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Clinically reviewed by Sarah Fletcher, LPC, LAC
“Anxiety is just what we’re calling ‘fear’ in the modern era.”
-Psychotherapist Marc Azoulay
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “7.1% of children aged 3-17 years (approximately 4.4 million) have diagnosed anxiety.”
Additionally, the CDC states, “the percentage of adults who experienced mild, moderate, or severe symptoms of anxiety was highest among those aged 18–29” at 19.5%.
Among these young adults experiencing symptoms of anxiety:
For young adults living alone, the prevalence of anxiety can be much higher. According to the US Census Bureau, 50.5% of young people living alone aged 18-29 experienced symptoms of anxiety.
Symptoms of anxiety decrease in severity as you get older. For young adults and teens, anxiety disorders are more much more common than in older adults.
The five major anxiety disorders are:
In addition, specific phobias or intense fears of enclosed spaces, blood, animals, and heights are related disorders that can cause anxiety for young people. Specific phobias are recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).
Teenagers and young adults with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) might have overlapping anxieties due to their heightened sensitivities and troubles with social situations. If your child has ASD, they might struggle with symptoms of anxiety as well.
Signs of anxiety around social situations and fitting in are common among teenagers and young adults.
Social anxiety might be common among young people. Young adults and teens are worried about finding their place in the world. They worry about their identity, being a good person, compare themselves to others in life and on social media, etc.
The signs and symptoms of most anxiety disorders are similar. What makes each anxiety disorder different is the cause of anxiety. For teenagers and young adults, much of their anxiety is about concerns over their social status and place in the world.
Symptoms of anxiety can present as physical symptoms like sweaty palms or nervousness. Anxiety symptoms can also be cognitive, like worrying thoughts and fears that do not seem to go away.
From the National Institute of Mental Health, signs of an anxiety disorder in young people include:
Substance abuse might also be a sign of an anxiety disorder in your child.
Teenagers and young adults are learning to regulate their emotions. At that age, they feel things more intensely. To numb these intense feelings of anxiety, young people might self-medicate with alcohol and other substances.
According to Psychiatry Times, “Decades of research in psychiatry have shown that anxiety disorders and substance use disorders co-occur at greater rates than would be expected by chance alone.”
Substance use disorders are often linked to underlying psychiatric disorders, like anxiety and depression. When untreated, both the substance use disorders and the underlying mental illness can get worse.
Treating mental health at the root of substance use disorders can help prevent teens or young adults from developing health problems from substance abuse.
Anxiety disorders can be like an overactive alarm system. To parents and loved ones, young adults and teens with anxiety might appear “dramatic” or “over the top.” But, when you have anxiety, the feelings are very real.
For example, a teen with social anxiety might appear to others like they are just shy or that they are trying to avoid responsibilities, like school or work. However, they feel that they might be harmed by social situations.
Anxiety disorders make you feel like you are in life or death situations, even if you realize that these feelings are irrational.
Anxiety disorders in young adults and teenagers are rooted in feelings of safety and security in the world. Teenagers and young adults want to feel that they have a place and belong in the world.
The best thing to do to help teenagers or young adults with anxiety is to listen and enter their world.
Teenagers and young adults want to feel that they belong in the world and are good enough. When you as a parent enter your child’s world without judgment, you help your child feel that they belong.
One thing that you can do is show an interest in what matters to them. For example, you might be quick to judge a teenager’s taste in music. But you can learn a lot about your child by holding back judgment and learning why they like what they like.
Getting into your child’s world can help you understand their emotions. You might try playing video games with them, listening to their music, asking them about why they like social media or join them in other interests.
Even if you don’t understand their music, interest in social media, or other things, these are important to your child. Ask your child to explain these interests to you. Let them be the expert to teach you. By stepping into their world, you can get a sense of their experiences.
Anxiety disorders can range in severity from mild to severe. If your child struggles with important areas of life, like socializing and schoolwork, seeing a mental health professional might be necessary.
