Anxiety is something that everyone will experience at some stage in their life. In fact, it’s a very important emotion; anxiety is the body’s way of signaling an alarm, danger, or threatening change by producing worry, fear, and a fluttering sensation. However, anxiety can get out of control and become an unhealthy, exaggerated response to normal, everyday situations.
Teenagers go through an inordinate amount of change between the ages of 13 and 19 and these uncertainties mean that anxiety is often an emotion that is always there, humming in the background. For some teenagers, though, this natural humming becomes a chronic, disproportionate state that interferes with their everyday life. Chronic anxiety can stop teens from participating in extracurricular activities, makes it hard to make and keep friends, and even makes family relationships a challenge.
In some instances, anxiety is simply the body’s natural reaction to change. At other times, it can develop into a more debilitating issue and it’s important to know the difference between the two in order to help your child.
What is Anxiety?
The mind and body are both involved when it comes to anxiety. It’s a natural human reaction that is part of our basic survival instincts. It’s an alarm system that activates whenever a person feels threatened or scared.
The body is often the first trigger in the fight or flight response and when a person feels threatened, they will often experience physical symptoms like an increased heartbeat, faster breathing, sweaty palms, nausea, and trembling. These symptoms are caused by a rush of adrenaline and other chemicals that prepare the body to make a quick getaway if needed.
The thinking part of the brain takes a little longer to catch up with the body’s response; it has to process the situation and decide whether the threat is real and if it is, how to deal with it. If it perceives the situation as non-threatening, it deactivates fight or flight mode, and the body starts to relax.
Knowing what normal anxiety looks and feels like is important in order to determine whether your teen is struggling or simply going through the motions. Normal anxiety is simply a feeling of unease, worry, fear, or nervousness of something that is about to happen or that is happening in the future.
These feelings range from mild to intense depending on the individual and the situation causing the anxiety. Mild anxiety is normally an uneasy feeling or nervous butterflies in the stomach, whereas intense anxiety can result in fear or outright panic.
It’s normal for teenagers to feel anxious about new, challenging or unfamiliar situations. This could be starting a new school, meeting new people, or writing a test. Although these are not life-threatening situations, the body will respond and produce mild symptoms like sweaty hands and nerves.
A little anxiety can actually be a good thing for situations that require some sort of performance, like sports or academics, as it makes people sharp, alert, and focused. However, too much anxiety can inhibit performance and leave people overwhelmed and frozen—unable to do what they are meant to be doing.
Anxiety disorders are a type of mental health condition and people that struggle with it deal with excessive nervousness, worry, anxiety, and fear that impacts the way that they function in everyday life. They are one of the most common mental health conditions throughout all age groups. Symptoms of anxiety disorders can build up over time or they can come on suddenly. Often, people struggling with a type of anxiety disorder don’t know what is causing them to feel the way that they do.
There are many different types of anxiety disorders and they each have their own symptoms. The thing that they have in common, however, is that the feeling of anxiety happens too often, comes on too strong, and is often disproportionate to the situation.
These are the most common anxiety disorders that occur in teens:
- General anxiety: This is the most common anxiety disorder in teens and causes them to worry excessively about many aspects of their life. They will stress about school, social situations, the health and safety of loved ones, and what’s to come in the future. They tend to think about the worst scenarios. Physical symptoms of general anxiety include things like chest pain, headaches, tiredness, tense muscles, stomach cramps, or vomiting. Teens will likely miss school and avoid social situations.
- OCD: Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) causes a person to develop anxiety about a situation that manifests into obsessions. To control these feelings of obsessive anxiety, they develop compulsions. This could be a wide range of things such as obsessively locking doors, cleaning surfaces, tapping pens, erasing and rewriting words, or just having things in a very specific order.
- Phobias: Phobias are intense fears around certain situations that are not necessarily dangerous for the person. This could be something like flying, heights, or water. People with phobias will avoid doing whatever it is they are afraid of at all costs.
- Social Anxiety: Teens often struggle with social anxiety, which is triggered by social situations or speaking in front of other people. The extreme form of social anxiety is selective mutism, which stops teens from talking in certain situations.
- Panic Attacks: The symptoms of a panic attack are very clear. The person will most likely experience a sudden and intense episode that includes a very high heart rate, shortness of breath, numbness, nausea, and dizziness. This occurs when the body overreacts to a perceived threat.
- PTSD: Posttraumatic stress disorder results from a traumatic experience in the past. Flashbacks, nightmares, and fear are just some of the most noticeable symptoms.
Helping Your Teen with Anxiety
If your teen struggles with normal anxiety then it’s important that you teach them how to manage it, as they will undoubtedly need it later on in life. You can do this by letting them know that anxiety is normal and that the feeling will pass in a bit of time. That it should stop them from doing what they need to do, but they should rather be proud of doing it despite being anxious.
You should always acknowledge your child’s fear — never dismiss or ignore it. Give them a platform to express their fears and concerns to you and let them know that you support them. You can gently encourage them to do the things they feel anxious about, but don’t force them into it. Set small goals for your teen to get over their anxieties, like doing a speech in front of the family first, before taking on the presentation at school, etc.
Getting Help with Anxiety Disorders
If your child is dealing with something more than just the usual teen anxiety and you’ve exhausted your options trying to help them at home, then it’s time to seek professional help.
Anxiety disorders, like all mental health conditions, should be diagnosed and treated by a medical professional that specializes in teen mental health. Your child’s anxiety could be getting in the way of them reaching their full potential and it’s important that you get them the help they need so that they can get back on track as soon as possible.
OC Teen Center is a teen therapy center that specializes in helping teens that struggle with all sorts of mental health conditions. We offer a safe, friendly, and comforting environment for teens and their families to learn how to cope with their condition. We give teens the right tools and strategies to overcome their anxieties in order to thrive.
Get in touch with us today if you are worried about your teen’s anxiety.