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Overcoming the Rising Tide of Anxiety in Teens

If you’re the parent of a teenager, you may have noticed some concerning changes lately. More moodiness. Trouble concentrating. Declining grades. Refusal to go to school. Your once upbeat kid seems increasingly irritable, worried, and withdrawn.

You’re not alone. Anxiety disorders are rising among teens, with some experts calling it an epidemic. Just look at these alarming statistics:

  • 1 in 3 teens will experience an anxiety disorder
  • Anxiety disorders increased 20% from 2007 to 2012
  • Hospitalizations for suicidal teens have doubled in the last 10 years

Yikes. As a parent, you’re probably wondering what is fueling this increase. Why are our kids so anxious? What are the signs and symptoms you should look for? And most importantly, how can you get your teen the help they need to overcome anxiety?

Well, you’ve come to the right place! In this article, we’ll explore:

  • The causes and pressures facing anxious teens today
  • How to recognize the subtle signs of anxiety in your teen
  • The dangerous spiral into depression and substance abuse
  • Effective treatments like therapy and lifestyle changes
  • Real stories from anxious teens
  • Expert advice for worried parents like you

Here’s the good news: Anxiety is treatable! Your teen can get relief with compassion, education, and proper care. This article will help you understand what your child is going through and equip you to act.

First, let’s look at…

Key Takeaways:

  • Anxiety disorders are rising fast among teens
  • 1 in 3 teens affected
  • Causes include academic pressure, social media, world events
  • Know the signs like irritability, avoidance, physical symptoms
  • Anxiety can lead to depression and substance abuse
  • Treatment options include therapy, medication, lifestyle changes
  • Real teen stories and expert advice
An anxious teen struggling at her desk during an exam

Causes and Pressures Facing Anxious Teens Today

In the intro, we looked at some alarming statistics about teen anxiety. But what’s behind this escalating issue?

Today’s teenagers face a complex set of stressors that past generations didn’t experience. While the teenage years have always been turbulent, the pressures seem greater than ever before. Let’s look at some of the primary factors causing anxiety to spiral out of control.

Academic Perfectionism

For many anxious teens, the root cause is an intense focus on academic excellence. Even teens from an early age feel pressure to get perfect grades, take all honours/AP classes, excel in sports and extracurriculars, and get into a top college.

  • Adolescents report feeling significant stress from parents, teachers, peers, and their high expectations to achieve.
  • The bar for academic success feels higher than ever before.
  • Social media showcases the highlight reels of other “successful” teens, exacerbating feelings of inadequacy.
  • Competition for college admissions is frenzied, leaving teens overwhelmed.

This drive for perfectionism feeds anxiety around performance. Teens stress about getting called on in class, making a mistake on an assignment, or scoring poorly on a test. Instead of learning being fun, school becomes a pressure cooker.

Social Evaluation

Alongside academic pressures, today’s teens worry excessively about their social standing and evaluation by others.

Adolescence is already an age of heightened self-consciousness. But now, teens are hyper-aware of how they are perceived:

  • On social media, views, likes, and comments quantify popularity.
  • Clothing, slang, and other styles define the “in” crowd.
  • Model-like physical ideals spread through the internet breed insecurity.

For anxious teens, every social interaction becomes a judgment of their worth. This breeds social isolation and avoidance.

Scary, Uncertain World

Being a teen has never been easy. But today’s adolescents face a particularly scary, uncertain world:

  • School shootings are a grim reality.
  • Climate change and political upheaval threaten the future.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted education, connections, and milestones.
  • News and social media rapidly spread information on global crises.

For sensitive teens, this is a lot to take in. A sense of dread and lack of control fuels anxiety. Adults may become numb to the news cycle, but every crisis feels personal for teens.

Puberty and Body Image

All teenagers face challenges to their self-image from the rapid physical changes of puberty:

  • Early or late physical development compared to peers causes distress.
  • Weight gain and acne are new concerns.
  • Girls face judgment for developing bodies.
  • Body comparisons propagate through locker rooms and media.

Teens who mature earlier or later than their peers face judgment. Even teens developing on time struggle with their changing looks and sexuality.

The teenage years come with inherent angst. But today’s anxiety-provoking world takes it to the extreme. With professional help, parents can guide teens through the gauntlet.

Recognizing the Signs of Anxiety Symptoms

n the last section, we looked at today’s teens’ major causes of anxiety. But how do you know if your teen is struggling with anxiety?

The symptoms can be subtle. Teens often hide their feelings and try to downplay concerns. Look for a pattern of changes in feelings, thoughts, behaviours or physical health that persist for weeks or months.

