Adolescence is a period of rapid growth for most people. Aside from the various bodily changes, teens also have to deal with changing personalities while navigating the often-confusing social interactions during this time. This change can cause some confusion and stress, and while these feelings are normal, sometimes they can become overwhelming. The result is anxiety, defined as intense, persistent feelings of fear and dread that can interfere with daily life.
Teens are particularly susceptible to anxiety due to the additional mental stress imposed by puberty. Around a quarter of adolescents aged 13 to 18 have some degree of anxiety disorder, and around 6% have a severe form of this disorder, enough to gravely impact the quality of life.
However, anxiety disorders are easily treated relative to other mental health disorders, so the main problem is detection. Being able to determine the presence of anxiety disorders is crucial to receiving early treatment, so it is essential to understand how anxiety manifests in teens.
￼Emotional and Social Disturbances
It is normal for teens to feel a bit uncomfortable about all the changes happening around them. Depending on the person, these feelings can manifest in some irritability and lack of focus. However, for teens with anxiety, such symptoms are magnified. “A stressful change in life patterns can trigger a depressive episode. Such stressful events may include a serious loss, a difficult relationship, trauma, or financial problems.” As explained by Ben Martin, Psy.D.
Teens under stress may seem like on edge constantly, and the smallest triggers can cause emotional outbursts. They may also show definite signs of restlessness, such as frequent pacing, nervous tics, and inability to concentrate.
“Anxiety is an adaptation of that vital and fundamental fear response. Sometimes anxiety will tell you that the worst is true.” Kristine Tye, MA, LMFT said. Anxiety can also cause adverse changes in the way teens interact with peers. Compensating for anxiety is very draining for the mind, so the person has less energy to expend on forming bonds and maintaining friendships.
Affected teens may suddenly avoid hanging out with most friends, stop communicating with people, and withdraw from most social interactions. This can extend even to loved ones, and as the teens stop utilizing their social support system, it becomes even harder to deal with all the stress.
“Just like our feelings give us information about our needs, so do our bodies through physiological feedback,” says Eliza Chamblin, LCSW. Anxiety, as well as stress in general, manifests through the fight-or-flight response. This is an ancient response system meant to prepare our ancestors for facing or escaping from threats. However, this system is also activated by perceived threats, such as the various stressors that can also aggravate anxiety. This stress response increases heart rate and breathing pace, and these two are the most common physical signs of acute stress.
However, chronic stress, such as the one caused by anxiety disorders, can have other adverse effects on the body. Headaches and other body pains are common, as well as gastrointestinal disturbances.
Teens with anxiety disorders often complain that they lack the energy to fulfill basic activities, even after periods of rest. Eating habits may also change, and teens may resort to satisfying but unhealthy diets to release some of the stress. Indeed, stress is known to promote unhealthy weights.
Most prominently, getting a good night’s sleep can become complicated with anxiety. Teens may find it challenging to fall asleep, or they might wake up frequently during the night, preventing them from getting enough refreshing deep sleep. Stress can manifest as nightmares, which can steer people from rest. Of course, all of this will make affected teens more tired, decreasing their ability to endure stress and potentially worsening their anxiety.
What To Do
If you suspect that you or someone you know might be showing symptoms of anxiety, observe them for a while. You may also ask their closest friends or loved ones to confirm the presence of the signs mentioned above.
If your hunch holds to scrutiny, make sure that the affected person is getting the proper support from family and other social networks. Most importantly, consider approaching mental health professionals who are trained to diagnose and treat anxiety and other mental health disorders.
By following all of these, you can prevent unnecessary stress and ensure that anxiety, an easily treatable disorder, doesn’t touch you or any of your loved ones.