Nearly one in three teenagers struggle with an anxiety disorder. Some of the many common anxiety disorders faced by teens can include generalized anxiety, social anxiety and panic disorder. For almost 10% of teens, anxiety leads to severe impairment—that is, you’re unable to enjoy your usual life or complete day-to-day tasks due to how severe your anxiety feels.

Find help for you or your teen at ChristianaCare.

In Delaware: visit Behavioral Health Outpatient Services
or call 302-320-2100.

In Maryland: visit Behavioral Health
Outpatient Services
or call 410-620-0008.

In Pennsylvania: visit Behavioral Health at Concord Health Center or call 302-320-2100.

Anxiety in teens can be caused by a wide range of factors.

  • Genetics.
  • Local environment.
  • Specific stressors at home or school.
  • Trauma.
  • Comorbid health conditions.

If you’re a teen currently facing anxiety challenges or a parent hoping to connect your adolescent with resources and treatment, we’ve identified some key strategies you can use to mitigate symptoms and seek help if they become too overwhelming.

Common Signs of Anxiety in Teens

Anxiety can show up differently from person to person due to the specific anxiety disorder causing the issue and/or the circumstances in which the anxiety is appearing. Here are a few tell-tale signs that you or your teen may be struggling with anxiety.

  • Stopping or avoiding once fun activities. Let’s say you once loved meeting your friends at the mall, but now the idea fills you with dread. Or perhaps the idea of attending a certain class at school makes you feel more uncomfortable than usual. Anxiety can cause you to stop doing things you previously enjoyed or avoid the source of anxiety.
  • Irritability or difficulty navigating emotions. While any teen and parent will tell you that an increase in irritability may just be a normal part of adolescence, if you experience a sudden increase in conflict or difficulty modulating emotions (like outbursts or crying), this could indicate that something deeper is going on.
  • An uptick in worry or preoccupation. If your thoughts are abnormally fixated or spiraling about a specific issue, and it is interfering with your ability to sleep, hold conversations or complete schoolwork, this could be a sign that you are dealing with anxiety.
  • Physical symptoms like headaches, heart palpitations or gastrointestinal distress. A common misconception about anxiety is that it’s mainly felt and experienced in the mind—but that’s not entirely true. The brain has a direct effect on the gastrointestinal system which can lead to anxiety-causing symptoms like nausea, diarrhea and even vomiting for some anxious teens. Headaches are also a common side effect of anxiety, and a racing heart can often accompany panic attacks or other heightened moments of anxiety.

If any or all these symptoms sound like something you might be dealing with, know that you’re not alone—and that it can get easier, especially with a few key tips.

Tips for Managing Anxiety

Cultivating calm and returning to normalcy are the main goals in addressing anxiety. Here are a few strategies for managing anxiety, whether you’re a teenager or the parent of a teen.

  • Cultivate a routine. If anxiety is being caused by a sudden or surprising life change, establishing predictability in a routine can help restore a sense of stability. Try to figure out the parts of the day that make you feel the calmest—maybe reading before bed or working out after school—and build activities into your daily routine that help to capture that calm feeling.
  • Learn to identify thoughts and feelings. Often with anxiety, we get so caught up in the rush of fear and agitation that we’re not aware of our other thoughts and feelings. When anxiety is not expressed in words, it finds its way out of the body through actions, whether that’s irritability or some of the other symptoms listed above. Keeping a mood diary or thought journal can help you notice feelings more deliberately.
  • Incorporate mindfulness and grounding exercises. Calming your body when your mind is racing can be challenging, but it’s important to practice. There are a variety of ways to do this, including trying out mindfulness practices or grounding exercises that bring the mind into an attentive state of the present moment. Focusing on your senses when you feel panic rise can help you to stay present and live in the moment—a key antidote to anxiety.
  • Seek help from a professional. If your anxiety feels overwhelming, especially if it is making it hard to participate in your usual life, there are numerous resources available for you and your family. This might include a school counselor or wellness practitioner, a psychologist or therapist or a physician—or a combination of these.

How to Get Help for Teen Anxiety

Teens with anxiety have options available to them for resources and treatment. ChristianaCare has pediatric psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, social workers, therapists and counselors available to meet with adolescents. We also have individual therapists embedded within ChristianaCare Pediatric Associates and our 24/7 Pediatric Care Center ready and available to meet with adolescents when requested on-site.

If you already have a primary care doctor, they can refer you or your teen to a mental health practitioner. Some schools have wellness centers with counselors or social workers who can help to treat or refer adolescent anxiety patients.

Parents–remember that anxiety has genetic and environmental components, which means that behind some anxious teenagers is an anxious parent. You need to meet your own needs as well–practice self-care and take rests and breaks whenever needed for your mental health.

Dr. Markian Pazuniak is a child and adolescent psychiatrist with experience treating conditions like anxiety, major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder. He is currently accepting new patients. Visit Behavioral Health Outpatient Services or call 302-320-2100 to schedule an appointment today.