According to research found on the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 31.9% of teenagers receive a diagnosis of an anxiety disorder, highlighting the significant prevalence of these conditions among adolescents. This statistic shows the importance of awareness, early intervention, and accessibility to mental health support for adolescents. As adolescence is a time of significant changes, stress and anxiety can become amplified, potentially developing into an anxiety disorder.1
With timely diagnosis and treatment, the impact of these disorders on a teen’s life can be significantly reduced. Parents can take our preliminary anxiety test for teens that can be used to assess if their adolescent child’s symptoms may align with an anxiety disorder.
What is Anxiety in Adolescents?
Anxiety in adolescents is not simply an elevated state of worry or fear. It is a mental health disorder, marked by persistent and excessive unease that can interfere with day-to-day activities. Various factors can trigger anxiety disorders, including genetics, brain chemistry, personal trauma, and learned behavior.
Anxiety disorders can manifest in multiple forms, including generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, specific phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Each of these conditions has unique symptoms and may require specific forms of treatment.
Signs of Anxiety in Teens
Identifying the signs of anxiety in adolescents can be challenging. Anxiety disorders often manifest in ways that might initially be overlooked or misinterpreted as normal adolescent behavior. Symptoms can be broadly categorized into physical and emotional.2
Physical symptoms can include:
- Muscle tension
- Sleep disturbances
- Appear restless or on edge
- Easily fatigued
- Experience muscle tension and/or sleep disruptions
- Complain of recurrent headaches and/or stomachaches
Emotional symptoms can range from:
- Having a sense of impending doom or danger
- Feeling nervous
- Increased heart rate
- Struggle to concentrate
- Increased irritability
- Express excessive worry about day-to-day activities
- Fear the worst even when there is no apparent reason for concern
Some adolescents may exhibit perfectionism, spending excessive time on schoolwork or other tasks to ensure they are done “right.” They may also engage in excessive checking or reassurance seeking, or show an extreme aversion to making mistakes. Some adolescents may refuse to go to school or participate in social activities, and they may avoid talking about how they feel for fear of not being understood or being criticized.
The rise in childhood anxiety by 6.4% between 2011 and 2012, according to the CDC, highlights the importance of recognizing anxiety in adolescents. If your child is exhibiting any of these symptoms or ones not listed, it’s crucial to consult a mental health professional for accurate diagnosis and treatment.3
When to Seek Help for Teenage Anxiety
While anxiety is a normal part of adolescence, it can escalate to a level where it becomes disruptive and debilitating, signaling the need for professional help. Professional intervention may be warranted when anxiety becomes chronic, causing significant distress or impacting a teen’s ability to function normally in their day-to-day life.
In a study published in 2018, it was found through surveys of children aged 6-17 years old that 15.2% of them had severe anxiety. Indications of severe anxiety can include avoidance of situations due to irrational fears, exhibition of obsessive thoughts or compulsive behaviors, and a decline in academic performance or disinterest in previously enjoyed activities.4
Types of Anxiety Treatment for Adolescents
Treatment for adolescent anxiety can involve a variety of methods, tailored to the individual needs of the teen. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is often the first line of treatment. CBT is a form of psychotherapy that teaches adolescents to understand how their thoughts and feelings influence their behaviors. By reshaping negative or distorted thinking patterns, CBT equips adolescents with practical strategies to manage their symptoms. In a 2022 study, it was found that nearly half of the adolescents who underwent CBT for their anxiety symptoms experienced a significant reduction or disappearance of their symptoms.5
In some cases, medication may be recommended to manage the symptoms of anxiety. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are commonly prescribed. These medications can reduce symptoms of anxiety by altering the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain.
Lifestyle modifications can also play a crucial role in managing anxiety symptoms. These include a healthy diet, regular physical activity, adequate sleep, and the practice of mindfulness techniques such as meditation and deep-breathing exercises.
Family support and education are also crucial components of treatment. Parents and siblings need to understand the nature of anxiety disorders, how to provide support, and how to help the adolescent implement coping strategies.
Anxiety Treatment at Massachusetts Center for Adolescent Wellness
The Massachusetts Center for Adolescent Wellness provides comprehensive, evidence-based care for adolescents with anxiety disorders. Our treatments are individualized and incorporate therapeutic techniques and lifestyle modifications to manage anxiety.
Our multifaceted therapeutic approach comprises individual, group, and family therapy sessions tailored to address the unique needs of each adolescent. Individual therapy allows for personalized, one-on-one interaction with therapists, helping adolescents articulate their fears and develop coping strategies.
Group therapy provides an opportunity for adolescents to connect with peers experiencing similar challenges, fostering a sense of understanding and reducing feelings of isolation. It also enables adolescents to learn from their peers’ experiences and coping mechanisms. Family therapy sessions involve the entire family in the therapeutic process, providing education about anxiety disorders, tools for support, and addressing any family dynamics contributing to anxiety.
Across all these therapy formats, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is consistently employed. CBT allows adolescents to identify and challenge negative thought patterns, replacing them with more positive and realistic ones, thus providing them with the skills to manage their anxiety effectively in the long term.
At the Massachusetts Center for Adolescent Wellness, our primary objective is to equip adolescents and their families with the necessary knowledge, skills, and resources to effectively manage anxiety disorders. We believe that with timely and appropriate treatment, adolescents can learn to control their anxiety, reclaim their lives, and move towards a healthier future. To learn more about your child’s behaviors and concerns you may have, contact us today about our anxiety treatment for adolescents.
National Institute of Mental Health. (n.d.). Any Anxiety Disorder. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/any-anxiety-disorder
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. (n.d.). Your Adolescent – Anxiety and Avoidant Disorders. Retrieved from https://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Resource_Centers/Anxiety_Disorder_Resource_Center/Your_Adolescent_Anxiety_and_Avoidant_Disorders.aspx
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Anxiety and Depression in Children. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/childrensmentalhealth/features/anxiety-depression-children.html
Srivastava, K., & Kavuru, M. (2018). Role of biopsychosocial factors in the causation of anxiety disorders in children and adolescents. Journal of the Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 27(3), 176–185. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6003874/
Singh, J., & Thomas, M. (2021). Effect of meditation on anxiety among children and adolescents: A randomized controlled study. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 63(3), 281–286. doi:10.4103/psychiatry.IndianJPsychiatry_507_20