Emotional Changes

  • Increased anxiety, fear, panic, and worry
  • Feeling tense, restless, irritable, or on edge
  • Overwhelming dread or panic about particular situations
  • Rapid mood swings and emotional reactivity

Thought Patterns

  • Constant self-criticism and negative self-talk
  • Worrying excessively about perceived flaws and failures
  • Difficulty concentrating due to intrusive thoughts
  • Feeling out of control

Behavioural Shifts

  • Withdrawing from family, friends, and activities
  • Avoiding school, social events, classes, people
  • Seeking constant reassurance from others
  • Decreased energy, motivation, and engagement
  • Increased anger, aggression, or oppositional behaviour

Physical Symptoms

  • Headaches, stomachaches, and chest pain without medical cause
  • Heart palpitations and shortness of breath
  • Muscle tension, pain, tremors
  • Insomnia, fatigue, nightmares
  • Changes in appetite and eating patterns

Look at the whole picture. While every teen occasionally experiences moodiness and anxiety, consistent problematic symptoms in multiple areas may indicate an anxiety disorder. Don’t write things off as “normal teen behaviour.” Make sure your child feels safe opening up.

When to Seek Professional Help

Seeking professional support from a mental health practitioner can help identify whether anxiety is reaching a clinical level. Consult your pediatrician or a child psychologist if your teen exhibits multiple symptoms:

  • Causing significant distress
  • Persisting for more than 2 weeks
  • Interfering with social, academic, or family functioning

With diagnoses like generalized anxiety, social anxiety, panic disorder, OCD and more, customized treatment plans combining therapy and medication can help teens regain balance. Don’t delay getting assessments.

Trust your gut. You know your child best. If something feels off, it probably is. Even if you can’t pinpoint it, anxiety lurks beneath the surface. With compassion and support, you can get them the help they need.

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The Spiral into Depression and Substance Abuse

Left untreated, anxiety can set off a dangerous chain reaction in teens, like dominos, anxiety tips into depression, self-medication, and serious risks to health and safety.

The Anxiety-Depression Link

For many teens, anxiety and depression go hand in hand. How come?

  • Anxiety creates relentless negative thinking patterns.
  • Worries and fears limit activities and social connections.
  • The anxious brain is always anticipating problems. -energy.

Over time, this erodes self-esteem and saps.

Depression thrives in these conditions. Anxiety lays the groundwork for hopeless thoughts; then depression moves in.

Without treatment, anxious teens withdraw further, feeling like failures. Soon, normal life seems impossible.

Self-Medicating with Substances

To gain short-term relief from anxious thoughts and emotions, many teens turn to alcohol and drugs.

While not healthy coping strategies, substances like marijuana, vaping, and alcohol do temporarily alleviate anxiety. Yet the relief doesn’t last.

This starts a dangerous cycle of dependence and addiction. Anxious thoughts return stronger, driving the use of larger substance amounts. Soon, getting through the day without drugs or alcohol seems impossible.

Teens may also abuse anxiety medications prescribed by doctors. Or use unprescribed pills, like opioids, for an escape.

These habits can have tragic consequences like declining grades, social isolation, long-term addiction, and overdose. That’s why professional help is critical.

Left unchecked, anxiety creates a cascade of avoidant coping strategies. Nip anxiety in the bud before it snowballs. Your teen’s health and safety depend on it.

Seeking Solutions: Treatment That Works

The rise in teen anxiety may seem alarming. But there is good news-with professional treatment, young people can overcome anxiety and reclaim their lives.

As a counselling clinic with in-person offices across Canada, we help teens reduce anxiety through proven techniques. Let’s explore evidence-based treatment options that provide real relief.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

CBT is the gold standard for treating anxiety. This structured, short-term therapy helps teens:

  • Identify distorted thoughts and beliefs fuelling anxiety
  • Learn to evaluate thoughts objectively
  • Replace negative thinking with balanced perspectives
  • Develop positive coping strategies

Our counsellors create customized CBT plans. Through exercises like thought journals, relaxation skills, and graded exposure, teens gain control over anxious feelings. Research shows CBT creates long-term improvement by changing thought patterns.

Exposure Therapy

Sometimes, part of CBT, exposure therapy gradually exposes anxious teens to feared situations or objects in a safe, controlled way. For example:

  • A teen afraid of public speaking would start by just thinking about giving a speech.
  • Over time, they’d build up to giving speeches in front of small then larger groups.
  • By facing fears, teens learn anxiety naturally decreases and realize situations are manageable.

This is very effective for specific phobias like social anxiety. Our experienced teen counsellors guide customized exposure exercises.

Anti-Anxiety Medications

For teens with severe anxiety, medication can be useful along with therapy. Usually, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants are prescribed.

Medication helps restore balance to neurotransmitters like serotonin that regulate mood. This makes it easier to manage anxiety while learning coping techniques.

