There is strong evidence that the pandemic has contributed to an increase in anxiety among teenagers and even some pre-adolescents. Given that Covid lockdowns and distance have deprived kids of many of the things that matter most to them, interfered with their schooling, and kept them apart from their friends, it makes sense.
All of us hope that when things get back to normal, teenagers will bounce back. However, anxiety was already rising among teenagers prior to the pandemic. Why? Experts point to heightened expectations for academic success, a more frightening environment, and the negative effects social media can have on one’s self-esteem. However, nobody truly gets it. It’s critical to identify the symptoms of anxiety in children and to get them help.
What distinguishes anxiety in teenagers?
Teenagers with anxiety differ from young toddlers with anxiety. Children have different risks and concerns at different developmental stages.
Younger children are more likely to experience anxiety in response to external stimuli, such as insects or animals, darkness, monsters beneath the bed, or an unfavorable event involving their parents. However, teenagers are more likely to worry about themselves, including how they look, how well they perform in sports or at school, and physical changes.
When they hit puberty, some worried teenagers have been that way for a long time. Perhaps the parents knew about it, but since the child continued to function normally in spite of their worry, nothing was done about it. Or things improved when the child received treatment. However, when middle and high school expectations increase and their attention shifts to their friends, anxiety can reemerge and worsen. Moreover, some teenagers who did not experience anxiety as children go on to experience adolescent-onset anxiety disorders such panic attacks and social anxiety.
What worries teenagers these days?
Their demonstration. According to Jerry Bubrick, PhD, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute who specializes in anxiety and OCD, “we see a lot of fear of not doing well.” “Beyond an intense work ethic, a lot of anxiety is directed towards perfectionism, or the need to do their absolute best in school.” Teenagers claim they feel tremendous pressure to earn those straight As, even though parents say they advise kids not to worry about college applications.
How people view them. According to Dr. Bubrick, “every teenager is going to have an awareness of and a certain vigilance about how they’re being perceived.” “Well, that’s just a normal part of growing up, but some kids take it too far.” Debilitating social anxiety may ensue. They will be too concerned about being viewed as foolish or incompetent, or they will be particularly concerned about embarrassing themselves.
Their physical forms. Adolescent physical changes can be uncomfortable for a lot of youngsters. Children who develop either ahead of or behind the majority of their peers may feel abnormal and out of pace. According to Dr. Bubrick, “for girls, it will affect you more negatively if you’re on the early side of development than if you were on time with development or even late.” He continues, “Boys are particularly sensitive to height.” A 15-year-old’s self-esteem and confidence may be severely impacted if they haven’t yet reached puberty and appear to be 12 while their peers appear to be 19 years old. Body dysmorphic disorder is a severe type of anxiety that some children experience. It is characterized by an obsession with a perceived physical imperfection, either genuine or imagined, that causes the child tremendous discomfort and interferes with their ability to function.
Anxiety symptoms in teenagers
Anxiety symptoms can range greatly, from avoidance and withdrawal to irritation and outbursts. Because teenagers are adept at hiding their emotions and thoughts, anxiety is frequently disregarded. However, an adolescent may exhibit some of these behaviors if they are experiencing anxiety.
recurring anxieties and fears over ordinary aspects of daily living
extreme sensitive to criticism or self-consciousness
Absence from social interactions
avoiding challenging or novel circumstances
persistent symptoms of headaches or stomachaches
A decline in academic standing or an unwillingness to attend school
issues with sleep
Fear and turning away from school
Teenagers may have anxiety related to a variety of topics at school because so much of what they focus on is related to it (academics, athletics, extracurricular activities, and social life). Therefore, it’s not always the school itself that’s to blame when children refuse to go.
According to Dr. Bubrick, the term “schoolphobia” was once used to describe what we now refer to as school rejection, but it meant that the cause of their worry was the school. Rather, when addressing children who consistently come up with reasons to remain home or who outright refuse to attend school, the emphasis is not on their choice to not go. “We’re more concerned with the reasons behind their decision to forgo attending school.”
The issue can be anxiety over a teacher calling on you at random and you mess up. or experiencing a mental breakdown in class. or fear that others will tease them because they don’t look right. Dr. Bubrick continues, “You could interview a hundred kids who are refusing to go to school and get a hundred different reasons why.”
Substance abuse and anxiety
Similar to adults, anxious teenagers may turn to recreational drugs, particularly marijuana, to help them deal with their uneasiness. Dr. Bubrick points out that it’s self-medication, and the truth is that it works temporarily. It does reduce tension and anxiety. It makes it numb. It does cause your brain’s worry center to shut off. Long-term, though, it’s a bad coping strategy because the youngster develops a chemical dependency and the anxiety doesn’t go away.
What Dr. Bubrick finds most common among teenagers is the belief that marijuana is a healthier alternative to alcohol. And since vaping is an option and marijuana is legal in many regions (for anyone over 21), it’s easier than ever to smoke without adults noticing whether you’re at home, school, or the street.
However, he points out that neither is a good approach to deal with anxiety, and he advises children against using recreational drugs as a kind of treatment. “Smoking during the day to get through your school day while carrying a joint in your pocket is no different from keeping a bottle of vodka in your desk drawer at work.” You still depend on something to get through the day, and your dependence on the substance will grow with usage.
Depression and anxiety
It’s typical to discover that teenagers experience both anxiety and depression. This is partly because living a life filled with anxiety can be so upsetting or constricting that it causes sadness.
Dr. Bubrick remembers working with a young lady whose severe social anxiety was brought on by her transfer to a new high school. Her fear of failure in a more competitive environment made her start to avoid social situations. After that, she experienced a panic attack and started to distance herself from her friends out of fear of experiencing another one in front of them. She eventually got so lonely that she suffered from serious depression.
According to Dr. Bubrick, this type of layering of sadness and anxiety is both typical and frequently overlooked. Treatment for depression won’t be helpful if a doctor ignores anxiety and only addresses the symptoms that are now present.
However, it’s also feasible that depression and anxiety are two distinct co-occurring disorders.
“The question I ask kids is, ‘If I could go into your brain and just remove your anxiety, would you still be depressed?'” says Dr. Bubrick. It may be a co-occurring depression if they respond, “Yes, I would still be depressed.” I would assume that anxiety is the root cause of sadness if the response is, “No, I would feel amazing if you took the anxiety away.”
Among the different types of anxiety, generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD for short, is particularly associated with depression later in life, according to Dr. Bubrick. In fact, GAD is so closely associated with depression that it is sometimes considered a prelude to depression. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is characterized by excessive and persistent worry over a wide range of ordinary items rather than being triggered by a specific thing (specific phobia).
What connection exists between depression and anxiety? According to Dr. Bubrick, anxiety compromises wellbeing. You’re particularly vulnerable to depression if you don’t trust yourself, don’t think you’ll make wise judgments, and lead a defensive life.
He says, “If you’re constantly doubting and worrying about what might happen in life, it will start to have a pretty profound effect on how you see yourself, your confidence, and your self-esteem.” He continues, “It’s not surprising that living defensively and on a constant diet of fear could lead to depression.”
Teenage anxiety is best treated with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), perhaps in addition to antidepressant medication. The good news is that it works incredibly well.
Children who are nervous can learn new ways of thinking about and handling worry through cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). They discover that worry fades with time by learning to tolerate it instead of avoiding situations that make it worse. Additionally, the anxious reaction itself is lessened or removed by progressively increasing exposure to feared items or activities (a form of CBT known as exposure treatment).
The drugs prescribed for treating anxiety issues in children are antidepressants known as SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors). When a child’s anxiety is too high for them to engage in CBT alone, they are paired with it.