Teen Anxiety

What is it?

Anxiety is a very common feeling amongst adolescents, who are constantly facing new changes, challenges, and pressures in their daily life as they approach adulthood. A normal part of growing up involves taking on new responsibilities, exposure to different experiences, exploring limitations and testing boundaries, and developing a sense of identity. Social peer groups are in constant flux, where “fitting in”, self- acceptance and self- doubt are often battled with.

What are the signs and symptoms?

Teenagers are good at hiding their emotions and may express themselves through aggressive behaviour or withdrawal and isolation. Although it is normal for teenagers to begin to “push back” against parents and people in authority as a developmental display of growing independence, it can sometimes mask a deeper underlying anxiety.

Common observable symptoms of teen anxiety include:

  • Muscular aches or tension, headaches, stomach aches, nausea, racing heart, nervous sweating, shortness of breath, chest pains, dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Sleep patterns are disrupted: may have trouble falling asleep or have broken sleep; difficulties waking up in the morning
  • Constantly tense, can’t sit still or seem to relax, always on edge
  • Worrying about what could happen or what has already happened
  • Increased sensitivity to criticism, high levels of self-consciousness and extreme discomfort or embarrassment in social situations
  • Has obsessive, unwanted mental thoughts that won’t go away, or make it difficult to concentrate on other things
  • Has a negative outlook on life, catastrophizes the worst outcome to occur in situations
  • Avoidance of new opportunities or challenging situations
  • Procrastinates or finds it difficult to begin or complete activities or loses concentration easily
  • Loses interest or motivation for engaging in hobbies or daily tasks
  • Begins to isolate themselves socially, or displays increased introverted behavior

Alternatively, some teenagers experiencing anxiety may focus excessively on achieving well, spending most of their time studying, at the detriment of self-care or relaxation.

How do we treat Anxious Teens?

There are various methods for treating adolescent anxiety, and their effectiveness varies across each individual case. However, for both teen and adult anxiety, the most common types of treatment involve Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), and several medication options, if indicated.

CBT is based on targeting the somatic, cognitive, and behavioural aspects of the individual’s anxiety. The therapy begins by educating the individual on identifying their somatic (physical) responses to anxiety (such as sweaty palms, flushed cheeks, racing heart) and educating them on practicing relaxation techniques when these identified responses occur. The second stage involves cognitive reconstruction, where the individual identifies their negative and irrational thought processes and learns to challenge and replace these with positive, realistic ones. The psychologist teaches them techniques on managing their anxieties and assists them in gradual exposure to their fears. In the final stages of treatment, relapse prevention techniques are implemented and follow up progression check-ups are planned.


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