Identifying anxiety in your troubled teen may not be a straightforward assessment. Your child may have a tendency to regularly fight with their siblings/classmates or, they are highly driven to achieve in multiple areas of life or both. You may have chalked it up to it being just part of their personality, or growing pains.
Society as a whole is still learning to show emotions that make them feel unsafe – this includes anxiety. Anxiety can be at the root of multiple emotions like:
Teens and adults alike are more prone to say ‘I’m so stressed right now.,’ or ‘I can juggle all these activities, no problem.’ before they share they are anxious. Why? It’s more socially acceptable. Additionally, if given a choice, they’ll often choose an expression of anger before admitting they’re feeling anxious, because people’s response to the latter may be one in which makes them feel vulnerable, i.e., ‘Aww. You poor thing. Is there anything I can do?’
Temporary Feelings vs. Full-blown Anxiety Disorder
How can you know for sure when your teenager’s anxiety is a situational occurrence and when it’s anxiety disorder? Some anxiety is normal. In healthy ways, it supports paying attention during competitive events or preparing for a big event like a graduation or a musical performance. It’s part of the human survival mechanism.
However, if your child struggles to do everyday tasks and activities, and feels overwhelmed with anxiety or worry, then it may be cause for concern. Typically, professional clinicians will not consider the behaviors to qualify any disorder unless they are consistently present for 6 months.
General anxiety disorder (GAD) can be defined as excessive anxiety or worry about school, work, friends, and routine activities. According to the National Institution of Mental Health symptoms look like this:
- Insomnia, sleep apnea, or broken sleep
- Feeling restless, or on edge
- Difficulty concentrating/going blank
- Having muscle tension
- Frequent sweating
- Upset stomach, digestion-related issues
- Uncontrollable feelings of worry
Disorders Similar to General Anxiety Disorder
“What about panic attacks?”, you might ask. Panic attacks are commonly thought to be part of GAD, and sometimes there is an overlap, but they can exist on their own and are diagnosed under panic disorder. Some of their identifying traits are similar to general anxiety disorder. Symptoms are marked by:
- Uncontrollable terror without a defined trigger
- Feeling as if you may choke, or shortness of breath
- Pounding heartbeat/heart palpitations
- Worrying about the potential next panic attack
Social anxiety disorder is sometimes mistaken for general anxiety disorder. However, the symptoms are more specific to social interactions only. These feelings can manifest in the classroom, or at work. The symptoms include:
- Intense fear of social events
- Intense fear of public speaking/presentations
- Worry about feelings of anxiety being negatively judged
- Upset stomach
- Fast heartbeat
- Profuse sweating
- Brain fog during conversations
Agoraphobia is another disorder that can resemble general anxiety disorder in some ways. Your teen may have an intense fear of leaving the house. It appears that they are afraid of doing anything outside the home even if there’s no real threat of danger present. Some physical symptoms resemble that of GAD. However, their ability to do tasks/function at home is unhindered is the tell-tale sign that it’s not GAD. Also, most people with this disorder are aware their fears are irrational. Key symptoms are:
- Intense anxiety or fear of being in public spaces
- Fear of standing in line or being in a crowd
- Intense fear/anxiety in enclosed public spaces like supermarkets and movie theaters
- Fear of being outside the home alone
- Racing heart
- Muscle tension
As you can see there are some similarities of symptoms with each of the discussed disorders. Individuals can have general anxiety disorder, as well as the others mentioned, at the same time. Being able to make the distinction between the symptoms related to each disorder, having clarity about situational anxiety, general anxiety disorder, and related disorders make it easier to know when and how to help your troubled teen.
If your child’s behavior fits any of the above descriptions and has for an extended period, it may be time to seek professional support. The caring, experienced clinicians at New Vision Wilderness Therapy can help create a customized solution for your troubled teen that best suits their circumstances. For more information, visit our website or contact us.