Is your teen anxious? How can you be sure?
Maybe they are moody, jumpy, or prone to mysterious aches and pains that keep them home from school?
Is that anxiety? Or normal teenage ups and downs?
If you are concerned that a mental health issue might be a factor, then a bit of investigation is simply good parenting. You needn’t worry about overreacting, many symptoms can fly under the radar, unlike typical warning signs. Time spent looking deeper is vital given the increasing rates of anxiety and depression among teens.
Your willingness to recognize the signs is just what your struggling teen needs. From there, you can take the next apropriate steps for them and your family. Now, let’s consider five commonly misinterpreted anxiety symptoms in teens.
1. Angry Outbursts and “Jerkish” Behavior
Anger born of anxiety is often misinterpreted. Teens can be moody but anxious anger is usually not a constant state, unless something is amiss. It’s very important to pay close attention to intense outbursts or a pattern of aggressive irritability and acting out. Anxious energy may need an outlet, often that release is not positive. Particularly if your teen feels panicked or misunderstood.
Remember, if your teen is being or rude talking back, disrespect may not be the intent. Their upset is coming through but so is their desire to communicate.
2. Up All Night
Anxious teens and sleep are rarely on good terms. Anxiety often shows up as the following sleep disturbances:
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Trouble staying asleep
- Recurring nightmares or night terrors
- A persistent feeling of fatigue despite a full night’s sleep
3. Snubs, Silence, and Distancing
Often, teens just want to keep anxiety in check by employing avoidance and withdrawal.
Though it can seem like a teen is being dismissive or impolite, often they simply don’t know how to cope with racing thoughts and persistent worries. So they simply stop interacting. This can cause strain and unintended miscommunication that leads to further negativity, isolation, and defensiveness.
4. School Struggles
Behavioral or academic trouble is often misinterpreted as adolescent rebellion or irresponsibility. Yet, if you know your teen hasn’t been prone to these behaviors, their struggles might be worth another look.
Social anxiety can lead to withdrawal, fear or even risky behaviors. Concentration, planning ahead, and healthy or productive interaction might be routine and frustrating challenges.
Over time, the pileup of concerns, peer perceptions, and expectations can lead to overwhelm. It can feel as though school is too tough to master. Moreover, the idea that they are struggling when so many other teens aren’t can further exacerbate a dislike for school.
5. Social Media Overload
Anxiety and self-comparison often go hand in hand. And, like it or not, social media can fuel a teen’s sense that they don’t measure up, have enough fun, or are liked by enough people. This messaging can recur in a very constant and damaging way. Of course, teens want to be where other kids are, and in this age, that “place” is online. However, the 24-7, of often unsupervised, nature of that place can give rise to frequent, anxiety-making experiences. Fear of missing out can be a major source of anxiety and may drive obsessive use
In their very normal search for support and sense of belonging, teens can find themselves scrolling through images and posts that may or may not speak to who they are or want to be. Where they might not have been exposed to the influences of many people in real life, day after day they can compare themselves mercilessly. This can exacerbate areas of insecurity, or worse, make them vulnerable to online bullying or intimidation.
So, have you noticed significant shifts in your teen’s behavior?
If so, now is the time to move forward. Don’t hope for the best, instead ask your teen questions and listen to their answers closely. Keep approaching your teen with care, respect, and a clear desire to know them and understanding their lives. Kids who have supportive, loving parents feel safer and more capable. Show them that you are there and believe in their ability to overcome their worries.
Remember, you don’t have to provide the support they need on your own. If you believe your teen is struggling to manage anxiety, please feel free to reach out for help. Contact me soon, so that I can partner with you. Together we can help provide the tools necessary for helping your teen manage anxious feelings throughout the teen years and beyond. Read more about the overcoming worry and other emotional obstacles on my Adolescent Counseling page. Let’s keep calm together.