The teenage years are a turbulent time. Teens face pressure to succeed in school and get into good colleges. They have to negotiate a shifting social life and dating. They may have to work or deal with family issues on top of all that. It’s a time of change, uncertainty, and insecurity. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 30 percent of teens will experience some kind of anxiety disorder. Girls are much more likely to be affected than boys. About 38 percent of girls will develop an anxiety disorder compared to about 25 percent of boys. About eight percent of teens will experience an anxiety disorder with severe impairment. Teens go through a lot of changes and it can be hard to distinguish normal teenage angst from an anxiety disorder. Here are some signs your teen may have an anxiety disorder.
Problems at school
School is a significant source of anxiety for many teens. Their teachers and parents might put a lot of pressure on them to do well, and teens might put a lot of pressure on themselves. Exams, projects, and papers may be source of constant and excessive anxiety. Unfortunately, feeling extreme pressure to succeed can harm academic performance. It’s very difficult to learn, think clearly, or concentrate when you feel threatened. Students may find themselves avoiding certain aspects of school if they find the prospect of failure too threatening. They may suffer from perfectionism and procrastination. They may have even more trouble if their anxiety disrupts their sleep or causes physical symptoms. This may result in rapidly declining grades, frequent absences, or disruptive behavior. If you notice any of these signs, see if you notice other symptoms of anxiety or depression.
Chronic anxiety can cause a number of physical symptoms. These may include frequent headaches, frequent digestive issues such as stomach cramps, nausea, or diarrhea, fatigue, aches, back pain, or muscle cramps. Other physical signs of anxiety include muscle tension, shaking, sweating, or being easily startled. Teens suffering from anxiety disorders may have problems with appetite, either from frequent digestive issues or they just aren’t hungry. Sometimes these may develop into eating disorders, often as a way to exert some control over one’s life. Pay special attention to sudden changes in weight.
Being unable to fall asleep or stay asleep is a common symptom of an anxiety disorder. Unfortunately, teens often have erratic sleep schedules to begin with. What’s more, studies have found that most teens are chronically sleep deprived from the combination of school starting early and teens needing more sleep because they are growing. Pay attention if your teen mentions not being able to fall asleep or stay asleep. If you notice her staying up late, or being very tired in the morning, ask if there’s anything wrong. Lack of quality sleep is not only a sign of anxiety, but it also makes anxiety worse. It also contributes to physical symptoms and harms academic performance because poor sleep affects concentration and memory.
An anxiety disorder is primarily an emotional issue. Teens, especially boys, are often reluctant to share their emotions with their parents but you may notice some trends. Pay special attention to new behaviors. Anxiety disorders are often characterized by frequent worry, especially about apparently minor things. It’s normal to worry sometimes but worrying all the time is a bad sign. Another sign is worrying excessively about specific things. It’s normal to worry about a test, for example, but not to the point of crying or hyperventilating.
Panic attacks are scary. You feel like you can’t breathe and your heart races. Other symptoms of a panic attack include shaking, sweating, dizziness, chest pain, numbness or tingling in the extremities, feeling like you’re dying or going crazy. A panic attack may be intense or relatively mild, with only a few of the above symptoms. A panic attack may be caused by something specific, or you might be unaware of any particular cause. Once you have a panic attack, the fear of having another one may cause you to panic. Someone who has experienced a panic attack may avoid certain situations for fear of another one.
Anxiety can affect your social life in many ways. It can make you avoid activities you used to enjoy because they suddenly make you anxious. Social anxiety can make you avoid any kind of social interaction, especially if there might be new people. Agoraphobia can keep you from even leaving the house. Pay attention if your teen suddenly stops spending time with friends, stops going out, or starts spending a lot more time alone.
Phobias are a specific, irrational fear of something. These fears may relate to objects or situations. In teens, these phobias may be related to school or socializing. The way people typically respond to a phobia is to avoid it, which can only make it worse. It also leads to other problems. Avoiding a class in school, for example, has consequences far beyond just nurturing a phobia.
While some teens use drugs or alcohol experimentally or because of social pressure, some teens use these substances to self-medicate for conditions like anxiety and depression. Teens experiencing constant anxiety may seek relief from their symptoms by using alcohol, opioids, or benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines are often prescribed for anxiety, but they are also extremely addictive and can cause physical dependence in a matter of weeks. Any substance use among teens is a concern because it may cause developmental problems and early use is a significant risk factor for developing addiction later. If you discover your teen is using alcohol or drugs, consider the possibility that it might be a sign of depression or an anxiety disorder.
If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction or mental illness, we can help. Recovery Ways is a premier drug and alcohol addiction treatment facility located in Salt Lake City, Utah. Our Copper Hills facility specializes in the treatment of adolescent substance use and mental health issues. We have the resources to effectively treat a dual diagnosis. Our mission is to provide the most cost-effective, accessible substance abuse treatment to as many people as possible. Request information online or call us today at 1-888-986-7848.