Teen anxiety disorder is a condition characterized by excessive 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. While most people experience a certain level of anxiety over normal events in life, anxiety attacks can occur without reason. The types of treatments available for addressing teen anxiety disorders are largely dependent on the type of anxiety from which a teen is suffering, as well as the preferred approaches of the individual treatment facility.
Other signs of anxiety teens might experience include continual worry about the future, persistent worry about what others are thinking, and changes in appetite - overeating or not eating enough.
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 more focused on the best way to create an individualized plan to treat the presenting symptoms.
In some cases, teens struggle with co-occurring disorders. While you may struggle with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), for example, you may simultaneously have symptoms associated with other mental health disorders. Rather than focus on the labeling of a diagnoses, consider these as categories that describe how anxiety might manifest within your particular situation.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) - 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. There may be an overwhelming pressure to make things “perfect” before moving on, or an uncontrollable urge to create a certain pattern. OCD symptoms are not habits, but rather, something that the teen has no control over when choosing whether or not to perform the actions.
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 to handle.
Anxiety disorders can appear quite different for each individual, with a variety of possible causes and several sources of triggers. While teens struggling with anxiety disorders can share some of the same triggers as experienced by most other people (anything causing excessive stress can cause nervous thinking and worrying) there are specific individual triggers that may set off these anxious thoughts, or even trigger an anxiety attack. Causes leading to the development of an anxiety disorder can include both physical and psychological sources:
Physical Causes of Excessive Anxiety
Psychological Sources of Excessive Anxiety
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, you can offer to speak to their therapist or doctor about what else you can do to help your loved on to feel more comfortable. You can also try asking your teen directly about what he or she is needing. Just being there and caring for your teen can sometimes be enough to help.
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 go a long way toward reducing the anxiety and helping you to live a more normal life. Here are a few ways that anxiety disorders are treated.
Talk therapy can be extremely helpful in helping a teen “re-pattern” his or her thoughts, transitioning from anxious thoughts to new, healthy, and productive thinking. These types of sessions usually include cognitive behavioral therapy techniques. Often, a teen can gain insight through talking with a CBT experienced therapist, who can help teens learn to identify the triggers that propel them into anxiety. Learning what triggers the anxiety is one of the first steps toward learning to respond differently whenever the overwhelming feelings and sensations occur.
There are several different types of medication that can help teens 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. For this reason, many mental health treatment programs will combine medication with talk therapy treatment. Medications which are typically prescribed for anxiety includes prescription sedatives like benzodiazepines and antidepressants such as SSRIs.
Alternative Anxiety Treatments
Other treatments to help alleviate anxiety symptoms include meditation and massage, yoga, acupuncture, and relaxation techniques, such as aromatherapy or breathing exercises. Another alternative to traditional anxiety treatment is called repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation. This newer type of treatment has shown promise in some people suffering from 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 help for your symptoms of anxiety can go a long way.
Residential teen mental health treatment options like Paradigm Malibu give teens the option to get away from the pressures and stressors of life, allowing them to 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 to find a teen anxiety treatment plan that will give them a chance to manage their anxiety, instead of letting 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 My Anxiety Going to Get Better or Worse?
It is hard for anyone to tell, from one day to the next, how we are going to feel. Even without anxiety, emotions can be a tricky thing for teens to navigate. Anxiety disorder symptoms, in particular, can have a way of spiraling to greater intensity, as the overthinking that tends to occur can lead to even bigger worries. Talk therapy can help you to stop that pattern of downward spiral, and can help you learn to find your way out of an impending anxiety attack before it hits.
What if Talking About My Anxiety Makes It Worse?
It might help you to know that you have control over what you talk about in anxiety therapy. You aren’t going to be forced into talking about anything, and you will be able to take your time with what you share. For the most part, people tend to gain clarity and relief from talking about their thoughts, and getting input from an outside, objective source. Someone who is trained to recognize and work with anxiety disorders is able to provide you with assurance that your discomfort is genuine, and can help you to feel validated in your experience. As with many mental health disorders, people suffering in them can feel very isolated and alone in trying to address what they’re facing and feeling. Having understanding company in this area can be encouraging and quite empowering.