Doctors closely monitor teens on medications for side effects. The medication works best as a short-term aid, not a lifelong treatment. As therapy progresses, the medication can be discontinued.

Lifestyle Changes

Simple lifestyle adjustments also help anxious teens by reducing overall stress. We coach teens on:

  • Getting enough sleep
  • Eating a balanced, nutritious diet
  • Exercising regularly
  • Making time for fun and relaxation
  • Limiting social media time
  • Practicing mindfulness techniques like meditation, yoga, journaling

Building these healthy habits empowers teens to take initiative over their mental health.

Parental Support

Parent-teen relationships have a huge impact, for better or worse. As much as teens pull away, they still need understanding and guidance.

We help parents:

  • Keep communication open through activities like shared meals, drives, walks
  • Validate teen’s feelings without judgment
  • Set reasonable expectations for performance
  • Model and encourage healthy self-care habits
  • Monitor social media and academic pressures
  • Work collaboratively with counsellors

Anxious teens can overcome challenges with professional help from counsellors, medication, lifestyle changes, and parental support. The teen years don’t have to be defined by anxiety.

The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic struck at a challenging point in adolescent development. Already dealing with academic, social, and hormonal changes, teens were plunged into lockdowns, isolation, and uncertainty.

For many, the pandemic turbocharged anxiety to new heights through:

Disrupted Education

  • Remote learning brought academic challenges and scholastic setbacks
  • Lack of hands-on instruction and direct teacher engagement
  • Difficulty concentrating at home with distractions
  • Anxiety about falling behind peers

Missed Social Connections

  • Isolation from friends during lockdowns
  • Cancellation of clubs, activities, events, milestones
  • Lack of peer bonding experiences
  • FOMO and anxiety about friendships drifting

Health Worries

  • Fears about themselves or family falling ill
  • Anxiety about returning to group settings
  • Hyper-vigilance about virus spread and prevention
  • Obsessive-compulsive tendencies around cleanliness/contamination

Uncertainty About the Future

  • Confusion and dread about what comes next
  • Disruption of college/career development
  • Fears of plans being derailed if life is upended again
  • Lack of control over present and future

For teens already prone to anxiety, COVID-19 intensified pressures around school, friends, health, and the unknown. New pandemic-related anxieties compounded existing ones.

But with care, empathy and professional help, families can overcome pandemic-fueled anxiety. This, too, shall pass, and brighter days are ahead.

Firsthand Accounts: Teens Share Their Stories

Beyond statistics and generalizations, every anxious teen has a unique story. Let’s hear directly from teens describing their struggles and journeys.

Sandra, Age 15

The pressure started building for me in middle school. My parents both worked hard to send me to a prestigious private academy. Every day, I felt like I couldn’t let them down.

I put tons of pressure on myself to get perfect grades. I’d cry if I got a B on a test or paper. I was scared my parents would be disappointed in me.

The stress kept escalating. I couldn’t sleep because my mind was racing about school. I started getting headaches and stomach pains from the anxiety.

Finally, I broke down and told my parents everything. They were shocked that I felt that much pressure. They told me they wanted me to try my best and that my health was the priority.

I started seeing a therapist at school who helped me change my thinking patterns around perfectionism. I still get stressed but can control it better with the coping skills she taught me.

James, Age 16

In middle school, I had many friends and did well in classes without much effort. High school was a rude awakening. Everyone seemed smarter, more athletic, and more popular than me.

I started spending hours online stalking classmates’ Instagram and Facebook feeds. Seeing their parties and friend groups made me feel left out and insecure.

I stopped talking to people at school and ate lunch alone. My grades slipped because I had trouble concentrating. I convinced myself everyone hated me.

Finally, I realized social media was poisoning my mental health. I started therapy and deleted all my social apps. Slowly, I regained my confidence.

Comparing your inner life to someone’s curated highlights is dangerous. I had to stop the downward social comparison spiral.

Sarah, age 17

I’ve always been kind of high-strung and anxious, but it got really bad when COVID hit. My senior year plans shattered, and the future felt so uncertain.

Being trapped at home with my parents and sister, I felt lonely. It was like being on house arrest, with nothing fun to look forward to.

My anxiety focused on how my life would turn out now. College plans were up in the air. I couldn’t see friends. I constantly worried about my parents getting sick when they went out.

The months of isolation took a toll. I started having trouble sleeping, lost interest in school, and felt hopeless. That’s when my parents took me to see an anxiety specialist.

I learned to challenge my catastrophic thinking about the future. Therapy and medication helped me endure that awful time until life slowly improved.

Hearing from real teens about their paths to recovery shows anxious adolescents they are not alone. There is light beyond the darkness with professional support and perseverance.