A trusted health care provider like a family doctor can recommend a therapist or psychiatrist for you. Family doctors can also rule out any physical health conditions that could contribute to an anxiety disorder.
Most mental health professionals recommend a form of psychotherapy called “cognitive behavioral therapy” (CBT) to treat anxiety.
CBT helps your child challenge the fears and negative thoughts at the roots of their anxiety. For example, a child might fear that they are not good enough to fit in with others. CBT will help your child challenge this belief and replace negative thoughts with helpful beliefs.
Knowing how to help your child might vary depending on gender.
The roots of anxiety might be different for girls versus boys. Girl’s anxiety, especially for teens and young adults, is often related to body image. However, boys are worried about their status on the male hierarchy.
Kids identifying as LGBTQA+ struggle with anxiety and other mental health disorders at higher rates than their heterosexual peers.
Of course, these issues are not always the case, but rather are commonly voiced by teens and young adults in psychotherapy for an anxiety disorder. Helping your son or daughter with their anxiety depends on the root causes of their anxiety.
You can help your teenager or young adult girl by understanding her beliefs driving self-esteem issues related to body image and anxiety.
Helping your daughter through these issues by getting into her world can help. Young people experience a lot of pressure from social media. Comparing themselves to others can have a damaging impact on young girl’s mental health and well-being.
Anxiety disorders related to body image can cause an eating disorder in teenaged and young adult girls.
Filters on social media apps like Instagram and Tik Tok can contribute to feeling insecure. A young girl might feel beautiful, yet social media shows what she could look like. These filters can create a comparison between reality and an unobtainable self-image.
Body image issues are often rooted in the idea of being attractive to find a romantic relationship or fit in with peers. Helping your daughter with anxiety over body image can be a matter of getting into her world to understand her thoughts and feelings.
For teenage and young adult boys with anxiety, you can help by helping them discover their own strengths and value.
Young boys deal with where they fit in on the “male hierarchy.” They want to be on top, as this hierarchy is linear. Boys want to be the strongest, fastest, or smartest. Where they compare with others on the hierarchy can drive anxiety.
Similarly, stepping into your son’s world is important to help them through their anxiety. Boys can worry over whether they are in a lower place in this hierarchy. Helping boys feel secure and valued will help them overcome this anxiety.
You can help them by getting them involved in an interest where they can feel valued and learn new skills. Teenaged and young adult boys also thrive under mentors, like coaches, camp counselors, tutors, who can take them under their wing.
Puberty or teenage hormones might intensify emotions but do not necessarily cause anxiety and depression.
Parents of teenagers might write off warning signs of anxiety or depression as part of puberty or hormones. While teenagers might display intense emotions as they learn to deal with physical changes, mental health issues should not be ignored.
Teenagers go through a lot of changes in a short amount of time. Their bodies change; they are trying to fit in and deal with a lot of pressure to have plans after high school.
Some of these changes in hormones during puberty might intensify their emotions, but anxiety and depression are not normal or healthy during puberty.
Talk to mental health or other health care professionals if your child is exhibiting some of the following behaviors:
The above behaviors could mean that underlying mental health or psychiatric disorders are causing intense changes in mood and behaviors. If you are concerned about your child’s mental health, speaking with a professional can help you and your child address these issues.
Teenage anxiety will not just “go away” on its own and can lead to anxiety as an adult.
Parents might believe that teenage anxiety is “just a phase” or a part of growing up. Again, getting into your teenager’s world is the best way to understand what is really going on.
Everyone will experience anxiety, especially when doing something new or going to someplace unfamiliar. Some of this anxiety during the teenage years might go away as kids gain more confidence and self-esteem.
Remember that the anxiety that your child feels is very real to them, and learning to manage anxiety can help them as they enter adulthood.
For a 14-year-old with anxiety, you should exhaust all non-medication treatment options first.
You might want a “magic pill” or quick fix for your child’s anxiety disorder. While some anxiety disorders are due to biochemistry, you want to try other avenues of help before medications. Medications might be just a small part of a treatment plan for anxiety.
