Feature post Wellness

How to Spot Signs of Teen Anxiety

First in a two-part series on how the Covid Pandemic is affecting mental health and what you can do about it

While all teens feel anxious on occasions, the ongoing strains from Covid-19 lockdowns are taking a toll on mental health for adults and teens alike. Teen anxiety is a normal reaction to stress. We can see anxiety appear for teens when taking a test at school, speaking in public, meeting new people, going on dates, competitions, etc. 

Anxiety/stress can be a good thing sometimes. This type we call “positive stress.” It’s the kind of stress/anxiety that can make you try harder to do well. It can be a motivator to be your best. But  other times teen anxiety can be harmful especially if it’s excessive and irrational and prevents you from being able to focus or function in a situation.

Suddenly avoiding social interactions with friends could be a sign of anxiety.

According to the National Institutes of Health, almost 1 in 3 of all adolescents ages 13 to 18 will experience an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders in children and teens shot up 20% between 2007 and 2012. A study by the CDC in June of this year found that the negative effects of social distancing and social isolation had a devastating effect on teens and young adults. In one study, 40.9% of respondents reported having at least one adverse mental health or behavioral health conditions, including symptoms of anxiety disorder or behavioral health conditions. 

 

Some anxiety–like that what your teen experiences from mounting homework and studying for exams is normal and to be expected. Signs of clinical anxiety include: stomach problems, trouble sleeping, excessive fatigue, unexplained aches and pains or frequent headaches.

If you’re worried your child or teen might have anxiety, here are a few signs. 

Signs of excess anxiety in teens

  • Be on the lookout for feelings of anxiousness, worry and fear for no reason. Normally, teens feel anxious for a specific event like meeting new people or public speaking. But if there is no cause for the feelings, your anxiety levels may be too high.
  • Your child worries too much about everyday events and activities. Some worry is normal but if they’re constantly worrying, and it feels like they can’t shut off the anxiety then their levels may be too high.
  • You notice your son or daughter continually checks whether you did something right. It’s OK to check it once, but to continually check it is a sign of way too much anxiety. Or you notice they are so nervous and panicky they’re unable to function in specific situations. 
  • Teens can have panic attacks. Signs of panic attacks include: Racing heart, tightness in chest, tense muscles, problems swallowing, dizzy, nausea. 
  • Some emotional signs to watch for include: Feeling edgy or shaky, irritability, difficulty concentrating and focus, restlessness and unexplained outburst
  • Watch to see if they start avoiding social interactions with friends and isolate themselves. 
  • Also be cognizant of any potential physical changes. They can range from stomach problems, trouble sleeping, excessive fatigue, unexplained aches and pains or frequent headaches.
  • Notice behaviors caused from anxiety – Skin picking, pulling out of hair, biting nails/cuticles and avoidance of people or activities due to fear.
  • How to cope with Anxiety 

    Telling the child everything will be fine doesn’t work. Their emotions have taken over. It’s hard for a child to think clearly or logically during a very anxious time. Ignoring their anxiety and fears could also backfire. It will not help them and might make them feel worse, and they will be less likely to come to you for help. Here are things to try to stem anxiety in your child: 

    Anxiety before specific events, such as public speaking, is normal and expected in teens.

     

  • Have the child pause and take a few deeps breathe or just sit and calm down. Deep breathing will help reverse the nervous system response. Try the 1-2-3 technique. Empathize with the child – it lets the child know you care and understand. Once the child calms down, then you can problem solve.
  • Try Mindfulness activities: Pay it forward exercise – have kids do a random act of kindness each day. They can write a thank you to another camper, staff, friend or family member. Gratitude exercise – have each child talk about one thing for which they are grateful.
  • Explore guided meditations using technology – have each kid go on you tube and pick a guided meditation to listen to. Headphones are needed.  For younger kids, teach deep breathing by using bubbles or pinwheels. There are numerous guided mediation apps available for free.
  • Muscle tension exercise – have them lay down and tighten all their muscles, hold and release. This will release the tension/stress physically.
  • Get coloring books for everyone (there’s a wide selection of adult coloring books) and just have them do it for 15 minutes. It helps relieve stress.
  • Talk through their worries.  Ask them a few of the following questions: What thoughts are you having? Is this thought true? A lot of times worries aren’t based on reality. Remind them feelings are not facts. Challenge the thought – if it’s not true, what is true? If it is true, have them go to the worst-case scenario- what if it does happen? How do I handle it? Who do I talk to? What can I do to feel better? What would I tell a friend in the same situation?
  • Find out what soothes them:  Is it deep breathing, talking it out, going for a walk, etc.
  • Remove their social media time – it causes FOMO –Fear of Missing Out! It’s better for them to be involved in the activities and be in the moment.Above all, let your teen know that to worry is normal. It lets us know something is wrong. It can also protect us. Also, let them know everyone has some anxiety from time to time. Show you care and build trust by not insulting kids in front of other peers, listening without judgment, and being an active and empathetic listener. A little listening can go a long way to helping your teen cope with anxiety. 


— Diane Lang

Diane Lang has a M.A. in Counseling, Counselor, Educator, Author & Speaker. Read her story Teaching your kids it’s OK to make mistakes. Find her at DL Counseling.