By: Shawn Soh
National Institutes of Health suggests nearly 1 in 3 of teens and youths experience anxiety in one form or the other. Anxiety is, however, a pretty much treatable condition, yet only around 37% of individuals with anxiety receive adequate treatment for it.
There are certain factors associated with this mental health issue, including brain chemistry, genetics, life events, and even personality. Teens who develop anxiety often get triggered from different situations such as bullying, academic pressure, loss of identity, conflicted relationships with parents or siblings, a poor company of friends, and lack of encouragement and acknowledgment.
However, anxiety is treatable in teens with a well-thought-out plan. But first, it is important to understand the signs of anxiety as an initial step to treat the condition. Let’s see some signs of anxiety in teens and youth.
Ten Signs of Anxiety:
1. Lack of Focus
Most teens with anxiety experience difficulty concentrating. The higher the anxiety, the higher is the risk of having a lack of focus. Some studies indicate that academic performance related to memory is affected by anxiety in young adults. It might help explain the drastic increment in the performance teens experience in periods of high anxiety. On the contrary, difficulty in concentration might not be sufficient evidence to diagnose anxiety.
Irritability and anxiety are closely related, as shown by a study. Young adults with anxiety are reported to be at a double risk of being irritable than their mentally healthy counterparts. Irritability and mood swings are common in adolescents due to the chemical changes going on in their bodies at that time. However, when this irritability and disturbance of mood gets elevated enough to disturb their productivity and daily routine in general, it is time to talk to a mental health therapist. There might be signs that the teen has anxiety disorders. These disturbances are typically triggered by social settings, academic pressure, or a conflict with a parent or a friend.
3. Poor Sleep Pattern
Anxiety is also associated with poor sleep patterns and quality. Teens and young adults who have anxiety disorders also show signs of insomnia. Anxiety aggravates with a poor quality of sleep. So, if the symptoms of one condition are improved, the other tends to improve automatically. However, that does not mean that only by treating insomnia is one able to treat anxiety and vice versa. Other factors count as well. It is found that individuals with insomnia have a 10 to 17 times elevated risk of developing anxiety.
4. Social Avoidance
Teens have social anxiety if they show discomfort in social situations. Hence, they try to avoid socializing with other people out of the fear of being judged, embarrassed, or humiliated by other people. Most individuals develop such disorders at the age of 13. However, most get diagnosed only when they reach their twenties. Teens who are extremely quiet, shy, or altogether avoidant in such situations may have this trait.
5. Eating Disorders
A study shows that about two-thirds of individuals have anxiety and eating disorders co-existing in their life. It points to the fact that teens having anxiety are at a highly increased risk of developing issues of eating disorders at some point in their lives. Teens who develop eating disorders have also greatly developed anxiety disorders by 42%.
6. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
ADHD is among the conditions which are often seen in young adults having anxiety. Around 30% of children and young adults have ADHD and anxiety co-existing in them. Teens with ADHD have difficulty in a relaxed state to actually concentrate or simply "live" at the moment. It may lead to a severe lack of productivity, creativity, and problem-solving skills.
7. Substance Abuse
Alcohol and drug use are becoming increasingly common in young adults across the globe. More than 21% of eight grade students have reported using illicit drugs once in their lifetime. Teens do so as a way to cope with uncomfortable signs of anxiety they experience. Although taking recreational drugs and alcohol does numb the feelings of anxiety for a short time, it always backfires in the long term, leading to severe physical and psychological issues.
8. Headaches and GI Problems
If a teen experiences frequent migraines or other types of headaches, or they have frequent stomach upset in the form of diarrhea, vomiting, or nausea without any underlying physical condition, there are high chances their mental health is not okay. If you experience such issues, it is wise to talk to a mental health professional about it.
9. Poor Performance in School
Teens who are affected by anxiety are often scoreless on their tests, and this is quite common. It is because the ever-rising competition from fellows and increased pressure of academics trigger symptoms of anxiety in them. For example, a teenager not comfortable with a subject like History or Math may see themselves as a failure in a class when all of their classmates are performing well. This may induce pressure in them which may result in avoiding those classes. If a teen describes getting overwhelmed with the load, always ending up procrastinating on projects, and missing assignments, it is possible they have anxiety.
10. Excessive Use or Obsession with Social Media
Teens and youths who develop anxiety often show obsessive-compulsive behaviors, such as being obsessed with social media. This obsession arises from their constant attempt to get approval or external validation. It roots from their undeveloped or damaged sense of self-esteem and confidence, which makes them internalize that they are only loved and valued if they appeal to people. Teens with such obsession may spend most of their time checking their followers, friends, and likes on their profiles. Selfie compulsion and a constant need to put statuses may point toward the adrenaline rush they keep looking for to “avoid” symptoms of anxiety or depression.
These are some signs and symptoms of anxiety in teens and youths. With evidence-based behavioral strategies like Cognitive Behaviorial Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical behaviour Therapy (DBT), holistic approaches like rhythmic breathing, and care and support from family and teachers, anxiety in teens can be alleviated.