What is Anxiety in Teens

Teenage anxiety disorders range from mild to severe and in those severe cases, it is more than just a normal reaction to stress. Everyone experiences anxiety—that sensation that puts your body on alert and sends your mind racing. But what is anxiety?


Anxiety was an important part of human evolution to help us react to potentially dangerous situations. Even perceived danger can cause anxiety in the average person. However, when teens experience extreme anxiety disorders and it interferes with daily life—such as school, work, relationships and sleep—it is time to seek help in controlling it.


What Is Anxiety?


Anxiety produces a range of physical sensations, such as rapid breathing, tension in the muscles, sweaty palms and armpits, rapid heartbeat and flushing. Mentally, anxiety means feeling uneasy, nervous, worried, fearful or panicked. Most people are familiar with these feelings in normal situations, such as speaking in front of others, starting a new job or school or making a mistake. Teen anxiety disorder means that these feelings happen inappropriately and often and are considered out of balance with what the situation should be.


What Causes Anxiety?


Scientists aren’t completely sure what causes anxiety disorders but they think it has something to do with a combination of genetics and the balance of chemicals in the brain. Environment may also contribute to whether or not a teenager develops an anxiety disorder. Many teens suffer from anxiety after a traumatic event or a significant fright, which can affect how they view other events that are currently happening or that they anticipate may happen in the future.


What Kinds of Anxiety Disorders Are There?


Whether teen anxiety disorders happen all at once or build up over months or years, when it interferes with normal life, it can create devastating results. There are several different kinds of anxiety disorders that teens can develop:


Social anxiety—This type of anxiety is generally set off by interacting socially, such as participating in a group project or public speaking. Many teens experience tension, panic attacks and an inability to speak as a result.


General anxiety—This disorder creates all the physical and mental symptoms of anxiety and can manifest from a number of causes—worry about the health of family members or self, concern about safety of family or self, stress from school or the unknowns about the future. Teens who suffer from general anxiety often expect the worst or most extreme negative outcomes to actually occur.


OCD—Obsessive compulsive disorders stem from anxiety when the teen can’t stop thinking about a situation and takes extreme, compulsive measure to relieve his or her anxiety and the continual stream of worry. Common compulsive rituals might include frequent hand washing, arranging items in a certain way, tapping or touching in patterns, excessive grooming and compulsive cleaning.


How is Anxiety Treated?


Because many teens with anxiety disorder recognize that they are different than others, they often try to hide their symptoms because they feel ashamed, embarrassed or abnormal. They work hard to control their environment to minimize triggers, and this can mean not interacting with friends, failing on purpose at school, doing poorly at jobs and even quitting activities and hobbies that they used to enjoy.


The good news is that teen anxiety disorder is a very treatable condition and mental health professionals use a combination of therapy and medication to help teens with anxiety disorders on a more even keel. Teens learn new coping skills on how to deal with stressful situations and the medication provides a better balance of chemicals and hormones.


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