Anxiety disorders in teens is when someone experiences so many physical and mental symptoms of worry, fear and panic that it interferes with normal living. While it’s normal for everyone to have periods of stress and nervousness, an anxiety disorder is more frequent and more severe. In extreme cases, teens who suffer from anxiety disorders start to avoid the people, places and other environments that trigger the symptoms of a panic attack.
Left untreated, anxiety disorders increase the risk of teens getting involved in substance abuse or developing other mental health disorders like depression.
Symptoms of Anxiety
Anxiety symptoms are both physical and mental. When parents, teachers and doctors identify that a teen is experiencing a combination of symptoms for more than six months, a diagnosis of anxiety disorder is made and the teen is sent to a specialist who focuses on teen anxiety disorders.
Symptoms to watch for include restlessness, shallow breathing, lack of focus, headaches, nausea, sweating, irritability, crying, depression, trembling, excessive worry and ritualistic compulsions like cleaning, tapping or grooming.
In an attempt to avoid stress triggers, many teens will remove themselves from situations that make them anxious so it’s not uncommon for teens with anxiety disorders to stop doing activities they once enjoyed, avoid group situations and suddenly do worse in school or at a job. Because they feel embarrassed or ashamed, teens often try to hide their symptoms as long as possible.
When a teen is diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, a physician will generally refer them to a therapist who will outline a treatment plan designed to help the teen cope better with anxiety. Anxiety treatment options are generally divided into two angles: medical and therapeutic.
Because scientists believe that anxiety disorders are linked to a chemical imbalance in the brain, there are certain medicines that are approved for teens to take to help bring balance to the body. Sometimes it takes a few tries to get the type of medicine and the doses working just right for each teen. However, most medical experts agree that serotonin reuptake inhibitors or benzodiazepines are the best for anxiety. Many teens report that they feel better and less worried within a few weeks. As teens progress in their treatment plan, therapists usually adjust medication based on need and progress.
Counseling can help teens develop effective coping skills so that when they face stress, they don’t automatically revert to their anxious state. Therapy often includes practice in redirecting their thoughts from negative to positive and it’s done in a gradual manner. For example, if they experience a negative thought, such as they think a parent will get into a car crash, they can replace it with a thought that car crashes are not very common and their parent is a good driver. Therapy will also help teens deal with the physical symptoms that anxiety brings. For example, if they notice they are starting to breathe rapidly, they can consciously start to take deep, slow breaths to calm their body down.
Outlook for Anxiety
With proper treatment, consisting of a combination of medicine and therapy, most teens are able to resume happy and productive lives where they have control over their anxiety. When left untreated, teens increase their risk of encountering problems like depression, substance abuse and poor school performance. Parents who suspect their teen is suffering from symptoms of anxiety disorder should consult with a family doctor as soon as possible to bring their child the help that he or she needs to transition successfully from adolescence to adulthood.