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Understanding Anxiety Disorders in Adolescents

Types of Anxiety Disorders

While the condition most commonly associated with anxiety disorders is probably panic attacks, there are actually several different disorders that fall under this umbrella.

  • Generalized anxiety disorder: Teens with this disorder exhibit extreme and unrealistic worry about everyday activities. They are often exceedingly preoccupied with their athletic or academic performance. Usually tense and self-conscious, teens with generalized anxiety disorder may need constant reassurance. They frequently suffer physical ailments, like stomachaches or headaches, with no clear physical cause.

  • Separation anxiety disorder: Usually associated with young children, separation anxiety disorder can actually afflict people of any age. Teens with this disorder experience intense anxiety when leaving their parents or family. They may have difficulty going to school, leaving for camp, or staying at a friend’s house. Teens with separation anxiety may also show signs of depression, sadness, withdrawal, or an intense fear that a family member will die.

  • Panic disorder: Teens with this disorder will suffer panic attacks, which are periods of intense fear. Physical symptoms of a panic attack include a pounding heartbeat, hyperventilation, nausea, dizziness, and sweating. Teens who suffer panic attacks often go to great lengths to avoid situations that induce attacks, which can significantly inhibit their lives.

  • Phobias: Categorized by excessive, unrealistic fear of certain objects or situations, phobias among teens often center on storms, heights, water, or animals. Some teens suffer from social phobias, which cause extreme fear of criticism or judgment. Phobias can significantly restrict teens’ lives, since they’ll exert considerable effort to avoid the item or situation that triggers the phobia.

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder: Teens who survive a traumatic event, such as abuse, violence, or a natural disaster, can develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result. Unlike a traumatic stress reaction, PTSD includes persistent, intrusive symptoms like nightmares and flashbacks. PTSD can cause sleeplessness and anxiety in teens.

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder: The pattern of repetitive thoughts or behaviors caused by obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is highly distressing for teens. Despite recognizing that the behaviors are senseless, teens with OCD cannot stop the behaviors or thoughts. Repetitive hand washing, rearranging objects, or counting are all typical behaviors for teens with OCD.

Consequences of Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders significantly impact teens’ lives. When they are not treated early, these disorders can wreak havoc on a teen’s family, social, and academic life. Common consequences of untreated anxiety disorders include the following:

  • Impaired relationships with peers

  • Excessive absence from school or the inability to finish school

  • Low self-esteem

  • Drug or alcohol abuse

  • Difficulty adjusting to a work environment

  • Persistent anxiety disorder in adulthood

Because anxiety disorders significantly impact a teen’s life, it is important for teens to get early, effective treatment.

Disclaimer: The information is provided for general reference purposes. It does not constitute medical or other professional advice and should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your child and adolescent psychiatrist or other physician.


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