Inescapable Fear: Anxiety in Teens

Is excessive anxiety in teens problematic?

Anxiety is the most common mental health concern in teens, especially among girls. It has been estimated that 11% to 25% of youth are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and compared to boys, girls are 3 times more likely to have an anxiety diagnosis. Although anxiety itself is not unusual, anxiety is considering unhealthy when excessive, uncontrollable, and related to distress. When teens have unhealthy anxiety, they tend to have negative physical responses (e.g., stomach aches), thoughts, emotions, and behaviours in response to fearful situations. 

Anxiety is a normal part of childhood, and teens go through phases. However, a phase is temporary. Without treatment or taking action, unhealthy anxiety never goes away on its own. Those that have unhealthy anxiety early on tend to experience chronic anxiety throughout their development and experience a wide range of adverse outcomes.  Researchers are beginning to view anxiety as a gateway disorder. Roughly 60-90% of those with an anxiety disorder will go on to developing an additional disorder. 15% of individuals with anxiety will also meet criteria for a co-occurring substance use disorder. 4.8% of adolescents with an anxiety disorder will engage in illicit drug use. Lastly, only 26.0% of individuals with an anxiety disorder will enter university or any formal education after high school. 

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What causes anxiety disorders?

Many different environmental and biological factors can cause anxiety in teens. Understanding what causes anxiety is complicated, and researchers are trying to figure this out. Researchers who study anxiety are trying to determine why children and teens develop anxiety and what specific factors cause it. In order to understand how we can prevent teens from experiencing anxiety, researchers have to have a better understanding of what causes it.

Check out “What Causes Anxiety Disorders”

As parents, what can you do next?

Talk about feelings and anxiety with your children.

Anxiety is treatable; however, research has shown that 80 percent of children and youth who experience unhealthy anxiety frequently do not receive treatment.  Anxiety is something that everyone experiences from time to time. But when it happens a lot and feels pretty intense it will be important to work on home-based strategies. 

  • Engage in mindfulness-based strategies with your teen. Engaging in mindfulness allows us to focus more on the present moment. Research has shown many benefits to engaging in mindfulness, such as stress and anxiety reduction and has been shown to increase overall happiness. If you are interested, take a look at these Mindfulness Exercises

Does your teen need extra support? If your teen is experiencing unhealthy anxiety frequently you may be wondering whether extra support is needed. There are many different resources and services that are offered in the Calgary area and online.

  • Anxiety Canada offers an online evidence based anxiety treatment group called MindShift CBT Groups.
  • The ISE clinic offers both individual and group anxiety management programs. These programs focuse on how to manage anxiety in children and teens and help clients recognize when unhealthy anxiety is getting in the way. Please reach out if you think your child or teen may benefit from these services.
  • The Lion Heart Foundation is a Calgary based charitable organization that connects mental health practitioners with adolescent girls and their families who need help in overcoming anxiety-related disorders.

Want to get more involved?

Take part in a study!

Because anxiety is a growing public health concern, many researchers need your help in discovering what causes anxiety and what the best treatments are. One study in particular is trying to figure out how anxiety symptoms develop in teen girls.  Adolescent mental health remains an area that is disjointed and under-resourced and this study may help mental health organizations and school districts become more efficient in preventing anxiety. If we can focus on preventing anxiety, we may also be able to also prevent long term mental health concerns that may arise after anxiety.

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