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Types of anxiety in teens: What to look for, how to help

When we think of anxiety, we usually think of panic attacks, breathing into a paper bag, and intense fear. But there are many types of anxiety in teens and in the general population. If you’re like me, you may be surprised by how many forms anxiety can take.

When my teen son was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, I was a bit perplexed. This wasn’t a kid who feared things intensely, had social anxiety (in fact, he’s very social), or experienced panic attacks. Instead, he experiences what he describes as a sudden, physical feeling of intense agitation that can border on aggression. It starts by looking like mild irritation, but while it may end there for most people, his irritation may blossom into full-on overwhelming agitation within minutes. He has broken small objects, hit doors and walls, and looked furious. Honestly, it can be upsetting to witness.

My initial reaction was to figure out the source of the problem. What could be making him so mad? Why was his reaction so overly dramatic, given the mild initial trigger? His agitation could be fueled by something as simple as his computer not starting or someone asking him to do the dishes. And in the moment, he recognizes that his reaction is over the top, but feels powerless against it. He feels it physically and emotionally.

It turns out, THIS is anxiety in action. But there are many types of anxiety in teens, and it’s important to know what they are, so we can help our kids.

Types of anxiety in teens: What to look for

With Generalized Anxiety Disorder, your teen may experience:

  • an inability to control feelings of worry and stress
  • restlessness or edginess
  • fatigue
  • difficulty concentrating
  • irritability (or extreme agitation)
  • muscle tension
  • sleep problems

With Social Anxiety, your teen may experience:

  • nausea
  • sweating
  • nervous shaking
  • blushing
  • a fear of having to talk or perform in front of a group

With Panic Disorder, you may see:

  • feelings of fear or dread
  • shortness of breath
  • racing heart
  • cold sweats
  • dizziness and wooziness

Or, you might see a variety of combinations of these anxiety signs. Remember, phobias and OCD also fall into the anxiety family. So, what can you DO?

First, look for these outward signs of types of anxiety in teens:

  • A lack of performance in school
  • A loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy
  • Avoidance of friends and social situations
  • Trouble sleeping at night, including exhaustion for no apparent reason
  • Loss of appetite and eating disturbances or disorders
  • Substance use, such as using drugs and drinking as forms of self-medication
  • Avoiding people, places, and things that trigger the anxious feelings

How to treat anxiety in teens:

You can start by helping teens unplug from devices and spend more time outdoors, exercising, and decompressing away from screens. A consistent bedtime routine also helps. Mindfulness, yoga, and good nutrition are also key. On top of these general ‘treatments’, which, as we know, we should ALL be doing more of, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can help immensely.

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Types of anxiety in teens, and what to look for so you can help!

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