What Causes Anxiety in Teens

Anxiety is a normal reaction to stressful or dangerous situations, but when the reactions are frequent, severe and out of proportion to the situation, it could mean an anxiety disorder. Teenagers are particularly susceptible to anxiety disorders. Learning the causes of anxiety in teens can help parents, teachers and caregivers identify which teens are struggling and allow them to get help.


Anxiety symptoms are both physical and mental and include sweating, flushing, rapid heartbeat, shallow breathing, nausea and headaches. Mentally, anxiety sufferers experience clouded thinking, worry, fear and panic. Essentially, anxiety is the body’s fight-or-flight reaction, honed over millions of years to protect humans from dangerous situations. Essentially the brain is interpreting signals sent to it from other parts of the body and, when danger or threats are perceived, it floods the body with chemicals and hormones that maximize the body’s ability to confront the danger or run away from it. If the threat subsides, the brain ceases to flood the body, and the person can relax.


Causes of Anxiety

Scientists are not completely sure what causes anxiety disorders although they are confident that a variety of factors contribute to the condition. While normal anxiety is the result of environmental triggers, anxiety disorders lead to the same physical and mental results but with different triggers.


Genetic: There are definitely genetic factors involved in anxiety disorders because teens are more likely to develop anxiety if their parents or other family members have it. While genetic predisposition is not yet proven, there are links between anxiety disorders appearing along family lines.


Medical: Studies show that certain medical conditions may contribute to anxiety disorders, such as side effects of certain medications, blood clots, or stress that result from a long-term illness. Certain body chemistry also seems to make some people more prone to anxiety, especially those who have unbalanced levels of chemicals in the brain which affects neurotransmitters.


Environmental: Anxiety can also be a result of certain outside influences, like too much stress at work or school, trauma from abuse, abandonment stress from death or divorce, poor family or personal relationships and post-traumatic stress from violence or disasters.


Diagnosing Anxiety

A physician may diagnose anxiety when he or she notices several symptoms in the patient. Generally, diagnosis is made when the patient suffers from restlessness, tension, insomnia, lack of focus or irritability for more than six months, coupled with feelings of excessive worry several times a week and the patient’s inability to control that worry. A physician would observe the patient for at least 6 months and gauge how the anxiety was affecting the patient’s school, work and relationships.


Once the condition is diagnosed, the patient will enter into a treatment plan that includes a combination of therapy and medication. The therapy would provide the patient with alternate coping skills and a safe, therapeutic place to get a better understanding of the triggers associated with the disorder. The medication attempts to restore some of the chemical balance in the body which might lead to internal miscommunication between outside triggers and the brain.


Many teens who are treated for anxiety disorders experience success and it is entirely possible to manage the problem. Teens who get help for anxiety are generally able to do better at school, work and in establishing relationships with friends and family.


If a teen with an anxiety disorder does not get the appropriate medical help, it’s common for the teen to withdraw from his or her environment to minimize those triggers. He or she may quit doing activities they used to enjoy, such as after school groups or hobbies. They may withdraw from friends or family and start doing poorly in school. In order for teens with anxiety disorders to lead productive, satisfying lives, it’s important for parents to get involved and enroll their teen in some kind of therapy program that will help him or her cope with anxiety.


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