Posted by Soribel Martínez LCSW
Many of us associate some level of natural anxiety with the teenage years. After all, this is a time of big changes in their physical bodies and growing responsibilities as they near adulthood. They’re typically bound to experience some level of awkwardness and hesitancy as they start to date, get their first job, and move toward independence.
But sometimes teens experience something much more than typical adolescent jitters. Unfortunately, anxiety can grow into a larger problem that affects teens on a much larger scale.
It’s important for parents to be aware of what this can look like. Left unaddressed, anxiety can have consequences on your teen’s life that limit their future and lead to additional mental health issues.
1. Physical Symptoms
When we first think of anxiety, we often think of someone who is expressing their fear emotionally.
But anxiety affects the entire body, not just the brain and emotions. Essentially, anxiety can trap the body’s neurological response into what is known as the fight-or-flight reaction. When this happens, the body stays on high alert for any dangers, whether real or perceived.
Physical signs of anxiety include restlessness and an inability to be settled. Your teen may fidget a lot and pace. They may complain of mysterious aches and pains. These are often the result of increased muscle tension that comes along with anxiety. They can also become more lethargic because of the emotional and physical stress of anxiety.
2. Social Withdrawal
When teens experience anxiety, they often withdraw socially. This can be for a number of reasons. They may have specific social anxieties or phobias that cause them to be nervous about being with others. Your teen may worry about their appearance, saying something others will perceive as dumb, or rejection from peers.
When this is the case, it seems easier and less painful to withdraw. Unfortunately, withdrawing only leads to more problems in their future.
If you notice big changes in your adolescent’s social life, pay attention.
3. Avoiding Things
Beyond withdrawing socially, teens with anxiety may also start avoiding other situations and events.
Specific phobias may lead them to lose interest in driving lessons, recreational activities, or volunteer work. If worry about having a car accident consumes them, you can see how this can happen. If they fear being made fun of, they may even avoid movie theaters or other public situations where classmates might see them.
With time and left untreated, your teen’s life can become very closed off and limited because of anxiety. These feelings can become entrenched and harder to address. Therefore, it’s important to seek help and treatment sooner rather than later.
4. Sleep Changes
Because of how anxiety works in the mind and body, disturbed sleep is another frequent sign of teen anxiety. With fears replaying through their thoughts and stress hormones bombarding their bodies, it can be very hard to fall and stay asleep.
This, of course, contributes to other symptoms of anxiety. Pay attention to changes in your teen’s sleep patterns.
5. Mood Changes
Unfortunately, anxiety can bring about changes in your teen’s moods. Your normally relaxed, cheerful teen might suddenly become irritable and grouchy. They can change from being a friendly, extroverted person to someone who’s more withdrawn and hesitant to interact.
Sometimes anxiety can lead to depression, or on the other hand, recklessness and impulsivity.
The teen years can be really difficult. As you can see, symptoms of teen anxiety interact and play off of each other. But it is possible to interrupt this cycle and help your teen address anxiety before it takes over their life. Please call my office to learn more.
If you try these methods but find that your child continues to engage in harmful or oppositional behavior, please consider reaching out to my office. As an experienced therapist, we can evaluate your child and help address any concerns. Please help us to learn more.
If you are considering finding a therapist for your child, we have created a mini guide that shares with you 5 tips on how to select the best therapist for you and your family. You can click here to get your FREE copy:
You can also give us a call at 203.800.9778
Soribel Martinez, LCSW, CEO of SMPsychotherapy