Living with Anxiety

Anxiety is a common feeling that we all experience at one time or another. Anxiety actually serves as a protective mechanism that can either prevent us from entering into a dangerous situation or help us escape from one – “fight or flight.” Anxiety can come out of nowhere and take over. When you’re feeling worried or stressed, it’s hard to concentrate or accomplish things like schoolwork, making friends, or participating in events.

Whether you’re moments away from participating in a sports game, about to take a final exam, or going on a first date, feelings of anxiety are to be expected. However, when you experience anxiety frequently, it becomes a problem. If anxiety is holding you back in daily activities and preventing you from living your life, you could have an anxiety disorder.

What is an anxiety disorder and how common are they in teens?

According to the American Psychiatric Association, anxiety disorders “differ from normal feelings of nervousness or anxiousness, and involve excessive fear or anxiety.” This anxiety directly impacts your ability to function normally. Anxiety disorders affect 25 percent of all teens and 30 percent of all teenage girls.

In teenagers, the most common types of anxiety disorders include social phobia, panic attacks, generalized anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and phobias.

Causes of Teen Anxiety

What are the causes of persistent anxiety in teens? Though there is no single cause for teenage anxiety disorders, there are many internal and external factors that can affect a teenager’s anxiety levels. From social situations to hormonal shifts, bodily changes, isolation, parental disapproval, and more—many factors play into teenage anxiety. Be sure to talk with your doctor and parents about the anxiety you feel on a daily basis and what treatment options and plans are available to you.

Coping with Anxiety

Acknowledge Your Feelings

All these scary thoughts are running through your head. Your body feels weird, you can’t concentrate. These are all real feelings. Stop and take a minute to acknowledge them. Is your heart beating fast? Are negative thoughts running through your head? Are your hands sweaty? Do you feel dizzy? Can you concentrate? Are you feeling irritable or scared? Ask yourself these questions and if some answers are yes, you’re probably feeling anxious.

Set Some Goals and Expectations

Once you acknowledge that you are feeling anxious, you can make some goals and expectations for yourself.  Let’s say you are nervous about hanging out with a new friend after school. You are thinking negative thoughts about yourself, you are scared they might not like you. You are starting to feel hot, and your heart is racing.  Ask yourself, what can I do to control my situation and help me calm down?  You can make positive self-statements like “I am fun to be around,” research where you are going with this friend so you can feel prepared, and think of five things you can talk about with your new friend. Just make sure that you are not expecting too much of yourself.  Keep your goals realistic.

Face Your Fears

Avoiding your fears actually gives them more power over you.  You have plans to hang out with a new friend after school, but you are feeling anxious. If you decide to cancel the plans last minute to avoid feeling scared, you are allowing the anxiety to take control. Being scared is a normal part of life, but you are capable of overcoming it. If you let the anxiousness take control, those thoughts can get bigger and scarier. Acknowledge the anxiety, make some realistic goals to overcome it, and conquer it.

Talk to Others About Your Fears

Having anxiety is nothing to hide or be ashamed of. Over 25% of 13 to 18-year-olds have an anxiety disorder.  It’s one of the most common mental health concerns found in teens. Find someone to talk to who may relate to how you feel. A classmate, teacher, parent, sibling, or friend. Find a therapist to help you manage your anxiety. They can help you feel normal and supported, all while helping you better understand your thoughts and feelings.

Take Care of Yourself

Maintain a healthy diet. Eliminate junk food and caffeine and work on eating well-balanced meals. But, don’t skip any meals! At the same time, be sure you are getting enough sleep so you have the energy for the following day. When you feel stressed, schedule some relaxation time where you can rest, listen to music, or meditate.


Along those same lines, make sure to incorporate exercise into your daily/weekly routine. Did you know that exercising is nature’s anti-anxiety remedy? When you exercise, your brain releases endorphins, which play a role in regulating mood and relaxation. Best of all, exercise can eliminate feelings of stress, which is a big factor in anxiety disorders. More importantly, don’t exercise just to exercise. Through trial and error, find an exercise or sport that helps eliminate stress and is something you enjoy. Some great exercises for teenagers include club sports, yoga, biking, hiking, and swimming.

Signs of Adolescent Anxiety

Here are some common symptoms to help you identify anxiety in children.

Emotional Symptoms

  • Feeling of dread, fear or worry

  • Trouble focusing and finishing tasks

  • Irritability

  • Jumpy and/or tense

Physical Symptoms

  • Upset stomach

  • Shortness of breath/trouble breathing

  • Insomnia

  • Muscle tension

  • Lightheadedness/dizziness—feeling like you’re going to pass out

  • Heart palpitations

  • Trembling

  • Feeling detached

If you experience any of the above symptoms, it’s important that you seek treatment as soon as possible. The sooner you seek treatment, the less negative impact there will be on your mental health, academic, and social functioning. It can also help with your transition to adulthood.

What is the treatment for adolescent anxiety?

It is important to receive help from a behavioral health care professional as soon as you suspect you are suffering from anxiety. Anxiety affects your well-being, your mental, emotional, physical, and social self. It can also affect your grades and ability to connect with others. Anxiety disorders are frequently associated with an increased risk of failure in school.

The most commonly used and effective therapeutic approach for adolescent anxiety is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a scientifically proven method of treatment based on the premise that how we think and act affects how we feel – that changing our distorted thoughts and dysfunctional behavior can positively change our emotions. For teens with anxiety, the primary focus in CBT is typically helping you break your cycle of anxiety and provide healthy strategies for anxiety management.