Even if your child needs medications, they can still learn skills to lessen the severity of their anxiety disorder. Psychotherapy and CBT are beneficial to addressing anxiety, along with other therapeutic activities.
Mindfulness practices can help your teenager manage their anxiety by teaching them:
When a teen’s anxiety disorder is so severe that they cannot engage in therapy, then antidepressants might be helpful.
As always, speak with your child’s health care providers about your concerns to find the best treatment options.
The difference between anxiety and depression is that anxiety is rooted in fear, while depression is about shutting down all emotions.
Like anxiety, depression is also common among teenagers and young adults; according to the CDC:
Symptoms of depression can be similar to that of anxiety, and some young people might have both disorders.
Symptoms of depression include:
CBT and other forms of psychotherapy are also helpful. These symptoms can also be a sign of another mood disorder, like bipolar disorder.
When left untreated, kids can develop major depressive disorder, which can impact them throughout their lives.
Depression is not just part of “growing up” or due to hormones. Much like anxiety, getting to the root of the issue is best. Connect with your child by entering their world to see what is going on.
Teenage angst is a normal combination of many feelings that teens feel as they come to grips with finding their identity.
However, it is important to know the difference between normal angst and a mental health disorder.
Normal teenage angst might be behaviors that look like testing your limits, like:
You might think of these behaviors as “teenage rebellion.” Teenagers begin to challenge you as a parent as they create an identity for themselves. Often angst is rooted in insecurity as a teen goes through many physical and mental changes.
However, some behaviors can mean that a mental health issue, like anxiety or depression, is occurring:
You might have trouble connecting with your child when they have angst. You can look for some angle or common interest to connect with them. In addition, checking in with teachers, coaches, and friend’s parents can help you understand your teenager’s mental health.
No, suicidal feelings by a teenager are not normal and might be a sign of an underlying mental health issue.
Suicidal ideations can be a symptom of a serious mental health or mood disorder, like:
You should get your child to see a health care professional right away if your child has suicidal ideations and thoughts.
School anxiety can be a sign of social anxiety and other problems.
School anxiety is not identified as a psychiatric disorder. However, going to school can create conditions that cause anxiety or other issues.
For example, if your child is bullied during school or on social media by classmates, they might feel anxious about going to school. Teens with social anxiety can struggle with school due to their underlying mental health issues.
School is also linked to changes that can be stressors for kids, like:
For young children, school time might have been the first time they left home for most of the day. Young kids might have normal, short-term anxiety as they adjust to the significant change.
You want to look out for any changes or prolonged school anxiety. For example, your child might normally love school, then suddenly refuses to go. They could be dealing with a new stressor, like problems with friends, rejection for dates, low grades, or other issues.
Remember: all behavior is communication!
Children and teenagers might not have the ability to talk about what is really going on. When you notice a change in behavior, get into their world and draw out what is really happening. Kids need help identifying emotions and learning to talk about their problems.
School might be linked to depression due to the other changes that accompany going to school or college.
School can accompany many significant life changes for kids. School is often the first place they make friends outside of the family. It is often the first place where they do not have access to parents when they struggle.
While you might see a link between depression and school, the school does not necessarily cause depression. Your child might be dealing with other issues that coincide with entering school.
For young adults first going to college, they might experience depression in the short term as they adjust. Many changes occur during this time. They might move away from home or miss their high school friends.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), “30 percent of college students reported feeling ‘so depressed that it was difficult to function.'”
Young adults need support and help during this time to reduce the risk factors of depression. Many college campuses offer mental health support and psychotherapy to help young adults cope with the stressors of college.
Anxiety and depression are treatable conditions that your child can overcome. With your support and love, you can help them as they enter therapy or get into treatment.
Teenage angst is normal; however, some young people struggle with mental health issues like depression and anxiety. Sandstone Care is here for teens and young adults if your child struggles with substance abuse, suicidal ideation, and other symptoms. Call us today at (855) 958-5511.