For most people, anxiety and adolescence go hand in hand. Adolescence is a time of change: bodily change, mental change, changing relationships with friends and parents, changing goals, interests, hopes, and dreams. Accompanying all of these changes is a potential for anxiety.
This article will discuss the many potential causes of anxiety, the common types of anxiety teens and the signs and symptoms to watch for, and the safest treatments for teenage anxiety.
Potential Causes of Teenage Anxiety
There are many potential causes of anxiety in teens, and often they influence each other. Narrowing it down to any one cause may sometimes be oversimplifying something that's otherwise very complicated. In addition, treating this type of anxiety has a lot to do with understanding how your anxiety works.
It should be noted that not all causes of anxiety in teens are related to being a teenager. You can find a complete list of causes as part of our anxiety guide. Genetics can cause anxiety, as can life experiences, as can many other factors.
Once again, this is why anxiety is too complex to simplify into a specific issue, and it may be important not to box your teen in based on their age.
However, teens do go through issues that can lead to anxiety. Some of the major potential causes of teenage anxiety are listed below.
- Hormonal Shifts and Mood Swings Hormone shifts are a primary factor in teenage related anxiety. Testosterone increases in males and estrogen increase in females, causing heightened reactivity and emotional responses. Moreover, when external stressors are combined with a preexisting imbalance in hormones, the brain is likely to react by altering its physical structure, creating more receptors for stress hormones and decreasing the number of receptors for relaxation hormones, which can cause long term anxiety problems.
- Brain Development and Judgment Problems The brain development that occurs during the teen years is a big part of why teenagers experience mood swings and, often, poor judgment. The brain's grey matter thickens until age 11 in girls and age 12 in boys, after which point the brain automatically ceases thickening the matter and begins refining it instead. The last area to stop thickening and start being refined in teens is the prefrontal cortex, which is in charge of self control, judgment and thinking ahead. The strong emotions produced by hormonal shifts are therefore less tempered by reason than they are in adults. Not having self control, good judgment or the ability to plan ahead can make life very complicated and cause a lot of stress, particularly in combination with other teenage experiences.
- Bodily Changes Changes in bodily appearance and functionality can cause stress in many ways. The appearance of unpleasant or unwanted changes such as pimples, vocal shifts, body hair, height, body odors, and more can all effect self esteem and anxiety.This is also true of the pain and inconvenience of the menstrual cycle, the embarrassment of erections at inappropriate times, confusing sexual desire, and many other common teen issues. All contribute to making the adolescent body an unfamiliar, awkward and highly stressful place to be. In addition, the development of the body's sex organs results in sexual urges and repression that are difficult to handle and can have stressful consequences.
- Distancing from Parents or Guardians If a teenager has been close with his or her parents from a young age, it may be difficult for them to accept the need to branch out and form connections with others, as well as the need to form their own identity separate from their parents. Being on their own for the first time and taking on new responsibilities can cause feelings of inadequacy and fear as they learn to adjust to having less protection and guidance than they are used to.
- Changing Ideals and Parental Disapproval Adolescence is a time of changing ideals. Because our ideals as children are often formed in large part by our parents or guardians, when our ideals change it can be disconcerting to the adults in our lives. It may be that the religion a teen has grown up with is no longer for them, or their political ideas have become different from their parents', or they have discovered something else about themselves an intellectual or active passion, or even a sexual orientation they were previously unaware of. Any of these discoveries can cause parental disapproval and a stifling of the adolescent's development which can cause them to feel unloved and even suspect that they are a bad person for not agreeing with their parents as they had always done previously.
- Isolation Stressful feelings of isolation in teens can be caused by many factors. For example, when forming their identities, teenagers sometimes default to identifying with a particular group of people and rejecting others. When these divisions occur, friends can separate from friends and isolation can result. Combined with tension in the home environment, this can lead to a feeling that no one understands you, from which depression and anxiety often stem.
- Peer and Social Pressures Peer and social pressures to look or behave a certain way or do certain things cause stress by making the adolescent feel as though they have no choice and are trapped by social expectations, that they are having to change who they really are (or see others change), and/or that they are abnormal and somehow lesser if they don't give in to the pressures they are subject to. Often peer pressures deviate sharply from what parents recommend and/or demand, which results in extra tension from the disconnect between parental rules and teenage social rules.
Teens have quite a number of reasons to feel the angst they are so famous for, and that angst is often rooted in anxiety. This doesn't even include smaller reasons like difficulty in school, trouble meeting new people, college prep stressors, high school fashion and "growing up," and so much more.