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Teen Anxiety: Symptoms and Next Steps

Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress, but what appears to be typical teen struggles may be a sign of an anxiety disorder

All teens experience anxiety at times. Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress, and sometimes it helps teens deal with stressful or overwhelming situations. Things like public speaking, final exams, important athletic competitions, or even going out on a date can cause feelings of apprehension and uneasiness for many teens. The brain’s response to anxiety also leads to increased heartbeat and excessive sweating.

For some teens, however, anxiety can go beyond these usual symptoms to negatively affect friendships and family relationships, participation in extracurricular activities, and even their schoolwork. When feelings of anxiety interfere with normal daily living, the presence of an anxiety disorder is considered.

Since teens experience a wide variety of physical and emotional changes as they grow, it can be difficult to recognize an anxiety disorder. Many symptoms may seem like typical teens struggles or be attributed to hormones. Watch for these hidden signs of anxiety in your teen:

Emotional changes

While some anxious teens express feelings of pervasive worry, others experience subtle emotional changes such as:

· Feeling on edge

· Irritability

· Difficulty concentrating

· Restlessness

· Unexplained outbursts

Social changes

Anxiety can negatively affect friendships or cause a lack of interest in favorite activities. You might notice your child:

· Avoiding social interactions with usual friends

· Avoiding extracurricular activities

· Isolating from peer group

· Spending increased time alone

Physical changes

Many of the physical complaints that can occur with an anxiety disorder imitate average teen complaints. Look for patterns. Watch for these common psychosomatic complaints:

· Frequent headaches, including migraines

· Gastrointestinal problems

· Unexplained aches and pains

· Excessive fatigue

· Complaints of not feeling well with no obvious medical cause

· Changes in eating habits

Sleep disturbance

Teens should get approximately 8 - 10 hours of sleep each night to function best. However, homework demands, changing brain structure, extracurricular activities, and screen time can cut into their sleep habits. Therefore, it can be difficult to know whether fatigue is a product of anxiety or of a busy schedule. Look for these warning signs:

· Difficulty falling and/ or staying asleep

· Frequent nightmares

· Not feeling refreshed after sleep

Poor school performance

School avoidance, missed days due to anxiety-related illness, and persistent worry can make it difficult for anxious teens to keep up with their workload. Watch for these changes:

· Significant jump in grades (usually downward)

· Frequently missed assignments

· Describes feeling overwhelmed by workload

· Procrastinates on, or has difficulty concentrating on, homework assignments

Symptoms of panic attacks

Not all anxious teens experience panic attacks, and some experience mild symptoms of panic without enduring a full panic attack. The following symptoms are common among people with anxiety disorders:

· Rapid heartbeat

· Sweating and trembling

· Dizziness

· Upset stomach

· Difficulty breathing

· Chest pain

· Feeling like they’re dying

· Feeling like they’re “going crazy”

· Numbness or tingling in arms and legs

· Derealization

Next Steps

Anxiety is treatable, and most teens can learn to cope with and manage their anxiety independently. If your teen appears to be struggling with anxiety that interferes with school, friendships, family relationships, or other areas of daily functioning, it’s important to:

1. Talk to your teen about how they are feeling.

2. Let them know there are ways to improve their anxiety with the help of a mental health professional.

3. Schedule an appointment with a licensed mental health practitioner.


Blog Source: Katie Hurley, LCSW, "6 Hidden Signs of Teen Anxiety" Sept 26, 2018.

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