Teenagers appear to be having increasing difficulty in managing stress and anxiety. Mental health professionals agree that young people are being treated for anxiety-related disorders more than ever before. According to the National Institute on Mental Health, one in eight kids between the ages of 13 and 18 suffer from anxiety. Lifetime prevalence among this age group was 25 percent, with severe anxiety disorders at six percent. Generally, about ten percent of today’s students are experiencing some sort of anxiety.
Anxiety among adolescents is usually first manifested in school absenteeism. While the first assumption to explain this may be the higher scholastic expectations at school or a student feeling overwhelmed by over scheduling, these are seemingly not the source of the anxiety. However, these factors may play into the overall anxiety levels among teens, especially as school absenteeism puts them further behind in their studies.
Studies have documented an increase in school avoidance in the middle school years. Fears and worries about academic performance or social pressures may be at the root of the reluctance to attend school. It should be determined if the teen is being threatened or bullied at school, which can explain their reticence to going to school. The anxiety cycle can escalate with the addition of physical symptoms, causing even more absenteeism. The longer a teenager is absent from school, the harder it becomes to overcome the fear and anxiety associated with school attendance.
John Olenyik is the County Manager for Northern Wyoming Mental Health and a clinical psychologist, and has been studying the upward trend in adolescent anxiety. Regarding a typically happy child that suddenly has a change in demeanor, Olenyik states, “When looking for early signs, I would be concerned with a child who, moving into adolescence and puberty, has up until that point been a very happy go lucky and very social child. All of a sudden the child is withdrawing, complaining of headaches, complaining of stomach aches, not wanting to go to school. Those are the kinds of markers.”
Anxiety in teens can present in several different manners, with symptoms often emerging around age six. According to NIMH, brain imaging studies of children with anxiety disorders show atypical activity in specific brain areas. When compared with normal controls, these subjects showed specifically heightened activity in the structures associated with fear processing and emotion regulation.
Adolescent anxiety can just be a normal reaction to stressful events such as taking exams, speaking in front of the class, going on a date or competing in sports. Even thinking about an upcoming test can cause such distress that the teen is unable to even go to school. These excessive and irrational responses can sometimes have no specific causal factor, such as feeling worried and anxious for no reason at all.
Anxiety can manifest in physical symptoms as well. Teens may complain of fatigue, sweating, muscle tension, stomach problems, headaches or migraines, nausea, pain in the limbs and back, hyperventilation and trembling.
Other symptoms of adolescent anxiety include:
- Being restless, edgy, agitated, unable to relax
- Excessive sensitivity to criticism and self-conscious in social settings
- Sleep disturbances
- Avoidance of new or difficult situations or facing new challenges
- Trouble concentrating, forgetfulness and preoccupation
- Exhibiting compulsive behavior, doing particular behaviors repetitively
- Obsessive thoughts
Help with teenage anxiety
Treatment for anxiety is often very effective in this age group, especially with early intervention. Therapeutic approaches to treatment can be extremely helpful. One example of this is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy which is an effective psychotherapy technique that helps teens identify stressors and create new, healthier ways to respond to them. Although medications may be needed in conjunction with therapy, it is often not necessary.
When medication is needed though, anti-anxiety drugs such as lorazepam (Ativan), alprazolam (Xanax) and clonazepam (Klonopin), or antidepressants such as sertraline (Zoloft), paroxetine (Paxil) and fluoxetine (Prozac) are commonly prescribed along with psychotherapy in more severe cases of anxiety.
White River Academy, specializes in treating mental health disorders like anxiety, substance abuse and co-occurring conditions places We place an emphasis on character development in adolescent males with behavioral issues, offering life skills classes and community service-oriented programs to instill qualities that lead to a productive and successful life post-recovery. For questions about White River Academy, please call 866-520-0905.