Anxiety in teenagers and adolescents

Adult anxieties often originate in childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood. Addressing anxiety early in life is invaluable, as it can save years of distress and disability, and can establish productive patterns early on, before anxiety becomes a way of life.

Anxiety is often exacerbated in adolescents and young people by the challenges of approaching adulthood. The kinds of pressures that can trigger anxiety in young people are:

  • Dating
  • Social pressures, such as pressures to conform
  • Bodily changes and sexual maturation
  • Bullying and ostracism
  • Increased performance pressure at school
  • Exams
  • Increased workload & responsibility
  • Increased focus on career and career choices
  • Fear of separation from parents
  • Uncertainty about future options, directions, abilities and prospects

Adolescents and teenagers experience similar kinds of anxiety disorders as adults. Evidence shows that the general approaches to treating anxiety in adults are also effective with adolescents and teenagers. An important aspect of treatment for adolescents is an environment of acceptance, sensitivity, and respect. When young people are engaged in a sensitive manner, they are often highly responsive to anxiety treatment, and motivated to make changes.

While some adolescents and teenagers are quite open about their fears, many attempt to conceal their anxiety, out of shame, fear of ridicule, or uncertainty about how others will react. Possible signs of anxiety in adolescents and teenagers can include:

  • Frequent stomach upsets
  • School refusal
  • Frequently asking to be taken home from school or other situations
  • Difficulty performing activities or going places unaccompanied
  • Irritability
  • Excessive distress or agitation discussing particular topics
  • Avoidance of important or previously enjoyed activities

These behaviours can be very frustrating and bewildering for parents. The problems associated with anxiety can also be very resistant to parents' efforts to help. Effective anxiety treatments teach young people and their families useful approaches to dealing with anxiety, and techniques for reducing anxiety in the long term.

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