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A Parent’s Guide to Understanding and Supporting Teens Dealing with Anxiety


Some teens seem ambivalent, unburdened by the world around them, while others seem to take the weight of the world on their shoulders. It can be challenging to understand exactly how stress affects adolescents. As a leader in teen mental health, we’ve worked with countless parents of anxious teens around the country, helping them to better understand the mechanisms behind anxiety. If your teen struggles with anxiety, then helping them to manage it, and even heal it, could change the course of their life.

Understanding Anxiety in Teens

Anxiety is more than just temporary stress or fear. It’s a persistent worry or dread that can last for weeks, months, or even longer. While normal stress is often related to specific situations, anxiety persists even when the stressor is gone. It’s that awful feeling of being generally worried and fearful: the problem can be harder to mitigate because the source of the trouble may not be immediately obvious. Anxiety symptoms in teens can range from mild to severe, with some even experiencing conditions such as OCD or panic attack episodes.

Causes of Anxiety in Teens

Stress is a natural part of life, but certain factors can exacerbate it. Things that can contribute to anxiety disorders in teens include:

  • genetic predispositions
  • traumatic events
  • personal challenges
  • chemical imbalances in the brain
  • academic pressures
  • social relationships

Facts and Statistics About Anxiety in Teens

Most teens don’t have adult responsibilities like paying a mortgage, buying groceries, or raising children, so it can be difficult for us, as adults, to understand why they’re so anxious. In reality, the teen years can be some of the most stressful of our lives. Remember: many teens haven’t yet developed the skill of emotional regulation, so they can be overwhelmed by their emotions at times. 


The Child Mind Institute reports that:

  • 19.3% of teens have a specific phobia
  • 9.1% of teens have social anxiety disorder
  • 7.6% of teens have separation anxiety
  • 2.3% of teens have a panic disorder
  • 2.2% of teens have Generalized Anxiety Disorder

In addition, the National Institute of Mental Health reports that:

  • 31.9% of teens have some type of anxiety disorder
  • 8.3 % of those with an anxiety disorder have severe impairment as a result.
  • 38% of female teens have an anxiety disorder.
  • 26.1% of male teens have an anxiety disorder.


The American Psychological Association reports that:

  • 10% say stress causes them to get lower grades than they think they can get
  • 59% say balancing all their activities causes stress
  • 40% say they neglect home responsibilities due to stress.
  • 40% say they’re irritable due to stress
  • 37% said stress causes them to feel overwhelmed
  • 36% say they feel tired because of stress.
  • 30% say they feel sad or depressed because of stress.

Signs and Symptoms of Teen Anxiety

So, is your teen anxious? Teens are famously difficult to read, and they may not be as open to sharing their feelings as you’d like. If you notice some of the below signs of anxiety in your teen, ask them if they are suffering from anxiety.

  • Physical: Persistent fatigue, headaches, stomachaches, or rapid heartbeat.
  • Emotional: Persistent fear, irritability, or excessive worry.
  • Behavioral: Withdrawal from activities, avoidance of certain situations, decline in academic performance.

The Impact of Anxiety on Teens

Beyond the immediate symptoms listed above, anxiety in teens can deeply impact various aspects of their lives. Academically, their grades may drop, which can impact their future. Socially, they may avoid gatherings or show reduced interest in hobbies. Family relationships can also be strained as the teen becomes more withdrawn or irritable. Most importantly, if left untreated, teen anxiety can turn into a crippling psychological disorder that becomes more difficult to heal as time goes on. 

Creating a Supportive Environment for Your Teen

So, what are some ways to help an anxious teen? If your teen is exhibiting any of the behaviors listed above, the first step is to have an open conversation with them. Ask them to set aside a manageable amount of time (we suggest 15-20 minutes) to have a conversation with you. Emphasize that they’re not in any trouble, and that you’re just concerned that they may be anxious and you want to help. Being well-informed by resources like Evolve’s Parent Guides can help guide these conversations.

