Anxiety is one of the most common global mental health disorders, and young adults aren’t immune to the condition. In the United States, 7.1% of children between the ages of 3 and 17 have an anxiety diagnosis, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Many additional adolescents with the condition go undiagnosed.
Anxiety can negatively impact an individual’s mental and physical well-being. Exaggerated feelings of nervousness, fear and worry — as well as physical symptoms, such as digestive trouble, fatigue and shortness of breath — can interfere with daily functioning. Without proper care, symptoms can get worse over time.
Anxiety disorders are treatable through means such as behavioral therapy and support groups, but less than 40% of individuals with anxiety disorders receive treatment, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). Giving young adults the tools to prevent and overcome anxiety symptoms can help them become confident, productive adults later in life.
Anxiety in Teens: Disorders, Risk Factors and Common Symptoms
Teens are experiencing anxiety at a rising rate due to factors including school performance, family conflicts, social media, peer relationships and increased global violence, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Several different types of anxiety have various impacts on individuals’ physical and mental health. Some symptoms are more obvious to identify as anxiety related, while others may be hidden or misleading.
Types of Anxiety Disorders
Generalized anxiety disorder
Individuals with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) have excessive worry or anxiety about issues such as school, health or finance. Symptoms occur most days for at least six months and can significantly interfere with daily functioning.
Social anxiety disorder
Social anxiety is the persistent, extreme fear of social interactions, beyond basic shyness. Social situations cause irrational fears of being judged or humiliated and can interfere with the ability to attend school or develop relationships.
Teens with panic disorder experience unexpected panic attacks, or sudden feelings of intense fear that last several minutes and include physical symptoms, such as shortness of breath and shaking.
Individuals with a phobia have an irrational fear or worry triggered by a specific object or situation, such as heights, animals, enclosed spaces or large crowds. Teens with phobias will actively avoid the trigger or endure it with intense fear.
Other anxiety conditions
Family health history
Genetics can be a factor in developing anxiety. Research has shown that those under the age of 20 who develop anxiety often have a relative with an anxiety disorder, according to Crisis Text Line.
Individuals with anxiety may have gone through a traumatic event, such as abuse, a serious accident or witnessing a violent act. Trauma can trigger irrational worry that events will recur or extreme fear of certain environments, according to American Addiction Centers’ PsychGuides.com.
Anxiety symptoms can indicate an underlying health issue, such as respiratory disorders, digestive diseases, or drug or alcohol withdrawals. Signs of anxiety may also be side effects from medications. Stress from a serious health condition can also cause anxiety, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Some studies have found that a person’s background can influence whether the person develops mental health conditions, such as anxiety. Individuals coming from poverty, drug abuse, divorce or difficult childhoods are more likely to develop anxiety, according to Mental Health First Aid.
- Anxiety disorders can cause a number of physical symptoms, according to Self, including the following:
- Increased heart rate or blood pressure
- Stomach pains or discomfort
- Shaking or trembling
- Shortness of breath or rapid breathing
- Insomnia or fatigue
- Dizziness or numbness
- Headaches or muscle aches
- Appetite or weight changes
Mental and Behavioral Symptoms
- Anxiety disorders can also cause behavioral health symptoms, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, such as:
- Distress and fear
- Apprehension and worry
- Mood swings
- Loss of concentration
- Difficulty in daily functioning
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Suicidal thoughts
Anxiety in Teens: Hotlines
Hotlines can be an important resource for teens who have, or think they might have, anxiety. Concerned family members can also benefit from hotline services. Here are a few of the free phone services available for mental health assistance:
- SAMHSA National Helpline. The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) operates a confidential 24-hour information hotline for individuals experiencing mental or substance abuse challenges and their family members. The helpline provides local referrals for support groups, treatment facilities and other help organizations.
- Crisis Text Line. Live, trained crisis counselors respond to text requests and help teens sort through feelings to get to a calmer state of mind. Sometimes counselors give referrals for further assistance. Crisis Text Line is a nonprofit, volunteer-based organization.
- Teen Line. Support is available from Teen Line via phone, text, email or message board. Trained teens provide education and peer support for other teens. Teen Line is a nonprofit community organization.
