Anxiety is a normal part of adolescence. These years are full of transitions and changes, after all.
Kids are occupying the strange space between childhood and adulthood. Everything they experience reflects this: changing bodies, friendships may end unexpectedly, school responsibilities increase.
They feel pressure to set goals for the upcoming years. Or, they may be eager to become independent but also nervous about leaving home. So some anxiety is to be expected.
However, there are times when adolescent anxiety moves beyond what is developmentally appropriate. Your attempts to help your teen learn stress management skills may fall short. Both of you may wonder if more help is needed.
Identifying the Signs
But how do you know when it’s time to seek this help? One clue is that your teen’s anxiety has grown so large that it affects their ability to function at school or in social settings. They may also find themselves feeling trapped by fears that seem unreasonable to other people. No amount of logical explanations or reassurance helps.
Here are some guidelines to consider.
Teen relationships can be awkward. There’s the tension of crushes and learning to navigate those. But there’s also the desire for approval from peers. A teen’s clothing, hairstyle, interests, and skills all fall under scrutiny.
If your teen’s anxiety around social groups has grown to the point that they avoid leaving the house or are overcome with panic when it’s time to go to school, they need additional support.
Panic disorder is acutely painful, both emotionally and physically. It can strike out of the blue or arise due to specific triggers. Its symptoms are paralyzing: trembling and shaking, flushing, diarrhea, racing heart, and an overwhelming sense of fear and dread. A teen may feel like they are dying.
Panic disorder disrupts everything. The fear of having a panic attack can also create an additional layer of anxiety, causing teens not to want to be out in public in case another panic attack happens.
It is possible to learn coping skills, however. Seeking early treatment is imperative to preventing the panic disorder from growing and becoming even more intimidating.
Your teen may experience particular phobias that cause them to avoid or “freeze up” in some situations. When these phobias begin to interfere with normal, daily life and activities, it is time to seek help.
One example is a phobia of driving or being on the road. Fears like this make routines painful and draining. They impact school attendance and other social involvement.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
If your teen always feels anxious but can’t pinpoint a reason, they may be suffering from Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). The anxiety seeps into all aspects of their life; they always feel nervous. It’s hard to focus on schoolwork and enjoy everyday pleasures with GAD.
The Next Step
As I’ve discussed here, anxiety can take many shapes and forms. All of them keep your teen from enjoying these years and from being their best selves.
Anxiety can also lead to other mental health struggles, such as low self-esteem and depression. Your teen may become stuck in negative self-talk as a result of their struggles with anxiety. This can lead to decreased confidence and social withdrawal.
Fortunately, all of these anxiety issues can be treated and addressed through therapy. And the earlier you and your teen seek help, the better.
While overcoming anxiety issues isn’t always comfortable, their life will be so much better in the long run. Learning the skills needed to manage fears will help them for the rest of their life.
I have a heart for working with teens as they move through this rewarding but sometimes challenging period of life. Please reach out to me to learn how I can help you and your teen struggling with anxiety.
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