Anxiety is an adaptive emotion that readies teens both physically and psychologically for coping with people, objects, or events, that could be dangerous to their safety or well-being. A moderate amount of anxiety is completely normal to have from time to time and is useful as it helps moderate how we think and act. But when it starts to consume a lot of time and have a negative impact on a teen’s life, there may be a bigger problem. If your teen’s anxiety manifests as social anxiety, performance anxiety or perfectionism you may notice them getting triggered by back to school conversations and even ads. Change can be difficult for anxious teens, and shifting out of summer mode is a big one.
The good news is that anxiety is very treatable. It starts with knowledge. Understanding where stress and anxiety come from, learning what your teen’s personal triggers are and what works best as coping strategies, as well as overcoming stigma are all steps you can take to help support your teen’s recovery.
What does it mean to have a teen who ‘has anxiety’?
Every teen will experience anxiety at times—it’s part of the human experience and a natural response to fear or stress. The teen years can be particularly stressful as kids begin to broaden their world beyond their family circle and forge their own identity and plan for the adult years. Some kids will react to that stress more acutely than others. In some cases, the anxiety may begin to negatively impact your teen’s day to day life. If you’re noticing signs of this, it’s time to investigate.
The difference between normal teen worry vs. clinical anxiety.
Teens can be short-tempered, defensive and get upset very easily. This is especially the case when they start to separate themselves from their family a little more and search for independence and a sense of identity. Therefore, it’s very common for teens to get upset when they are not given their privacy or space.
Teens are much more self-conscious than younger children, and are more easily embarrassed. However, all these teenage tendencies are normal. They will vary depending on the teenager, but it is nothing for parents to be too concerned about as they will likely grow out of it.
Even though a teen my cringe at spending quality time with the family, a typical teen is able to enjoy spending time with their friends and participating in extracurricular activities and sociable events.
What are the warning signs?
Here are some warning signs that tend to be present in teens with anxiety:
- Pessimism & recurrent negative thoughts (such as always imagining the worst, to the point that they will use maladaptive coping strategies such as avoidance)
- Constant worries (about what has happened in the past or what will happen in the future)
- Over-exaggerating the negatives
- Inflexibility, or becoming overwhelmed when plans change unexpectedly
- Self-critical thoughts
- Feeling guilt and shame
- Physical complaints(such as, stomach ache, headache, tired, nauseous etc.)
- Sleep difficulties (trouble falling asleep or interrupted sleep)
- Memory & concentration deficits
- Changes in eating habits
- Substance abuse
Remember, it’s normal to have occasional bouts of worry or anxiety. Talk to them about how they’re feeling about going back to school and listen in a meaningful way. But if you notice the symptoms above and are worried about your teen, it’s time to make an appointment with your family doctor or a child psychologist as soon as possible.
Get a 30-minute counseling session and online course on Managing Teen Anxiety right here.