More teens than ever are being diagnosed with anxiety disorders. It’s not a surprise, really, with everything they go through at school and at home. If you struggle with feeling stressed or anxious, even supportive parents might struggle to understand what’s going on with you. That’s because adolescent anxiety is different and what works for you might be different than how your Mom or Dad was raised.
You’re Not Overreacting, Adolescent Anxiety is Increasing
You’ve probably heard some adult in your life complain that it seems like every kid and teen has a mental health disorder these days. In a way, they’re right. Statistics show that nearly one third (31.9%) of adolescence have been diagnosed with some kind of anxiety disorder. That’s more than 10% higher than adults with anxiety disorder during the same period (19.1%). And that number is only going up. A second study found that adolescent anxiety shot up 20% between 2007 and 2012, and those are just the teens receiving diagnoses. Many more teenagers may be struggling with anxiety without ever being treated for it.
Get Help with Adolescent Anxiety Today
Talk to a psychotherapist about teenage anxiety and stress.
Why Do Teens Feel Anxiety So Often?
Some factors that cause anxiety, like genetic predispositions, don’t care about your age. But teens may feel anxiety more often than adults because of an interaction between brain chemistry, development, and a high-stress life environment. Adolescence is a period when your brain, body, and emotions are all in flux. Social dynamics change too, as you begin to mature and change schools. All that change can lead to anxiety. Teens also step into more independence as you grow up: helping care for younger siblings, getting a job, driving, taking tests, and applying for college. Each step can cause anxiety, and make it harder to deal with stress.
How Do You Know if You Have an Anxiety Disorder?
Feeling anxiety when faced with a threat, a test, or a big decision is normal and natural. But if you always feel anxious, worried, or stressed, it may be a mental health disorder. There are many different types of anxiety that teenagers can face, but they all center around thoughts or feelings of fear or anxiety:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) – excessive worry about many things
- Panic Disorder – sudden bursts of fear or anxiety with no apparent source
- Social Anxiety Disorder – fear of social situations
- Phobias or fears – intense fear about specific things
- Separation Anxiety Disorder – anxiety or fear triggered by being separated from others (most often parents)
- Selective Mutism – Not speaking in some situations while talkative in others
You might have adolescent anxiety if you struggle with some of these symptoms:
- Increased worry or fear
- Trouble concentrating
- Insomnia (sleeping too little)
- Irritability or mood swings
- Fatigue (feeling tired all the time)
- Feelings of guilt
- Substance use or addiction
- Shaking or sweating
- Muscle tension
Why Your Parents Can’t Tell You Have Adolescent Anxiety
If adolescent anxiety is so common, you might be wondering why your parents can’t tell you are anxious. You may feel like they’re ignoring your symptoms. To be fair, they might be. There is a social stigma against mental health treatment that is stronger in older adults than in teens. But nearly 90% of adults recognize that the United States is experiencing a mental health crisis. So why can’t they tell what’s happening with you?
You Haven’t Told Them
Many anxiety disorders make it hard to admit you need help. You might worry about what your parents will think of you, or even that you will be punished for your thoughts and feelings, so you hide them. It’s part of the mental illness, but it also makes it hard for your parents to tell you need help.
They Don’t Pick Up on Physical Symptoms
There are many physical symptoms of anxiety, including:
- Stomachaches or nausea
- Tense muscles
- Sleeping problems
- Difficulty breathing
- Inability to be still and calm
- Cold, sweaty, numb, or tingling hands or feet
- Heart palpitations
- Dry mouth
But many of these symptoms are easy to overlook, or blame on the wrong causes. Your parents may simply be unable to connect the dots between your physical symptoms and the adolescent anxiety you are feeling.
It’s Being Treated as Something Else
Anxiety symptoms can often overlap with other disorders, like ADD or depression. The symptoms are also easy to misinterpret as hyperactivity. Even if you take medication or receive treatment for a different disorder, you might still experience anxiety symptoms and need more help.
How to Get Help with Adolescent Anxiety
The first step to getting help with your anxiety is to tell someone. It doesn’t have to be your parent. You can talk to a teacher, coach, religious leader, or other family member. They can help you explain what is happening to your parents, so you can get help. Doctors and psychotherapists aren’t going to judge you for feeling anxious. They just want to help you learn strategies to cope with your anxiety so you can focus on being a teenager.
David Stanislaw is a psychotherapist with over 30 years of experience. He helps children, teens and adults identify and address anxiety disorders and other psychiatric issues. Contact David Stanislaw to get help for your teen today.