Anxiety disorder isn't exclusive to adults. The National Institute of Mental Health has said that almost a third of adolescents (13-18 years old) have had a form of anxiety disorder.
It is important to be able to spot the symptoms of anxiety in your teen son or daughter as soon as possible to ensure they get the help they need. Anxiety disorder is a treatable condition, and receiving the right help and support can help minimise symptoms and allow your child to thrive during their teenage years.
In this piece, we will show you what anxiety symptoms to look out for, plus how you can help a teenager to minimise disruption to their life and reduce the likelihood of long-term mental health issues.
Signs of Anxiety in Children
While anxiety can be debilitating for anyone, the added pressures of changing hormones and the adjustments required as they go through education can make mental health issues particularly daunting for a teenager.
For many, our teenage years are when we feel at our most self-conscious. ‘What will my friends think of me?’ and ‘Will I be laughed at?’ may be some of the questions stopping your teenager from taking those all-important first steps towards seeking help and advice.
Knowing the signs and symptoms to look out for as a parent or schoolteacher can help manage anxiety in teens and support them through this difficult period of their lives.
Signs and symptoms of anxiety in a teenager may include the following:
- Academic performance drastically declines for no clear reason
- Their low mood lasts longer than a few weeks
- Lack of interest in activities they used to enjoy
- Feeling tired for much of the day
- Problems concentrating either at school and home
- Unable to relax
- Interacts less with friends and family
It's also important to look out for physical representations of their anxiety. Symptoms include:
- Increased heart rate
- Breathing quickening
- Unable to sleep
- Wetting the bed or bad dreams
How to help a teenager with anxiety
There are a number of ways you can help a teenager who is having an anxious moment and hopefully help avoid a panic attack altogether. Try these strategies:
- Breathe deeply - This helps the body return to a more natural state. Try breathing in through your nose for four seconds, hold your breath for three seconds and then breathe out through your mouth for six seconds, imagining you’re breathing away any tension.
- Challenge their anxious thoughts - ask them whether what they are thinking is a fact or an opinion. If just an opinion, you can reassure them it doesn't matter.
- Count backwards with them - doing something that ‘fills your mind’ can be helpful as it causes them to forget what they were anxious about in the first place.
- The 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 method - This allows them to focus on their senses. Ask them to name, 5 things they can see, 4 things they can feel, 3 things they can hear, 2 things they can smell and 1 thing they can taste.
- Think of a safe or relaxing time, place or person - ask them to focus their mind on a time, place or person were they felt safe, relaxed and calm. This could be a recent holiday, a grandma or a childhood memory.
What to do if you Suspect your Teen has Anxiety
Talk to them about how they feel
If your teenager becomes wary of talking at length when the conversation is focused on school achievements or what events are planned into their daily routine, try to find out more about how they feel. Get clued up on how anxiety works in children first so you know how best to approach the conversation.
Asking them what they have enjoyed or not enjoyed during their day can provide a glimpse into how they feel about their daily struggles, including relationships with peers and how they view themselves as soon-to-be-adults in the wider world.
Give them their own space and avoid punishment
If you find out your teenager has been behaving poorly in school or has been keeping something important from you, it will benefit their wellbeing if you respond calmly.
Becoming angry or issuing a punishment won’t help you find the cause of their mental health issues long-term, as their behaviour may be an outward response to their inner feelings. Respond compassionately to help build an understanding of what might be troubling them, while giving your teen their own space. This will help you remain mindful of changes in personality or sleeping and eating patterns, while avoiding tackling the situation with potentially unjustified judgement.
Encourage them to look after their physical health
There are significant links between physical and mental health, with symptoms likely to worsen if a teenager doesn’t get the right balance of exercise, sleep, or diet and nutrition. That's why it's important to implement positive lifestyle choice to help manage a mental health issue like anxiety.
The release of the ‘happy’ chemicals in the brain called endorphins during exercise can help reduce symptoms of anxiety. At least an hour a day of physical activity is recommended for teenagers, and encouraging them to take up a sport of their choice can also help them build their social network.
If you are worried that your teenager may be suffering from anxiety or any other, then you can advise them to see their GP for initial mental health assessment. Alternatively, you could contact the Priory, where our world class child and adolescent services offer specialist treatment from therapists with specific experience of treating mental health conditions in young adults. Make an enquiry today or call us on 0800 840 3219 and speak to a trained mental health professional about the changes you've noticed in your child.