and avoidance behaviors. It can be puzzling to parents because the symptoms might not start for years after the traumatic event.
While anxiety disorders can start at any time of year, some people are prone to anxiety (and depression) that begins at certain times. Most common is during the late fall, when there is less natural light than there is in the warmer months. Occasionally, however, someone will become anxious during the spring or summer months. With seasonal anxiety, the symptoms resolve once the troublesome season has passed, but treatment can help in the meantime.
Anxiety Associated with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
Obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, is a type of anxiety disorder that is made up of two separate main symptoms: obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are thoughts, and compulsions are behaviors. The two go hand-in-hand when an individual has the disorder. When only obsessive thoughts or only compulsive behavior is an issue, the person will not qualify for a diagnosis of OCD.
Your teen might have obsessions relating to a specific topic. For example, he or she might have intrusive and unwanted thoughts relating to germs or dirt. They might believe that there are too many germs in the home or on their hands and that the germs will cause severe illness. Those obsessive thoughts turn into compulsive actions such as scrubbing the floor for hours at a time or washing their hands until they are raw and bleeding.
Some teens develop phobias, which are specific fears. Usually, the fears are of things that are not inherently harmful or dangerous. For example, your teen might be extremely fearful of dogs, spiders, or thunderstorms. Most of the time, these things are harmless, but all of the reassurance you can give will not ease your teen’s fears.
Phobia symptoms can include panic attacks when your teen encounters the object of his or her fear. Teens with phobias might also limit their activities to avoid running into what they are afraid of. For example, a teen afraid of dogs might not be amenable to walking around the neighborhood, going to the park, or going to friends’ houses where dogs live.
How You Can Help with Teen Anxiety Disorder
All of these anxiety disorders can be treated. Many will require cognitive behavioral therapy, which will teach your teen how to identify irrational thoughts and change their behavior in response to those thoughts and triggers. Some teens will benefit from taking medication such as anti-anxiety or anti-depression medicine. His or her primary care physician can screen your teen for anxiety disorder symptoms and recommend treatment or refer you to a specialist. Anxiety is highly treatable, so do not hesitate to seek the help your teen needs so he or she can learn how to cope with this disorder.