Anxiety in Teens: Therapies and Medications
Anxiety in teens can be treated through various methods, but cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is thought to be the most effective treatment. Anxiety has no cure, but medications can work to reduce anxiety symptoms and are most helpful when used with therapy from a psychologist or licensed therapist, according to the Child Mind Institute.
Cognitive behavioral therapy
CBT is a form of talk therapy (psychotherapy) that teaches teens to reframe their thoughts about situations that normally make them anxious.
Exposure therapy is a form of psychotherapy that helps patients with anxiety confront their fears. Patients are carefully reintroduced to memories or triggers, and therapists guide them through coping strategies. This helps patients re-engage in activities that previously caused fear. Exposure therapy is often used in conjunction with CBT.
Family or group therapy
Family or group therapy can help teens with anxiety improve their communication and problem-solving skills, according to Anxiety.org. It can also help family members understand how to help teens with anxiety.
Antidepressants are a popular choice of anxiety medications for teens. When taken daily, antidepressants can help control anxiety symptoms by altering how the brain uses mood- or stress-controlling chemicals. Categories of antidepressants include the following:
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
- Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
- Tricyclic antidepressants
Benzodiazepines for the treatment of anxiety
Benzodiazepines act more quickly to address anxiety symptoms, but are only used for a short time.
Beta-blockers are another form of anxiety treatments and therapies. Normally used for high blood pressure, beta-blockers can also help lessen physical anxiety symptoms.
Anxiety in Teens: Self-help Tips
Seven out of 10 teens view mental health issues as a major peer problem, and depression and anxiety rank higher in concern than bullying and drug addiction, according to the Pew Research Center. Stress factors for teens include school grades; appearance; fitting in socially (including on social media); and preparing for college, careers and financial independence.
Teenagers — and their families — can use a number of self-help practices beyond professional therapy and medication to help reduce anxiety symptoms and prepare for the stresses of young adulthood. Here are a few articles describing self-help tactics:
- “Breathing Techniques: 7 Steps to Breathing for Relaxation.” Breathing exercises are a proven method of relaxation, stress reduction and overall health improvement.
- “How to Use Meditation for Teen Stress and Anxiety.” Practicing mindfulness, or meditation, helps the brain rewire to think before reacting to triggers.
- “Exercise Could Be Prescribed to Treat Anxiety and Depression.” Proper diet, exercise and sleep are essential to managing anxiety symptoms.
- “Dealing with Difficult Emotions.” Building positive emotions can create feelings of well-being and happiness.
- “Anxiety in Teens: How You Can Help.” Developing strong relationships with supportive, nonjudgmental adults, including parents and teachers, can help teens gain confidence and find purpose.
Anxiety in Teens: Resources for Support Groups
Teens with anxiety, or families of teens with anxiety, can find help through support groups. Support groups should be used alongside proper diagnosis and treatment. The following organizations can provide or help locate support group resources:
- TeenTribe. This website provides peer-to-peer group support for teens with mental health conditions or other challenges. Members can access activity streams, chat rooms, forums and wellness tools. The site is a free service provided by TherapyTribe.
- Turn2me. This online resource hosts group support sessions on anxiety, depression, stress management and other mental health issues. Visitors can register and sign up for a scheduled group session. Turn2me is a charitable organization.
- ADAA directory. This directory site allows teens and family members to search for support groups in their local area, as well as phone or online groups. Searches are conducted by state or topic.
- Psychology Today directory. This online directory allows visitors to search for in-person and online therapy groups based on city or ZIP code.
Help Address Anxiety in Teens
Though anxiety is a growing problem for teens, there are also a rising number of ways that friends, family members and mental health practitioners can help. Phone hotlines and text lines can give teens and family members someone to talk to about the symptoms they are experiencing and direct them to local mental health resources. Psychologists and therapists can provide individual and group therapy services, and psychiatrists can assist with evaluations and prescription administration. Teens can also practice self help therapies, such as meditation, and online or in-person support groups can help teens feel supported. When teens are equipped with the right tools, they are better able to manage anxiety symptoms and lead confident, fulfilling lives.