Teen anxiety disorder is a condition characterized by fear and worry. Often triggered by an initial event or continuous trauma, anxiety disorders manifest through varying degrees of severity, from constant irrational unease to terrible panic attacks. The anxiety also continues to prevail, and sometimes worsen, despite “logical” reasons it might let up. Anxiety attacks can occur without reason, simply because of how the disorder affects the mind. Teen anxiety treatment options are largely dependent on the type of anxiety from which a teen is suffering.
There are several types of identified anxiety disorders. Sometimes a teen can experience symptoms covering more than one type of anxiety disorder at a time, so categorizing a teen’s symptoms and making a perfect diagnosis is not an exact science. A therapist or doctor may diagnose a teen with a specific disorder, but teen anxiety treatment is individualized to focus on all present symptoms.
While you may struggle with PTSD, for example, you may have symptoms associated with other mental health conditions. In some cases, teens struggle with codependent disorders. Rather than focus on the labeling, consider these as categories that describe how anxiety might manifest.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder - Characterized by a general overwhelming feeling that awful things are going to happen, rather than a specific fear related to a memory or a certain aspect of living. Though the “reasoning” for these thoughts might be completely illogical, the overwhelming fear can be so intense that it causes the teen to freeze, either physically or emotionally. To avoid the horrible oncoming events, a teen can also tend to withdraw from and avoid people and social situations.
Social Anxiety Disorder - Characterized by an extreme sense of nervousness and stress either in anticipation of, or experience of, normal social interactions. The overwhelming stress often extends even to simple daily tasks that were, at another time, carried out without much effort or thought. Understandably, this anxiety often causes a teen to withdraw from people and social settings.
Phobia – Characterized by an intense fear triggered by some specific thing: for instance, flying, water, heights, or spiders. The fear surrounding this trigger can cause a teen to become very anxious about any event or circumstance where this trigger might be present, and therefore, avoid any possible encounters.
Panic Attack – A panic attack puts the mind and body in a state of panic – inducing feelings of intense terror, raising the heart rate, causing irregular breathing, perspiration, chest pain, and numbness. These symptoms often get increasingly more uncomfortable and intense during the first 10 minutes. Panic attacks are often triggered but may occur randomly in rare cases. Some teens experience them more regularly than others. These attacks can be very serious, putting strain on the heart.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – Cases of OCD are characterized by obsessive and compulsive symptoms, and teens usually exhibit one type more than the other. Examples of obsessive symptoms include thoughts, images, and ideas that come and go without control. These are intrusive and can range from distracting to dangerous. Examples of compulsive symptoms include uncontrollable behavior, from constantly checking light switches to regularly counting money or washing hands. Compulsions and obsessions are often linked, the fear feeding into the behavior. OCD symptoms are not habits, but rather, something that the teen has no control over choosing when or when not to perform.
Several factors can cause a feeling of anxiety, most notably stress at home and at school. Lifestyles that cause a lot of stress are generally going to take a toll on your mind and body – for teens with busy schedules with too much on their plate, academic pressures as well as social responsibilities may just turn out to be too much.
Anxiety disorders are different, with a variety of possible causes and several different triggers. While teens struggling with anxiety disorders have the same triggers as most other people – anything causing excessive stress can cause nervous thinking and worrying – there are specific individual triggers that may set off anxious thoughts, or even trigger an anxiety attack. Causes leading to the development of an anxiety disorder include:
of teens ages 13-18 experience anxiety
of adolescents never receive the right treatment
Americans with an untreated anxiety disorder attempted suicide in 2018
If your teen or friend is struggling with an anxiety disorder, pressuring them for answers or trying to toughen them up will only lead to disaster. Start by taking it slow and just asking them how they feel. Ask them if they’d like to go visit a therapist and get better. No one with anxiety thinks it’s fun, so helping your loved one get the teen anxiety treatment they need is a good first step. From there, speak to their therapist or doctor about what you should do next to make them feel more comfortable – or ask your teen directly. Just being there and caring for your teen can be enough, sometimes.
There are several different types of teen anxiety treatment available. In severe cases, certain types of medication can greatly improve a teen’s anxiety symptoms. Most of the time, therapy and relaxation techniques can do much to reduce anxiety and help you live a normal life. Here are a few ways anxiety is treated.
Talk therapy can be extremely helpful in helping a teen “re-pattern” their thoughts, transitioning from anxious thoughts to new, healthy, and productive thinking. Often, a teen can gain insight through talk therapy to help them identify the triggers that propel them into anxiety and learn to respond differently.
There are several different types of medication that can help a teen experiencing intense or severe symptoms of an anxiety disorder. Sometimes medication can be used as a starting point, from which a teen can begin to feel relief, thereby allowing them to begin working toward new thinking patterns and responses. Anxiety medication includes prescription sedatives like benzodiazepines, antidepressants such as SSRIs, and other types.
Alternative Anxiety Treatments
Other treatments to help alleviate anxiety symptoms include meditation and massage, yoga, acupuncture, and relaxation techniques from aromatherapy to breathing exercises. Another alternative anxiety treatment is repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation, which has shown promise in some people with generalized anxiety disorder.
Anxiety is a terrible feeling, highlighted by fear and worry. Like other mental health disorders, anxiety can be debilitating. As symptoms progress, it becomes harder and harder to hope for a day when you don’t feel anxious or scared. However, getting anxiety help can go a long way.
Residential teen treatment options like Paradigm Malibu give teens the option to get away from the pressures and stressors of life and focus on evaluating both their mental health and physical health. It gives teens the perfect space to work on their worries, talk through issues, and find a teen anxiety treatment plan that gives them a chance to manage their anxiety, and not let it manage them.
“ Our 16-year has been struggling with anxiety and severe depression and seemed stuck. We felt we had nowhere else to go. After 40 days, I feel like we've gotten our daughter back! It’s been an amazing experience. She now has tools, perspective, improved self love and a resilience we haven't seen in two years. “
– Rebecca J.
Is It Going to Get Better or Worse?
It is hard to tell from one day to the next how you’re going to feel, with or without anxiety. Anxiety disorder symptoms can have a way of spiraling to greater intensity, as overthinking things leads to bigger worries. Talk therapy can help stop that downward spiral, and help you find your way out of an impending anxiety attack.
What if Talking About Anxiety Makes It Worse?
You should know that you have control over what you talk about in anxiety therapy; you aren’t going to be forced into anything. For the most part, people tend to gain clarity and relief from talking about their thoughts, and getting input from an outside, objective source, as to the validity of these thoughts. As with many mental health disorders, people can feel very isolated and alone in trying to address what they’re facing and feeling. Having company in this realm can be encouraging and quite powerful.