With about 8% of children and teenagers experiencing a form of anxiety disorder before the age of 21 (1), Brisbane counselling professional Corey Human offers some tips for parents.
It is not always easy to define when typical teenage stress changes into something more, as some level of performance anxiety before tests for example is quite common. Teenagers that struggle with anxiety disorder experience high levels of anxiety, with feelings that do not improve on their own, and in fact get worse over time if not treated (4).
What is an Anxiety Disorder?
An anxiety disorder is not the same as feeling nervous or anxious, because they involve excessive fear or anxiety and cause reactions that are out of proportion to the circumstances.
Anxiety disorder can interfere with schoolwork and relationships; some common anxiety disorders are panic disorder, specific phobias, separation anxiety, social anxiety and selective mutism (1).
Anxiety can have both physical and emotional symptoms, such as restlessness, irritability, struggling to concentrate, chronic fatigue, nausea, dizziness and worsening worry or fear over extended periods of time (1).
For concerned parents, here are some hidden signs a teenager might be suffering from anxiety disorder:
Emotional Changes: Some teenagers might feel extreme worry, and others might have emotional changes such as:
- Feeling on edge;
- Feeling irritable;
- Struggling to concentrate;
- Being restless;
- Having unexplained outbursts.
Social Changes: Anxiety can negatively affect friendships and relationships. If a social teen suddenly withdraws from his favourite activities or stops making plans with friends, the teen might suffer from a form of anxiety. Social changes you may notice include:
- Avoiding social interactions with friends;
- Avoiding extra-curricular activities;
- Isolating from peers;
- Increased alone time, spending most of their time in their room.
Physical Changes: Physical complaints that occur with anxiety disorder mimic most teen complaints. These complaints increase as the teenager gets older. Some physical changes parents and carers need to be aware of are:
- Frequent headaches, this includes migraines;
- Gastrointestinal problems;
- Unexplained aches and pains;
- Excessive fatigue;
- Complaints of not feeling well with no obvious medical cause;
- Changes in appetite and eating habits.
Sleep Disturbance: It is recommended that teenagers get 8 to 10 hours sleep on a regular basis. It is further recommended that there is no screen time 30 minutes before bedtime and all electronics be removed from the bedroom. Some warning signs that anxiety is affecting your teen include:
- Struggling to fall asleep;
- Struggling to stay asleep;
- Frequent nightmares;
- Not feeling refreshed after sleep.
Poor School Performance: Because anxiety affects every area of a person’s life, it is expected that poor school performance can be the result of untreated anxiety.
Some possible changes to be aware of:
- Significant jump in grades, normally downward;
- Regularly missing or forgetting about assignments;
- A feeling of being overwhelmed by workload;
- Procrastination when it comes to homework assignments more than usual (3).
Treatment of Anxiety in Teenagers
There are various ways that anxiety in teenagers can be treated, ranging from lifestyle modifications to various counselling techniques.
For teenagers that suffer from mild-to-moderate anxiety treatment, these might include:
- A change in lifestyle – exercise, eating healthy foods and getting enough sleep.
- Dealing with the individual issues that cause anxiety – eg relationship issues, homework, sexuality or anything else.
- Reducing stress – by making use of techniques like mindfulness, meditation and relaxation.
For more severe anxiety, treatments like counselling, using methods such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and Narrative Therapy can be very effective. Medication may also be prescribed by a doctor (2).
Tips for Parents of Teenagers suffering from Anxiety
- Acknowledge your child’s fear. Do not ignore or dismiss it.
- In a very gentle way encourage your child to do the things he is anxious about. Encourage your teen, but do not force him to do what he is not comfortable to do.
- Do not make a fuss if your child does not do something or go somewhere due to his anxiety.
- Show your teenager love and affection.
- Do not label your teenager as anxious.
- Be a good role model for your child in how you manage your own stress and anxiety (5).
Corey Human has nearly 20 years’ experience working with teenagers and young people at risk, or struggling with self esteem, depression, video game addiction and other problems. He provides counselling to adolescents, adults, couples, parents and families in both English and Afrikaans.
To make an appointment try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call M1 Psychology Brisbane on (07) 3067 9129.
- org. (n.d.). 11 Facts About Anxiety. [online] Available at: https://www.dosomething.org/us/facts/11-facts-about-anxiety [Accessed 2 Dec. 2019].
- gov.au. (n.d.). Anxiety in teenagers. [online] Available at: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/anxiety-in-teenagers [Accessed 4 Dec. 2019].
- Hurley, K. (n.d.). Anxiety in Teens: The Hidden Signs of Teen Anixety You Need to Know. [online] Psycom.net – Mental Health Treatment Resource Since 1986. Available at: https://www.psycom.net/hidden-signs-teen-anxiety/ [Accessed 2 Dec. 2019].
- Newport Academy. (2018). How to Recognize Anxiety in Teenagers. [online] Available at: https://www.newportacademy.com/resources/mental-health/how-to-recognize-teen-anxiety-disorders/ [Accessed 2 Dec. 2019].
- Raising Children Network. (n.d.). Anxiety in teenagers. [online] Available at: https://raisingchildren.net.au/pre-teens/mental-health-physical-health/stress-anxiety-depression/anxiety [Accessed 4 Dec. 2019].