Real-Life Examples: How Parents Make a Difference

To bring the guidance to life, let’s look at how caring parents helped their anxious teens overcome challenges:

Example 1: Performance anxiety

Kai was a gifted high school junior who started getting severe test anxiety. Before exams, he had panic attacks, convinced he would fail and ruin his academic future. His concerned parents responded by:

  • Having compassionate talks to understand his fears better
  • Discussing the issue with school counsellors to get academic accommodations
  • Finding a psychologist specializing in teen anxiety for therapy
  • Helping him learn relaxation skills like deep breathing and meditation
  • Praising effort over perfection and emphasizing unconditionally loving him

With professional support and his parents’ care, Kai’s testing anxiety abated, and his confidence grew.

Example 2: Social anxiety

Sonia had always been shy, but her social anxiety exploded in middle school. She started refusing to attend parties or group activities, fearing embarrassment. Her parents noticed her isolation growing concerning, so they:

  • Arranged trusted family counselling to help Sonia open up
  • Enlisted the help of her teacher to pair Sonia with a kind, inclusive classmate
  • Signed her up for student council and drama club to gently push her comfort zone
  • Modelled positive self-talk and perspective-taking when their anxiety flared
  • Praised her small wins and reassured her they were proud regardless

With compassionate nurturing at home and school, Sonia slowly emerged from her shell.

Example 3: Generalized anxiety

For Alex, chronic worrying and tension had been a lifelong issue that worsened entering high school. Simple things caused disproportionate distress. His supportive parents:

  • Validated his feelings and comforted him in anxious moments
  • Provided consistent routines and expectations to reduce uncertainty
  • Helped him identify triggers like news stories to manage his media consumption
  • Got him into twice-weekly therapy to learn coping strategies
  • Kept communication open so Alex felt safe confessing his worries

Over time, Alex became better equipped to manage his anxiety and rejoin teenage life.

Every anxious teen’s journey is unique. But with a professional therapists’ help and caring parents in their corner, young people can overcome anxiety’s challenges.

Key Takeaways

We’ve explored the rise of anxiety disorders among teenagers and how caring parents can provide support:

  • Causes – From academic pressure to social media to global crises, multiple factors are fueling teen anxiety.
  • Symptoms – Look for changes like irritation, withdrawal, physical complaints, and declining performance.
  • Risks – Anxiety can spiral into depression and substance abuse without intervention.
  • Treatment – Professional help like CBT, medication, and lifestyle changes can make a difference.
  • Parent support – Listen empathetically, nurture strengths, and keep communication open.
  • Teen stories – Hearing recovery journeys fosters hope.
  • Expert advice – Counsellors provide reassurance and tips.
  • Real-life examples – Parents can make a huge difference!

The key is recognizing anxiety early and taking action. Anxiety thrives in isolation – bring it into the light! 

If you see your child struggling, reach out. Speak to your pediatrician, school counsellors, and therapist near you. With the right help, teens can overcome anxiety and thrive. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  • Academic pressure and perfectionism - Teens feel intense pressure to excel in school, sports, and extracurriculars, fearing missteps.
  • Social media and social evaluation - Adolescents constantly compare themselves against peers online and in person, breeding self-consciousness.
  • Scary, uncertain world events - School shootings, climate change, COVID-19, and the 24/7 news cycle make the world feel unstable.
  • Puberty and body changes - Changing bodies and new feelings of sexuality fuel discomfort.
  • Emotional symptoms like chronic worrying, irritability, frequent crying
  • Behavioural symptoms like avoidance of school/social situations decreased motivation
  • Physical symptoms like headaches, stomachaches, changes in sleep and appetite
  • Declining academic performance and isolation from friends
  • Untreated anxiety can lead to teen depression as isolating behaviours and negative thinking increase.
  • Teens may use alcohol or drugs like marijuana to "self-medicate" anxiety, then become dependent.
  • Professional help stops this unhealthy spiral before it takes hold.
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy to change thought patterns
  • Exposure therapy to gradually face specific fears
  • Anti-anxiety medications in conjunction with therapy
  • Healthy lifestyle changes to reduce stress
  • Listen without judgement and validate their feelings
  • Avoid pressuring academics or activities that fuel stress
  • Model and encourage self-care like nutrition, sleep, exercise
  • Monitor social media and academic pressures
  • Collaborate with professional counsellors
  • Remind them you are on their side!
Picture of Pareen Sehat MC, RCC

Pareen Sehat MC, RCC

Pareen’s career began in Behaviour Therapy, this is where she developed a passion for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy approaches. Following a Bachelor of Arts with a major in Psychology she pursued a Master of Counselling. Pareen is a Registered Clinical Counsellor (RCC) with the BC Association of Clinical Counsellors. She specializes in CBT and Lifespan Integrations approaches to anxiety and trauma. She has been published on major online publications such as - Yahoo, MSN, AskMen, PsychCentral, Best Life Online, and more.


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