According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 25% of teens have an anxiety disorder, and just under 6% have a severe anxiety disorder. To make matters worse, healthcare studies over the past few decades have shown that anxiety among teens is increasing at alarming rates, and even more so as we navigate the recent coronavirus, (COVID-19).

But why? You may be asking yourself, “Why does it matter?” Take a closer look at anxiety in teens and young adults, its causes, types, and Embark Behavioral Health’s unique approach to treating anxiety in teens.

Anxiety and Teens: A Rising Trend

Teens are more anxious now than ever. Nearly 1 in 3 teens experience anxiety.  A study done by the National Survey of Children’s Health found that the number of children diagnosed with an anxiety disorder increased by 20% between 2007 and 2012.

The Higher Education Research Institute published a similar study, concluding that today’s teens are experiencing higher anxiety levels than their counterparts in earlier decades.

In 1985, researchers asked freshmen at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) if they “felt overwhelmed by all they had to do ”18% of students in 1985 answered yes. In 2016, 41% of first-year students at UCLA answered yes.

What is Anxiety in Teens?

Anxiety is defined as “excessive, intense and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations.” Anxiety is a normal reaction, usually brought on by stressful situations.

However, when anxiety becomes more frequent, it can result in one of the five major types of anxiety disorders, harming overall mental health:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): GAD is characterized by chronic and persistent anxiety, worry, fear, or stress – even when circumstances do not provoke it.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): OCD is characterized by recurring and unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and/or unwanted repetitive behaviors (compulsions). Performing compulsions can temporarily relieve anxiety, while not performing compulsory behaviors can increase stress and anxiety levels.
  • Panic Disorder: Another type of anxiety disorder is Panic Disorder when there are chronic and repetitive panic attacks. A panic attack is an episode of intense fear, and physical symptoms may include increased heart rate that leads to chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness and stomachaches.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): This anxiety disorder is linked to a traumatizing event in which physical harm occurred or was threatened. People with PTSD have suffered traumatic events, including violent personal assaults and natural or human-caused accidents.
  • Social Anxiety Disorder or Social Phobia: Social Anxiety Disorder or Social Phobia is characterized by overwhelming self-consciousness in everyday social situations. This can be limited to a type of social interaction, such as eating and drinking in front of others, or public speaking, but it can also occur anytime the person with the disorder is around other people.

Symptoms of Anxiety in Teens

Like anxiety disorders or mood disorders, mental health disorders have become so commonplace among teens that many pediatricians include an anxiety screener in wellness checks.

Anxiety disorders in teens can be especially difficult to identify, given the normal changes that teens are navigating in junior high and high school.

Symptoms of anxiety in teens may include:

  • Avoiding extracurricular activities
  • Avoiding social interactions
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Changes in weight, both loss and gain
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Difficulty staying asleep
  • Eating disorders
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling overwhelmed by schoolwork
  • Missing school assignments
  • Poor self-esteem
  • Quitting extra-curricular activities
  • Restlessness and trouble sleeping
  • Self-isolating from friends
  • Shaking and cold sweats
  • Spending increased time alone
  • Unexplained emotional outbursts
  • Unexplained phobias, such as agoraphobia
Social Anxiety

While many of these symptoms can easily be dismissed as normal teen behavior, anxiety disorders will profoundly negatively affect a teen’s academics, family and friend relationships, and daily level of functioning.

Treating Anxiety in Teens

Untreated anxiety is a “gateway disorder,” increasing the risk in adulthood for depression and a two-fold increase in risk for substance use and suicide. Therefore, it is important to seek treatment for anxiety as soon as possible.

Many anxiety disorders can manifest themselves in a myriad of health issues and destructive psychiatry behaviors if left untreated.

Untreated anxiety disorders can result in the following:

  • A significant decline in social activities
  • Considering suicide as a way to escape the constant anxiety of daily life
  • Low academic performance
  • Substance use disorders or substance abuse as a means to self-medication
  • Trouble sleeping, always feeling fatigued

The good news is that anxious feelings are highly treatable. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution for teen anxiety, therapy can help.

If you suspect a teen you love is coping with anxiety, here are some things you can do now to help:

  • Avoid long lectures and ask questions. Show you are actively listening to their answers.
  • Discuss a flexible schedule for your teen to follow and plan ahead. Avoid surprises.
  • Let them know they are in a safe place and talk in-person, not via text or email.
  • Praise often and choose specific things that make you proud of him or her.
  • Recognize that overcoming anxiety is a process, and it will take time. Praise strengths and avoid high expectations for a teen struggling with anxiety, especially if the teen struggles with panic attacks.
  • Seek the help of a mental health professional. An outsider's perspective and someone unrelated to the teen may be able to help in ways someone inside the family cannot.
  • Talk with your teen about anxiety. Let your loved one know it’s a common condition, and you want to help.

Embark Behavioral Health’s Approach to Teen Anxiety

Embark Behavioral Health is proud to be a family of behavioral health programs that help children and teens manage and overcome anxiety disorders across the United States. We are on a mission to drive adolescent anxiety, depression and suicide from the all-time highs of today to all-time lows by 2028. Our programs take a unique approach to children's mental health, realizing that each teen has their own battle to fight, and therefore, each teen anxiety treatment method needs to be personal.

We have a wide range of tools at the ready, helping teen participants overcome anxiety disorders. Using research-backed and outcomes-focused methods, our programs use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Theraplay and other experiential therapies (including Canine Therapy, Equine-Assisted Therapy and Wilderness Therapy), as well as mindfulness practices.

Contact us today to learn more about our programs and how they are changing teens' lives across the U.S., helping them embrace a fulfilling and purposeful future that is free from anxiety.