Adolescent Anxiety Causes, Symptoms & Signs

The signs of adolescent anxiety can often be difficult to identify. Once an individual identifies the symptoms and side effects of adolescent anxiety, the next step in the recovery journey become clear.

Understanding Adolescent Anxiety

Learn about adolescent anxiety

Struggling with some sort of worry from time to time is part of the human experience. In many instances, being apprehensive about a situation can be alleviated via coping skills and relying on others for support. However, if an adolescent is consumed with worry, apprehension, or even fear, is unable to cope with this strife, and experiences a disruption in his or her functioning as a result, an anxiety disorder may be to blame.

According to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, there are several types of anxiety disorders that an adolescent can suffer from, including the following:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder involves ongoing periods of worry that do not stem from a particular trigger.
  • Panic disorder includes panic attacks that are either expected or unexpected depending on the person and triggers that bring about panic attacks. When in the throes of a panic attack, a teen may be unable to breathe and may report that he or she feels as though he or she is on the brink of death.
  • Separation anxiety disorder is an appropriate diagnosis for an adolescent who becomes overwhelmed with worry when the threat of separation from his or her caregiver or other loved one is possible. Furthermore, when actually separated from this important person, a youth is likely unable to feel an alleviation of his or her distress until the individual returns.
  • Phobias can elicit profound trepidation in a teen when he or she is faced with a certain trigger. Spiders, blood, heights, and so on are examples of some phobias that an adolescent may have.
  • Selective mutism causes a youth to be unable to speak when in anxiety-provoking situations. Not to be confused with a communication disorder, those with selective mutism are, in fact, fully able to communicate.
  • Social anxiety disorder may be diagnosed in a teen who experiences anxiety when in a situation in which he or she may be open to criticism. Examples of such situations can include when giving a presentation in front of others, working in a group setting, or answering a question asked by a teacher in a classroom.

These anxiety disorders are but a handful of those that an adolescent can suffer from. However, it is important to know that these are all very treatable concerns. With proper support, effective interventions, and patience for the healing journey, an adolescent can learn to manage anxiety symptoms in a manner that can support a healthy, productive, successful lifestyle.

Statistics

Adolescent anxiety statistics

Anxiety disorders are some of the most commonly diagnosed mental disorders among adolescents. Females are more likely to grapple with these concerns, and, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, it is very common for youth to suffer from other disorders at the same time. The median age of onset for social anxiety disorder and phobias is 13 and 7, respectively. Lastly, it is believed that as many as 1 in 8 young people meet diagnostic criteria for an anxiety disorder.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for adolescent anxiety

Attempting to understand why and how a teen comes to struggle with anxiety can be somewhat of an overwhelming endeavor. If it seems as though no one else in one’s family has battled mental illness, loved ones may not know why an adolescent in their lives is in this circumstance. However, by taking a closer look at what research has found, it can become clearer as to why a teen comes to suffer from an anxiety disorder:

Genetic: Even if a youth does not appear to have a close relative who also struggles with anxiety, genes could still contribute to the onset of this sort of mental health concern. A great deal of research supports the notion that mental disorders are heritable, and so even if it seems like there is no family history of such, there still may be a genetic link. Additionally, if a relative has struggled with depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder, the potential for an adolescent to suffer from anxiety may be greater as these illnesses have a high comorbidity.

Environmental: Certain stressors can cause an otherwise dormant anxiety disorder to manifest if one’s environment triggers the onset of symptoms. Experiencing a great deal of stress at home or at school can bring about anxiety symptoms, and a teen’s experience with peer pressure can also do the same. Being the victim of abuse, neglect, or a crime can all also cause an adolescent to become anxious, especially if he or she does not possess adequate coping skills and peer/familial support after enduring these types of situations. For these reasons and more, it can be conclusively said that a teen’s environment can significantly impact the onset and severity of anxiety disorder symptoms.

Risk Factors:

  • Being female
  • Family history of mental illness
  • Lack of coping skills
  • Lack of support
  • Personal history of other mental illness
  • Personal history of trauma

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of adolescent anxiety

Depending on the type of anxiety disorder present, as well as the frequency in which a teen is faced with the trigger(s) of his or her anxiety (if any), the obvious signs that an adolescent is battling anxiety can differ from one young person to the next. If you are concerned that a youth in your life may be struggling with a clinical anxiety disorder, please pay attention to see if any of the following symptoms are present and assist the teen in accessing treatment as soon as possible:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Becoming upset when separated from one’s caregivers
  • Frequent urination or diarrhea
  • Pacing
  • Restlessness
  • Shaking or twitching

Physical symptoms:

  • Cold hands or feet
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension
  • Muscle weakness
  • Numbness in hands or feet
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Stomach problems
  • Sweating
  • Sweaty hands or feet

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Difficulty with decision making
  • Panic
  • Poor concentration
  • Poor focus
  • Poor judgement

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Depressed mood
  • Emotional withdrawal
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings

Effects

Effects of adolescent anxiety

The longer an adolescent battles anxiety disorder symptoms, the greater the possibility is that he or she will begin to experience negative effects as a result. Aside from the worsening of any symptoms that are already present, a teen may have to face the following detriments if care is delayed or not received for his or her particular anxiety disorder:

  • Academic failure
  • Declined academic performance
  • Loss of meaningful relationships
  • Low self-esteem
  • Onset of other mental health concerns
  • Self-harm
  • Substance abuse which could lead to addiction
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Suicide attempts

Co-Occurring Disorders

Adolescent anxiety and co-occurring disorders

Anxiety disorders are widely known to be comorbid with other mental health and behavioral concerns. For example, some mental illnesses can bring about anxiety disorder symptoms or anxiety can trigger the onset of certain other disorders. Considering this fact, it is very common for teens who receive treatment for anxiety to also receive services for additional mental disorders as well. The following mental disorders are those that an adolescent in your life may be struggling with at the same time as anxiety:

  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Body dysmorphic disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Substance use disorders

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– Parent of a former patient