Anxiety in teenagers
- Anxiety is a normal part of life and can affect anyone, but if anxiety becomes overwhelming and doesn’t go away, it can be a sign of an anxiety disorder.
- Anxiety disorders are when fears and worries cause distress and interfere with your teenager doing the things they want, or should, be doing.
- Treatment options for anxiety disorders in teenagers include psychological therapy, lifestyle measures and relaxation techniques.
- Rarely, medicines may be recommended to help treat anxiety in teenagers.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is a normal part of life and can affect anyone. Sometimes, if anxiety becomes overwhelming and doesn’t go away, it can be a sign of an anxiety disorder. However, with treatment and support from family and friends, anxiety can be managed.
Anxiety affects the body and mind. Your teenager may often feel tense, jittery or agitated, and worry about a situation they’re in or what might come next.
A bit of anxiety from time to time is normal, especially for teenagers. It can help with motivation at school, sport or work. But if anxious feelings don’t go away, they can interfere with concentrating at school, socialising with friends and enjoying life.
If anxious feelings don’t go away and seem out of proportion to the situation, your teenager may have an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are not just a matter of feeling too anxious. It’s when fears and worries cause distress and interfere with your teenager doing the things they want, or should, be doing.
What are the symptoms of anxiety in teenagers?
Symptoms and signs of anxiety or anxiety disorders in teenagers can include:
- feeling constantly agitated, tense, or restless
- being sensitive to criticism or extremely self-conscious
- always worrying about things that aren’t likely to happen
- avoiding difficult or new situations that make them anxious
- being withdrawn
- having trouble concentrating and starting or finishing schoolwork
- having trouble sleeping
- changed eating habits
They may also have physical symptoms such as:
- a racing heart
- feeling dizzy
- shortness of breath
- feeling ‘butterflies’ in their stomach
- having aches (especially in their neck, shoulders and back)
What are the types of anxiety conditions that can affect teenagers?
Not all teenagers will have the same symptoms. There are many different types of anxiety disorders that teenagers can experience. Some of these include:
- social anxiety disorder
- generalised anxiety disorder
- specific phobias
- panic disorder
- separation anxiety
When should teenagers see a doctor?
Anxiety disorders mostly start during the teenage years. If left untreated, anxiety disorders can have long-term effects that can continue into adulthood.
If your teenager’s anxiety symptoms are impacting their everyday life, talk to their doctor.
At any time, if you feel that they may harm themself or they have thoughts of suicide, call an ambulance on triple zero (000).
They can talk to: family or friends, their doctor or call a phone service. Lifeline can be reached on 13 11 14, available 24 hours a day.
How is anxiety in teenagers diagnosed?
Your teenager will be asked about their symptoms and how these symptoms affect their daily life. The doctor may also do a physical examination.
Their doctor can refer them to a specialist (psychiatrist) or a psychologist if needed.
How is anxiety in teenagers treated?
By talking to a health professional, a treatment plan can be made to suit your teenager’s specific condition. People involved in their care may include: their doctor, a psychiatrist or a psychologist, or another type of counsellor.
Treatment options for anxiety disorders in teenagers include the following.
- Psychological therapy, such as: family therapy or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). These are specially adapted for teenagers. These can be face-to-face or online.
- Rarely, medicines may be recommended to help treat anxiety in teenagers. Special care is needed in teenagers starting medication. They will be closely monitored by an experienced mental health clinician if they need medicines.
It can also help if they:
- get regular physical activity
- eat well
- reduce their caffeine intake
- avoid smoking and alcohol, which can make anxiety worse
- get enough sleep
- deal with any issues causing anxiety
- reduce their stress levels through mindfulness, meditation or relaxation
- do breathing exercises
They can try the 4-7-8 breathing technique. They should:
- breathe in for 4 seconds
- hold their breath for 7 seconds
- exhale for 8 seconds
Where can teenagers get help for anxiety?
Dealing with anxiety as a teenager can be tough but it can be easier if they seek help. Talk to your doctor, (search for a doctor in your region), or see below for online programs and tools that can help them.
- ReachOut.com's ReachOut Worry Time App can help to control everyday worries and anxieties.
- The Brave Program for Teenagers provides teenagers with information and skills to help cope with worries and anxiety.
- This Way Up provides digital mental health treatments and online program.
Resources and support
- headspace provides information and support for 12 to 25-year-olds. It has information on what to do if you are concerned a young person may have anxiety.
- ReachOut has resources to help under 25s and their parents.
- Beyond Blue has lots of resources on mental health, and runs online forums. They can also call on 1300 22 4636 or chat online 24/7.
- Kids Helpline has information on anxiety and specific information for teens. They can call for support anytime, for any reason on 1800 55 1800. There is also a WebChat service available 24 hours a day.
- Lifeline provides crisis support — call 13 11 14 or chat online.
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Last reviewed: September 2022