Using Effective Communication Strategies

Here are some tips to connect with your teen, and avoid alienating them, during your conversation:

Listen actively: This includes nodding, making eye contact, putting your phone away, and repeating back to them what you heard without adding anything. Most importantly, try not to interrupt them. Wait a few seconds after they’re finished talking to see if anything else comes up. 

Ask open-ended questions: Questions without a “yes” or “no” answer allow your teen to open up. Rather than asking, “Did that make you nervous?” you can ask, “What were you feeling?” You may get an answer that surprises you.

Validate their feelings: As parents, we tend to want to solve our kids’ problems instead of acknowledging them. It can be painful to take in the fact that our teen is hurting, but sometimes simply holding space for the pain they’re feeling can be leagues more helpful than trying to fix it. Phrases like, “That sounds really hard,” “I can understand why that would be painful,” and “I’m so sorry that’s happening,” can make a world of difference.

Self-Care Techniques for Teens with Anxiety

Sometimes, anxiety can be greatly reduced with the right tools. Here are some of the most effective at-home practices for anxious teens:

Journaling: If the source of anxiety is unknown, stream-of-consciousness journaling may help bring up images or insights that point your teen in the right direction. Ask them not to worry about the quality of their writing – no one is going to read it. 

Deep breathing exercises: Sometimes, anxiety is rooted in the body. Deep breathing signals to the body that they’re not under attack. Try 4-8-7 breathing, which involves breathing in for 4 seconds, holding the breath for 7 seconds, and breathing out for 8 seconds. Longer exhales can also indicate to the body that it is safe to relax. 

Physical activity: When in doubt, get out. Sunshine and a brisk walk can make a big difference. If your teen doesn’t want to leave the house, try an online yoga class.

Diet: Certain foods can have surprising impacts on anxiety. If your teen is open to it, dietary changes may have an impact on their state of mind. Suggest decreasing their caffeine, sugar, gluten, or dairy intake. These foods can have an inflammatory impact on the body that can exacerbate stress. 

When to Reach Out for Help

If you notice any of the following red flags, it’s time to seek immediate help: 

  • drastic behavioral changes
  • self-harming behaviors
  • extreme isolation
  • any mention or indication of suicidal thoughts

Seeking Professional Help for Teenage Anxiety

If your teen can’t or won’t have a conversation with you, if they’re taking steps to manage their anxiety and it’s not working, or if you discover deeper issues around anxiety, professional support may be necessary. At Evolve Treatment, we specialize in anxiety treatment for teenagers, understanding the unique challenges they face. Our tailored treatment approach ensures each teen receives individualized care.

Available Treatment Options for Anxiety in Teens

At Evolve, we use a variety of treatment modalities and therapies to help your teen heal from anxiety. These can range from cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to medication, mindfulness techniques, and more. Considering the many manifestations of anxiety, from teen panic attacks to the link between anxiety and bipolar disorder in teens, Evolve’s approach emphasizes tailoring treatment to each teen’s unique needs. 

Evolve Treatment Can Help With Teen Anxiety Support

At Evolve, we’re dedicated to supporting teens through their mental health journey. With a wealth of experience and a variety of treatment options for teens, we can guide your adolescent toward a brighter, anxiety-free future. Reach out to Evolve for more information and let us help.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the potential long-term effects of untreated anxiety in teenagers?

Untreated anxiety can lead to depression, substance abuse, academic challenges, and social isolation.

What are the 5 C’s of anxiety?

According to Frontiers in Psychology, a psychological journal, “Empirical evidence consistently shows that the 5Cs (competence, caring, confidence, connection, and character) of Positive Youth Development (PYD) are positively related to adolescents’ contribution to self, family, and society as well as negatively related to risky behaviors and emotional difficulties, such as anxiety.”

Are there any lifestyle changes or adjustments that could help alleviate my teen’s anxiety?

Yes. Consistent sleep schedules, physical activity, reduced caffeine intake, and mindfulness practices can help.

Can anxiety in teenagers be effectively treated with medication?

Medication can absolutely be effective for some teens, but it’s crucial to consult with a healthcare professional for an individualized approach. Reach out to us today to learn more about whether medication can help your teen. 

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