Anxiety is one of the most prominent mental health disorders in the U.S. It’s usually thought of as an “adult” problem; it isn’t uncommon for adults to be anxious about work and relationships. However, anxiety in young adults is a very real thing.
Studies show that 1 in 3 adolescents aged 13 to 18 will have an anxiety disorder. Teens and young adults have plenty to contend with growing up: fitting in with peers, playing sports, performing well in school, and romantic relationships.
Sometimes, anxiety can be good. It can help you work harder and perform better on an exam or at a sports event. However, unfounded anxiety can cripple many parts of your life. It can be easy to overlook signs of anxiety in teens and young adults. We’ll explore the different signs so that you can identify them in your child and get them the help they need.
Types of Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety comes in several different forms, including the following types of anxiety:
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD): Signs of GAD usually include excessive worry about several areas of life (friendships, school, work, etc.) for at least six months on most days.
- Phobias: Phobias are irrational fears of actions, things, or situations (spiders, heights, clowns). Separation anxiety and selective mutism are also examples of phobias.
- Panic disorder: This consists of unexpected panic attacks. These attacks can also be brought on by specific triggers.
Although obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) aren’t considered anxiety disorders, they are closely related and can coexist with them.
What Causes Anxiety in Young Adults and Teens?
Several factors can cause the development of anxiety in young adults and teens. A lot of these have to do with the child’s environment growing up. Family therapy can help greatly in determining these factors. Teens with family members who have anxiety are at a high risk of developing it as well.
Underlying conditions like diabetes can also contribute to anxiety. Drugs taken to relieve conditions like asthma can also be culprits. Caffeine in soft drinks or coffee causes stress and agitation, so a medical professional might also take this into consideration.
Social environments can also cause anxiety to develop. For instance, other children at school might be harassing or bullying your teen, which could cause them to develop an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety in Teens and Young Adults By the Numbers
About 25% of teens between 13 and 18 years old have an anxiety disorder, as well as 19% of adults. Anxiety in teens and young adults has increased over time. In 2003, 5.4% of children aged 6 to 17 had anxiety or depression, and this increased to 8.4% in 2011-2012.
10 Signs of Anxiety in Young Adults and Teens
Teen hormones can already make young adults moody and irritable. As a result, it can be hard to tell if teenagers are going through a normal phase or if they have an anxiety disorder. Many of these signs can be overlooked. Here are 10 signs of anxiety in teens and young adults to look out for:
1. Fear of Things Before They Happen
If your child is irrationally afraid of something before it happens, he or she might have anxiety. Teens could be worried that they’re not going to do well on an exam or that they’ll fail a class.
2. Clingy Behavior Toward Family and Friends
Teens and young adults with anxiety tend to be needy and frequently lean on family and friends. Anxiety brings on feelings of being wanted and needed. Although this is a natural human desire, too much of it can be exhausting.
3. Excessive Fatigue or Lethargy
One of the major signs of anxiety in teens is a feeling of sluggishness and fatigue. If this persists on most days for six months or longer, talk to your child about how they’re feeling.
4. Constant Worry and Concern About the Safety of Family, Friends, and Self
It’s natural to worry about your friends’ and family’s safety in the event of an accident or a risky situation. Excessive worry, however, could mean that you have an anxiety disorder.
It’s no secret that teens and young adults can be irritable. If this happens over several weeks or months, though, it’s time to consider that your child has an anxiety disorder.
6. Complaints of Physical Ailments
People suffering from anxiety tend to complain of stomach aches, headaches, tension, and other muscle aches.
7. Being Easily Startled or Alarmed
Being alarmed or startled easily is one of the telltale signs of anxiety in young adults. This can cause their heart rate to increase and even lead to a panic attack.
8. Excessive Worries About Extracurricular Activities, School, or Peers
It’s normal for teens and young adults to feel nervous about peer pressure and earning good grades in school. However, excessive worrying about these things could be a warning sign of anxiety.
9. Inability to Relax or Concentrate
This is also a sign of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). People with anxiety tend to have trouble concentrating or relaxing and are tightly wound. It can be troubling if your teen or young adult is unable to concentrate while doing homework.
10. Fearing Staying the Night Away from Home
Many teens sleep over at friends’ houses for fun on the weekends. Teens with anxiety might feel afraid to spend the night away from the comfort of their homes. Be sure to talk to your teen about these fears and what’s tying them to home.
Treatment Options for Teens and Young Adults with Anxiety
Your child’s anxiety might have caused them to harm themselves or engage in risky behavior. In these cases, it’s safe to call a professional for help.
Staff at a treatment program will evaluate your teen’s symptoms as well as how much anxiety impairs your child. Based on the severity of anxiety, a healthcare professional will create a treatment plan that best meets the needs of your teen.
If your teen is also struggling with a co-occurring substance use disorder, they’ll need additional treatment. Detox and either residential or outpatient treatment will be implemented depending on your child’s needs.
Severe anxiety symptoms can be managed with medication. Benzodiazepines, or sedatives, can provide a calming effect. Benzos used for anxiety include:
- Alprazolam (Xanax)
- Lorazepam (Ativan)
- Clonazepam (Klonopin)
Antidepressants can also be effective in treating anxiety. These include:
When treating anxiety in young adults, it’s best to use a combination of medication and therapy.
Therapy is extremely helpful in treating anxiety in young adults and teens. Below are some of the more common modes of therapy that can help manage it.
Cognitive behavioral therapy can help your child effectively manage signs of anxiety in teens. CBT examines thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that lead to negative consequences. This approach can help teens and young adults examine their anxiety and anticipate situations in which it’ll occur.
This mode of therapy can also help them see the nature of their fears and see how they can manage them. Some other effective therapy approaches include family therapy and long-term psychotherapy.
While in family therapy, you and your child will speak with a therapist and get to the root of the anxiety. You’ll learn how to deal with this anxiety as a parent.
Wilderness therapy, also known as adventure therapy, is an alternative mode of therapy that helps anxiety. This is because of the exposure to a therapeutic wilderness setting, adventure activities, and therapeutic group living.
Teens and young adults can become fully immersed in the great outdoors and try new things. Participating in activities like rock climbing, kayaking, and rappelling a cliff can boost a teen’s confidence. In turn, this will make them realize that they can overcome symptoms of depression and anxiety.
The most important thing you can do is talk to your child about how they’re feeling. If you feel like you’re not getting through to them and they need more help, consider reaching out to a healthcare professional.
Talking to Your Child About Anxiety
Here are a few ways you can approach your teen and learn more about their feelings of anxiety.
- Listen respectfully and carefully: Listening is the most valuable action you can take as a parent. Help your child to understand that feelings of anxiety about relationships, school, and friends are completely normal. If you can help your child trace their anxiety to specific situations, you can ease the overwhelming nature of their feelings.
- Reassure your child of their ability to overcome these fears: Remind them of other times that they’ve been afraid and still have been able to assimilate into new situations like camp or middle school. Tell them that you’re proud of their ability to overcome these obstacles despite their fears. Your child might not always be comfortable talking about these feelings with you, and that’s OK. Let them come to you once they’re ready.
Contact Phoenix Rising Today
Our dedicated staff at Phoenix Rising Recovery has seen addiction and mental health disorders in all their forms. We can help light the way toward your sobriety with our programs in Palm Springs, CA. Contact us today with any questions you have. We are here for you!