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Clinical Anxiety in Teens



In my private psychotherapy practice, anxiety in teens is a common reason for seeking treatment. Some level of anxiety is a normal, albeit uncomfortable part of life. However, when your child’s level of anxiety and worry is excessive and begins to significantly impact their life–in school, at home, or with friends–it may be time to seek professional help to determine whether your teenager is struggling with clinical anxiety.

What are some signs of anxiety?

General Anxiety Disorder is defined as “excessive anxiety or worry for at least six months.” Well, what is considered “excessive”? You as a parent have to use your best judgment because no one knows your child as well as you.

Some kids are able to tell parents when they are struggling. They may say things such as, “I feel out of control;” “I hate myself;” “I don’t know what’s wrong with me;” “Nobody likes me;” “I can’t do anything;” “I wish I were dead.”

Here’s a link to a website run by teens which includes their stories of anxiety told in their own words. Maybe you’ll recognize your own child in one of these stories.

Other teenagers use behaviors to communicate their feelings. What to look for? Some signs of excessive anxiety include complaints of stomachaches or headaches, school refusal, falling grades, increased social isolation, crying, irritability, eating disorders, cutting, and other self-harming behaviors, including substance abuse.

Also, it’s important to keep in mind that anxiety often occurs along with other disorders or issues a teen might face such as ADHD, a learning disorder, or depression.

What does my teen have to be anxious about?

Among adolescents 13-18 years old, it’s estimated that 8% have an anxiety disorder. That means that approximately two kids in each of your teen’s classes are dealing with anxiety.

According to the National Institutes of Health website, research indicates that during the teen years there is marked growth and change to the physical mechanisms of emotion. Brain development and changes in hormonal systems affect the way teens handle stress and react emotionally.

The NIH website includes this interesting fact:

Brain scans of teens sizing each other up reveal an emotion circuit activating more in girls as they grow older, but not in boys. This finding highlights how emotion circuitry diverges in the male and female brain during a developmental stage in which girls are at increased risk for developing mood and anxiety disorders.

In addition to the physical changes happening during the teen years, our kids live in a fast-paced world with 24/7 access to friends and information. Home no longer provides a sanctuary from the pressures of their lives.  Who’s dating whom, to which parties were they not invited? Why wait for Monday morning to find out, when all this information is just a button click away? Add the pressure of grades, test scores and college acceptance, and life can feel much too stressful.

Anxiety can be a paralyzing impediment in your child’s life. It doesn’t have to be. Anxiety is a treatable disorder.

So…talk to your teen. How’s he doing?


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