Eight Facts About Anxiety in Teens Today


Anxiety disorders are a set of mental health disorders which affect many people across the UK. While it is normal to experience some worry and anxiety, an intense concern which affects your daily life for a prolonged period could be a sign of an anxiety disorder.

Teens may struggle with internal and external changes and worries – for example, changing schools, divorced parents and bullying. Throughout this blog, facts about anxiety in teens will be discussed.

If you or a loved one are suffering from an anxiety disorder, learning about the symptoms and risk factors could help you understand the condition better and get support. If you are suffering from anxiety, it is essential to remember that you’re alone. Anxiety is one of the most common mental health disorders, and support is available for you.

What Are Anxiety Disorders?

It is normal and even helpful to feel anxious at times. Stress can help motivate you to do your homework, take part in activities, or protect you from danger. You may know the feeling as your breathing increases and your heart starts to race when you are behind on a deadline or have a sporting competition coming up. However, too much stress can have the opposite effect, making you unable to carry out responsibilities or activities you enjoy. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), anxiety disorders are characterised by excessive worry and apprehensive expectations which occur more days than not for at least six months. Common anxiety disorders include:

  • Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • Panic disorder – symptoms can include a racing heart, excessive sweating, panic attack, and feelings of impending doom
  • Separation anxiety disorder
  • Social anxiety disorder – symptoms can include difficulty making eye contact, self-consciousness, and fear of being judged
  • Phobias – specific phobias include agoraphobia and claustrophobia
  • Substance or medication-induced anxiety disorder

Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders

The DSM-5 defines six symptoms of anxiety which include both psychological and physical symptoms. To be diagnosed with anxiety, you need to experience three or more of the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty concentrating or experiencing a blank mind
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Muscle tension
  • Sleep problems – difficulty falling asleep, waking up in the night, not feeling rested after sleeping

You may experience physical anxiety symptoms such as shortness of breath, increased heart rate, and dizziness. If these symptoms are familiar, it may be helpful to speak with a mental health specialist for a diagnosis.

Anxiety Is Rising in Teens

From 2017 to 2018, 25% of 16-24 year-olds experienced anxiety or depression. From 2019 to 2020, 16% of 16-24 year-olds reported medium anxiety the day before being asked, while 21% reported feeling high anxiety. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in mental health problems among teenagers, including anxiety. One reason for increased anxiety is worries about contracting the virus or passing it to vulnerable loved ones. Another reason is reading or watching the news and social media.

Anxiety Can Be Affected by Genetic and Environmental Factors

You may wonder why some people experience anxiety while others who have similar life experiences don’t. Why do some people who experience trauma develop a generalised anxiety disorder while others don’t? While there is no one factor which causes you to develop anxiety disorders, there is evidence that genetic and environmental factors can affect this. These factors include:

  • Genetics – some people are born more anxious and find coping with stress more difficult
  • Exposure to anxiety – being around anxious people can cause a child to grow up more anxious
  • Frequently moving house or school
  • Trouble at home, such as parents or siblings fighting
  • The death of a family member or friend
  • Being bullied
  • Neglect and other forms of abuse

Those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and autistic spectrum disorders are more like to suffer from anxiety. There is also a higher risk for those whose parents are unemployed.

Anxiety Increases Your Risk of Other Mental and Physical Health Conditions

Anxiety, especially if left untreated, can cause further mental and physical health problems. Part of this is due to long-term increased cortisol levels, which can decrease immune function and lead to heart and lung damage.

Physical Health Problems

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Respiratory disorders
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Eating disorders
  • Decreased immune function

Mental Health Problems

  • Addiction
  • Depression

Anxiety Can Cause Cold Hands and Memory Problems

Anxiety can cause various unexpected physical and mental responses. During the fight or flight response, blood vessels dilate and constrict to allow more blood to go to some parts of the body and less blood to go to others. For example, when the body is preparing to fight, it will redirect blood to major organs like the heart and large muscle groups. At this time, less blood will flow to your extremities which can cause you to experience cold hands or feet when you are anxious.

Anxiety can also affect your memory. Stress causes both short-term and long-term changes to brain areas which are responsible for long-term memory function. While your short-term memory may increase during stressful moments, your long-term memory can be impaired.

Anxiety Often Comes With Other Mental Disorders

According to the anxiety and depression association, those with an anxiety disorder are more likely to develop depression and vice versa. For example, if you struggle with social anxiety disorder, you may change your lifestyle based on this, avoiding activities you enjoy. This can lead to developing depression due to social isolation.

Other conditions which are often experienced at the same time include PTSD, acute stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and adjustment disorder. Young people may experience selective mutism, which is where they do not speak in certain situations but will speak with people they are comfortable with.

Women Are Twice As Likely As Men to Develop an Anxiety Disorder

Once a girl reaches puberty, she is twice as likely to develop an anxiety disorder as her male peers. After menopause, this decreases, and it is believed that this is partly due to hormones. A 2011 study showed that the fight or flight response in women is more easily activated and stays activated for longer. This study concluded that this was down to hormonal differences.

Conversely, other research has suggested that gender roles and psychological factors are more important for different responses to stress. Women are also more likely to be diagnosed with other anxiety disorders, depression, and eating disorders.

The different diagnosis rates of anxiety disorders between men and women could also relate to how men and women communicate about mental health. Females are more likely to speak with a GP, friend, or family member and so have a higher chance of being diagnosed. This is partly to do with gender differences, as it is typically more common for females to speak about their emotions.

Most People Do Not Get Help for Anxiety Disorders

A multi-country study from 2018 looked at the proportion of people who had an anxiety disorder according to DSM diagnostic criteria. It found that almost 10% of people had anxiety disorders, but of these, just under 30% had received treatment, while less than 10% had received treatment which was considered to be adequate. One potential reason for this is that there is still a lot of stigma surrounding mental health problems. People may feel weak or ashamed to get support and feel that they should be able to deal with it themselves.

Anxiety is caused by factors which are out of your control, so you should never feel that it is your fault for not being able to manage it on your own. It takes a lot of strength to accept that you need help and to reach out for it.

Lifestyle Changes and Professional Support Can Help

Depending on the severity of your anxiety and personal experiences, there are a number of things that could help. For example, eating healthily, exercising, spending time outdoors, getting enough sleep, avoiding caffeine, and practising relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga, or tai chi. These have all been shown to reduce anxiety.

However, it may not be this easy. It may seem impossible for you to do these things, or there may be other external factors which prevent you from being able to. In this case, seeking support from a mental health professional could be helpful. This may involve taking part in therapies, medication, or both.

When it comes to medication, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) tend to be the first line of treatment for anxiety disorders. They are also used to treat depression, so this could be good if you are suffering from both. Benzodiazepines are also sometimes used for extreme anxiety in the short term, although they are very addictive, so should not be used as a prolonged treatment method.

Get Support with The Wave

Although anxiety is quite common, it is still a mental health disorder which should be taken seriously. At The Wave, we believe that dealing with and recovering from anxiety requires more than just therapy and medication.

We believe that to build a stable future; you need to have solid foundations on which to thrive. Our students learn skills which will help them in the future so that they have confidence in themselves and their abilities.

We have also found that our global citizenship sector of the programme is the one which parents and teenagers find most beneficial. Alongside building a stable foundation for the future, we provide medical and therapeutic care.

Please visit our website or call us at +60125227734 if you would like to find out more. We look forward to welcoming you.

Fiona - The Wave Clinic

Fiona Yassin is the founder and clinical director at The Wave Clinic. She is a U.K. and International registered Psychotherapist and Accredited Clinical Supervisor (U.K. and UNCG).

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