8 Signs Your Teen May Have an Anxiety Disorder

8 Signs Your Teen May Have an Anxiety Disorder

The teen years are tough for any parent. During this time, teens want to assert their independence, spend more time with friends than with family, and are generally less communicative. Parents often feel frustrated with their teens’ behavior and they often worry they are getting into trouble. It’s important to remember that is a difficult time for your teen as well. A lot is changing quickly and teens often feel a lot of pressure to perform well in school and sports while navigating a tricky social environment and thinking about their future plans. 

For those reasons and others, anxiety disorders are fairly common among teens. While just over 31 percent of adults of any age will experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives, nearly 32 percent of adolescents just between the ages of 13 and 18 will experience an anxiety disorder.  About 26 percent of adolescent males and about 38 percent of adolescent females will experience an anxiety disorder. One reason so many people are affected is that “anxiety disorder” is a blanket term for many conditions, including generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, panic disorder, and others. Anxiety disorders can have a hugely negative impact on your life, severely restricting your possibilities and often leading to substance use issues. Therefore, if you think your teen might have an anxiety disorder, it’s crucial to get them help as soon as possible. The following are indications of an anxiety disorder in teens. 

Excessive worry

Everyone worries sometimes. It’s normal to worry about an upcoming test, a date, or trying out for a sports team. A little worry can motivate us to prepare for impending challenges but excessive worry is a problem. It is a common feature of many anxiety disorders. If your teen is worried about things that are a long way off or that are unlikely to happen, she may have an anxiety disorder. It may also be a problem if she seems disproportionately worried about something or if the worry is irrational. 

Social withdrawal

As noted above, adolescence is a socially difficult time. Teens are often unsure about their friends and about them themselves. Social anxiety is common among teens. What’s less common is teens avoiding their friends. It’s not unusual for teens to fall out with certain friends or drift to a different friend group, but if your teen seems to be avoiding social interaction entirely, it may signal a problem. 


Avoidance is a warning sign more generally too. Avoiding social interaction may be a sign of social anxiety disorder–the intense fear of being judged or rejected by others. However, it may also indicate other kinds of avoidance, perhaps agoraphobia–fear of places that may make you feel trapped, panicked, helpless, or embarrassed. Or it could be that your teen is afraid to drive or get in the car. Avoidance is a common symptom of phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. After a trauma, people who develop PTSD often avoid things that remind them of the trauma. As a parent, you may not even be aware of the traumatic event.

Physical symptoms

Everyone has an occasional headache or stomach ache, but frequent headaches or stomach aches may be a sign of an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders may cause stomach cramps, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, unexplained aches and pains, excessive fatigue, and general complaints of not feeling well. Since anxiety tends to activate the sympathetic nervous system, or the “fight or flight” system, it also tends to suppress the appetite, which may lead to weight loss. However, some people self-soothe with food, especially sweets and carbs, so anxiety may also lead to weight gain.

Sleep disturbances

Teens need more sleep than anyone else. They’re growing quickly, school is becoming more challenging, and they may be participating in competitive sports. Most teens already don’t get enough sleep and an anxiety disorder can make the problem even worse. Insomnia is a common symptom of anxiety and lack of sleep also makes anxiety worse, leading to a destructive feedback loop. If your teen seems more tired than usual, it’s important to find out if insomnia is the cause.

Panic attacks

Panic attacks are a clear and dramatic sign of an anxiety disorder. Symptoms of a panic attack include rapid, pounding heart rate, sweating, shaking, difficulty breathing, nausea, chest pain, headache, dizziness, tingling, or a feeling of unreality. Adults who have panic attacks often mistake them for heart attacks, but this perception is less common in teens. A panic attack may be caused initially by a stressful situation such as taking a test or giving a speech but then a panic attack may be caused by fear of having a panic attack, perhaps by noticing an elevated heart rate. 

Poor performance in school

Poor school performance is often a downstream effect of an anxiety disorder. For example, if you get severe test anxiety, you probably won’t perform well and your grades will suffer. Poor sleep also makes it much harder to learn and retrieve information. In general, when you feel anxious, you are on the lookout for threats and that’s not typically a frame of mind conducive to learning. 

Substance use

Substance use is something every parent should take seriously but it’s also important to consider that drinking or drug use by your teen may be a symptom of another problem. It’s common, for example, for people with social anxiety disorder to self-medicate with alcohol, marijuana. If you can’t sleep, benzodiazepines may seem like a great idea, even though they are extremely addictive. Teens may or may not be aware that they are self-medicating, so if you are concerned about your teen’s substance use, it’s a good idea to have them talk to a therapist.

At Patrick Hart Consultants, we provide a number of different services to fit the needs of each individual client. Among these, are helping you choose a treatment provider, helping you develop a treatment plan, helping you establish post-treatment support, and ensuring continuity among the different elements of treatment. Contact us today at 844-262-7970 or Info@PatrickHartConsultants.com or explore our website for more information.

AUTHOR: Hart Consultants